NARBONNE, France -- One of the most gorgeous vineyards I have seen lies just outside this small Languedoc city a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea. Château des Karantes, named after a Bishop of Carcassonne who owned the property hundreds of years ago, is surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, with an old bunker (top right in the picture) still visible atop one of them, a reminder that the property was controlled by the Germans during World War II. Walter Knysz 3d, an American from Michigan whose family is a part-owner of the domaine, reminded me while looking over the property that the Nazis believed the Allied invasion would take place here in the south of France rather than in Normandy.
Today, these are far happier times for the estate of 470 acres, a little over 100 of them vineyards. This week, Château des Karantes’s 2009 AOP Languedoc La Clape Rouge was named best Languedoc-Roussillon red wine over 10 euros ($14 or so) in Decanter Magazine’s World Wine Awards. “To win that award for this wine is huge,” Knysz (right) told me as dusk settled over his vineyards in La Clape, which, with its extreme southern location in Languedoc, produces some of the region’s most luscious and memorable reds. That reputation was upheld as I tasted the new release a short time later at a restaurant here in Narbonne with Knysz, his winemaker Nicolas Laverny and Christopher Laidebeure, the sales manager. The wine, which will have a suggested price of $23 in the U.S., is a blend of 50 percent grenache, 40 percent syrah and 10 percent mourvèdre grown on the clay and limestone soils that dominate the property. Its beautiful structure, concentrated fruit, mainly plum and blackberry, subtle oak integration and attractive herbal notes derived from the adjacent scrubland known as garrigue make the wine stand out.
Other notable wines from the Karantes portfolio include the 2010 AOP Languedoc Blanc, $22, a blend of bourboulenc, grenache blanc, roussanne and vermentino that is fresh and easy to drink with honey, apricot and lemon notes, a bit of brine and good acidity; the bright 2010 Rosé des Karantes, $12, a mourvèdre-grenache-syrah summer bargain with flavors of strawberry and raspberry, some herb and spice notes and a vanilla touch on the long finish; and the intensely concentrated 2006 Diamant, $60, which is 100 percent syrah, spent 18 months in large new French oak barrels and is marked by intense fruit, mainly blackberry, a good deal of spice and a black licorice note.
The Karantes team was over the top the other night, and it deserves to be.