You recall dinner parties, right? Those small gatherings people used to have to eat, drink and be merry. Ironically, so many people I know caught COVID over the holidays that I'm starting to see the tentative return of the small dinner party amongst those who are triple-vaxxed and had Omicron. And in this, and the few other rare moments of calm we've experienced in the past few years, I noticed an odd—but welcome—trend. People have been showing up with a bottle of wine from France's Languedoc. In particular, wines from Gerard Betrand. While it's not a big deal to see similar bottles under guests' arms (Kim Crawford and Meomi both are frequent flyers) Bertrand is not some faceless global behemoth, but a real person. And Corbieres—the region of Languedoc where this wine comes from—ain't exactly Sonoma or Marlborough in terms of name recognition.
But for the wine nerds, Corbieres has long been a secret locale for the some of the best value wines in France. It sits just north of the Spanish Border and southwest of the Rhone Valley, and it's to the latter that it's most frequently compared. They use many of the same grapes as the Rhone—Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre, Carignan—and the reds also tend towards the robust. It's a pretty large region with all sorts of styles. And just as in the Rhone, given how warm the climate is, you have to be wary of producers who let their grapes go wild and make massive, boozy fruit bomb wines that wear a palate very quickly and overwhelm all but the heartiest foods.
There's a few key elements here that tell you that Bertrand is not following that path. First, and most interestingly, is that the Syrah is made by using carbonic maceration, a technique most associated with Beaujolais and designed to emphasize the freshness of a given grape. The Grenache and Mouvedre are vinified traditionally, and then all three are blended together. It's definitely a unique process to go through, but the result is a freshness, or lift, that sets it apart from many of the region's bruisers. This is still very much a black fruit wine, but there's ample floral notes and some pronounced dry herbaceousness that elevates its interest far above its price point, and I suppose that's how it's become a winner on the dinner party circuit.
As an aside, Bertrand also makes a $25 wine—St Chinian—and while the bottles look quite similar, it amps up the body a bit and still preserves some balancing acidity. Also a bit of a gem (but Under $25 Dinner Party Wine isn't quite as clickable).