Stop sniggering at the back.
La Clape is a nature park just outside Narbonne overlooking the Mediterranean; a harsh, dry, rocky hillside covered in garrigue scrub, it covers the 10 miles from Narbonne to the Mediterranean and rises to over 200m.
An AOC since 2015, La Clape is one of the sunniest places in France but is cooled by sea breezes; this gives the wines a ripeness and a freshness.
Unsurprisingly given the conditions, the vast majority of the wine produced here is red; the area traces a history back to Roman times and is now home to 25 estates and three co-operatives.
Chateau La Negly La Clape, Languedoc, 2019 (£12, The Co-op)
A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Syrah, it comes in a handsome, heavy bottle.
While Languedoc wines are fairly common in the UK, wines from the sub-region of La Clape are little seen, so this is a somewhat unusual find.
lifted floral nose of lavender, violets and aromatic dried herbs with plum and cherry fruit; juicy black and red fruits, wild strawberries and a hint of gaminess, some spice and gentle, very fine tannins; very well-made and harmonious with good length.
A little closed up at first, improves with extensive aeration and will repay some cellaring.
A fresh and versatile wine; match with bread-meat-cheese starters, any roast fowl or red meat such as peppered roast beef.
Further details from La Clape's website:
A CLASSIFIED ENVIRONMENT
Characterized by small, winding, steep-sided, marly valleys ending abruptly in cliffs on the Mediterranean side, the landscape of La Clape is in stark contrast to the surrounding plains. It has been a state-classified site since 1973, for its outstanding natural beauty and its exceptional fauna and flora.
Situated in the Narbonne regional natural park, it has also been recognized as a Natura 2000 site by the European Union for its natural habitats and remarkable species, a Sensitive Natural Space by the Aude department and is partly owned by the Coastal Conservatory.
In addition to exceptional environmental challenges, here vines act as natural firebreaks and certain parts of the vineyard have been especially planted with this in mind, as part of a concerted effort. A
The La Clape massif benefits from a harsh, dry climate. The sun and wind together beat down and sweep across the bare rocks. If it is one of the sunniest places in France (up to 3000 hours of sunshine a year) it is due to the thirteen different winds that sweep across it and chase the clouds away.
Occasionally Mediterranean storms hit, as violent as they are rare and La Clape becomes a tropical isle. A network of ravines forms and the pines and reeds are bent over by the force of the elements. The vines are strengthened by this triple effect: the rain waters and cleans them, the wind dries and airs them and the sun nourishes them and swells the grapes with sugar. The harshness of the climate ensures a high-quality wine-producing area.
With the support of the Narbonne Regional Natural Park, several agro-environmental initiatives have been taken in the AOC La Clape vineyard. The wine-makers signed the Natura 2000 charter, thus undertaking to sustain the environment and maintain the wealth of natural habitats that characterize the massif.
The program imposes such measures as reducing the use of phytosanitary products. Some estates even practice agro-pastoralism, which is set to develop more widely in the coming years. Since 2015, a herd of 400 sheep nibble the grass between the vines during the 4 months of winter, thus naturally enriching the soil.
Furthermore, research and training programs will be increased in order to encourage responsible agriculture. More than a quarter of the estates are practicing organic agriculture or are in the process of converting.