The Corbières landscape is so hilly and sometime so inhospitable that not other form of agriculture than viticulture is possible. The vineyards, spread over 23,000 hectares, lie between countless silent witnesses to a tempestuous history. The strong wind blows eerily through the ruins of the old Catholic establishments and shake them to their foundations.
Higher up in Corbières the ground is chalk and slate. With the exception of the odd proud cypress that is forced to bend its head to the wild wind, there are few trees to be seen. The more mellow coastal strip of Sigean consists of chalk hills, while central Corbières is predominantly gravel and stone.
Arguably, the most important factor here is to recognise when a wine is in good condition or when a bottle is faulty. This becomes particularly relevant when you are faced with the sort of markups applied in some restaurants. When a sample from an approved bottle id offered to taste wine, you are cheching the conditions of the wine that you hane ordered, not tasting the wine to decide wherher you like it.
There are three simple steps to follow when tasting wine: look, smell, and taste. Firstly, you should look at the wine when it's poured, Is it clear and bright? Is it looking in good shape? An excess of brown colour in a white wine may indicate that it has gone off. It's possible to guess the age of a red wine by observing it's rim colour. Tilt the glass slightly and look at the edge of the wine. If you see a purple tint it is probably a young wine while an orange tint is an indication of maturity.
Swirling the wine a around the glass will relase the aromas and you should take either a large sniff or a small sniff, followed by a large sniff. Does the wine smell clean and fresh and can you identify fruit-related aromas? If not, and you detect musty, wet cardboard-like aromas, you hane probably found a fault. Young wines should always be fruity and appealing on the nose. You should take time to sniff the wine and not rush into tasting wine.
Tasting wine allows you to confirm the condition and characteristics associated with the wine. You should consider the initial taste, the actual taste, and the aftertaste. Have the confidence to reject a bottle which you feel may be tainted and make sure that you assess each bottle ordered individually. Some wine styles, for exemple aromatic whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, are insense and lively an both the nose and palate. Expect to be able to identify lots of fruit and primary aromas. Wines that have matured or developed in the bottle may have a bouquet and flavours such as those associated with dried fruits (prunes, figs, etc), along with savoury nuances. Lurking among all this comolexity there should still be hints of fruit. Some wines over a decade old (for exemple, German Riesling) will suprise you with their amazing vitality and youthful tones.
Lots of fuss can be generated when the virtues of a vintage are sidcussed and in some cases this is justified. As a generalisation, if a wine is made from grapes growing in a cool or marginal climate, then vintages can matter. In warmer climates, where there is better consistency in weather patterns, the changes affecting quality are far less significant.