Château de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, France

The village of Pennautier lies just out of reach of Carcassonne’s urban sprawl.  In typical fashion for this part of France, the difference a hundred yards makes is a big one: industrial development yields to vineyards and grey concrete to platane hallways. The transformation is so rapid that, barely five minutes out of the ugly bit of Carcassonne, Pennautier already gains that “in the middle of nowhere” feel, which so charms rural France’s visitors and so bores the younger generation of its long term inhabitants.

Adjacent to the village itself, sits a large Chateau, after which the wines of Penaultier are both named and labeled.  But visiting it requires some pre-planning, without which you will see what I saw:

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The gates of greyness

The wines here comes from the small but remarkable Carbardes AOC. Although not exactly equidistant from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean from a geographic point of view, Cabardes producers make their wines from a mixture of both oceans’ favoured varietals. In fact – this is a requirement. Cabardes wines thus feature the Mediterranean’s Syrah and Grenache and the Atlantic’s Merlot and Cabernets.

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This could of course lead to un-alluring hodgepodge. Fortunately, at Pennautier at least, it tends not to be. A single family has owned the Chateau for several generations. And although this same family also owns a number of other vineyards throughout the Languedoc, the Chateau comes across as their epicenter. These folks appear to have good business sense too, despite their relatively unknown appellation, the Penaultier wines are easily available throughout Brussels and appear to have some sort of exclusivity deal with Brussels airport where they are almost depressingly, if deliciously, ubiquitous.

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Because all of the family’s wines can be bought at the Chateau, there is a lot to choose from. I can recommend three:

Chateau de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, 2012 

The Chateau’s basic wine comes in around 6-8 euros. A slighlt variation on this theme is the Chateau’s “Terroir d’Altitude” version, which comes from different vineyards and is slightly more expensive. Very nicely balanced with soft tannins and good structure. Although perhaps slightly light on the body, the wine manages to remain relatively long on the palate.

Excellent value for money. Score: 88-90/100 (COW)

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Esprit de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, 2012 

The flagship wine, l’Esprit de Pennaultier, is a little more pricey coming in at around 20-25 euros a bottle, which is relatively expensive for the area. But you do get what you paid for, this is a refined wine, that has the ability (and the desire) to age.

A strong mid-range wine that competes in terms of elegance and complexity with more expensive wines from other parts of France – a nice example of the premium paid on a Bordeaux bottle.  Score: 90-92/100 (COW)

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Mas des Montagnes, Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages AOC, 2010

Unlike the two wines above, the Mas des Montages comes from a separate vineyard. It is not a Cabardes – qualifying instead for the Cotes-de-Rousillon village appellation. A high altitude plantation, this is my favorite bang-for-buck wine at the moment.   The varietals here are classically Mediterranean with Grenache and Syrah. And the Mas is a powerful but elegant wine with a strikingly dark color. Elegant and well balanced, it avoids the rustic flavours that can characterize some wines from this area (perhaps due to the high altitude of the vines).

Unrivalled value for money, at eleven euros a bottle (for the high altitude version), this is the best “ten euro” wine I have had this year. Score: 92/100 (COW) 

Further Information: The website for all of these wines is pretty cool, you can check it out here.

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