If you’ve read more than a page or two of our monthly newsletter since its inception in 1973, you may have noticed that we adore our garrigue about as much as we love to talk about stones, unfiltered wines, and big old foudres. Just as this balmy shrubbery manages to anchor its roots in each little nook and cranny offered by southern France’s arid, rocky hillsides, it appears to populate virtually every piece of literature you’ll lay eyes on concerning the wines from these very landscapes.
Garrigue is defined as the bushy vegetation that grows in poor limestone soils around the Mediterranean, consisting of low-lying plants whose vigor is limited by dry conditions and periodic wildfires. Juniper, rosemary, thyme, sage, oak, broom, and lavender are typical in these habitats. The concentration of resinous herbs and flowers gives such environments a distinctive scent, especially palpable in the summer when the sun’s heat causes these plants to release their oils, creating an unmistakably Meriterranean essence that saturates the air.
Wines produced from garrigue-ridden terroirs are often described in such terms, with an herbaceous bouquet recalling the wild vegetation that covers vast expanses of wine regions like Provence, the southern Rhône, and the Languedoc. Is it simply the power of suggestion?
Scientists have in fact proven that the waxy texture of grape skins can capture aromatic compounds present in the air. Furthermore, the perfume of garrigue is found across many different grape varieties and in wines in all three colors, lending further credibility to the terroir-driven hypothesis of garrigue-flavored wines.
Whether you prescribe to a scientific explanation of this phenomenon or simply dismiss it as yet another one of the wine world’s romantic, yet ultimately ungrounded presumptions, there is no denying that redolences of wild herbs and flowers provide certain wines with a beautifully earthy character. Moreover, these nuances can echo the flavors of dried herbs featured prominently in Mediterranean cooking, providing simple gourmet wine pairing opportunities.
Here's a selection of wines illustrating the wild brush of southern France in all its fragrant glory: