An appellation located in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon (L-R), Fitou is actually broken up into two territories, with Corbières intersecting it. The more coastal territory is known as Fitou Maritime. Its cooler weather patterns and clay-limestone soils are better suited to grow Mourvèdre. The other territory is Fitou Montagneux, located at the foothills of the Pyrénées. It’s schist, infertile soils are better suited to grow Syrah.
Appellation rules stipulate that a final blend from Fitou must be made up of 60% of Carignan and Grenache, with a minimum of 20% of each.
Funny story. I first discovered Fitou during a blind tasting session with some of my fellow WSET 3 classmates. The colour and aromas of this wine, at first, took me straight to a Beaujolais.
Despite the fact that the mouthfeel and structure was much too full and tannic to be a Beaujolais, my decision was made – all other options were doomed to enter the realm of plausibility – as I stubbornly guessed it as Beaujolais.
I was definitely wrong, but it turns out, I wasn’t all THAT wrong in the end…
Carignan: An uninspiring grape…
Again, Fitou must be made up with some Carignan. Unfortunately, on its own, this grape varietal, isn’t particularly all that impressive. It is used primarily to provide a red blend with structure – high acid, high tannins, colour, and high bitterness. In France, it is found extensively in the South, with concentrated findings in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It’s a high yielding grape, which might explain why it was widely planted – especially during the WW2 era when the demand for uninspiring wine that ‘got the job done’, was high. Modern appellation regulations in the L-R area have forced its inclusion in blends from this region.
Great. What do you do with a grape that lacks charm and finesse?
The answer, many producers in the L-R began to discover, was carbonic maceration!
This includes producers in Fitou, such as Gérard Bertrand, who elect to soften the Carignan wine and add fruitiness and flavour through carbonic maceration for 10-15 days.
In short, carbonic maceration takes place when un-crushed grapes undergo intra-cellular fermentation in an anaerobic environment. Basically, you throw a whole bunch of whole-grape clusters into a sealed vat and let it sit for around 10-15 days. The sheer weight of the grapes will naturally crush grapes in the bottom layer, forming a bottom layer of juice, which begins to ferment naturally. For the rest of the grapes that are un-crushed, each individual grape will undergo intra-cellular fermentation, creating a small amount of ethanol (main component of alcohol), along with deeply pigmented purple juice. Not only will this soften the bitterness of the grape, it produces many very flavourful and aromatic compounds – often described as ‘banana or kirsch-like’. Widely practiced in Beaujolais, carbonic maceraton is a defining feature of Beaujolais wines.
So, to go back to my first blind tasting of this Fitou, when I guessed it to be Beaujolais, I guess I was on to something.
Gérard Bertrand: Terroir Fitou
I did miss a lot of other things – Fitou and Beaujolais really aren’t that similar. While this Gérard Bertrand Fitou had deep colour and vibrant red fruit, the body was more full, tannins high, alcohol high, with a depth of flavour that saw anise, pepper, and oak follow behind the fruitiness – things not usually found in a Beaujolais. Great finish too.
This bottle was purchased for a very reasonable $17.95
|Wine||Gérard-Bertrand, Terroir Fitou 2017|
|Aromas||Jammy ripe red fruit, plum, black pepper, tea, oak, violet|
|Structure||Sugar: Dry Acid: High Tannin: High Body: Med + Alcohol: High Finish: Med +|
|Flavours||Black cherry, apple skins, red plum, strawberry, red currant, anise, black pepper, cedar|
|Notes||Carignan grapes were vinified using carbonic maceration, which explains the incredibly vibrant red fruit. Syrah adds that black pepper, tannic backbone.|