The Top 100 from the Languedoc, Roussillon and the Sud Ouest
I was one of the fourteen judges who helped decide the Top 100 Languedoc, Roussillon and Sud Ouest wines this year. However, as a panel judge, you only taste a small proportion of the entries and so you really have no idea of the overall results. So, the opportunity to taste all 100 wines was very welcome. In recent years, with the changes in French administration, the competition has come to include wines from south west France, such as Madiran and Jurançon, Côtes de Gascogne, Cahors, Gaillac and some other smaller appellations. Precisely 11 wines from the Sud Ouest made it into the Top 100 and I did taste a couple, but their inclusion alongside the warmer wines of the south does them a disservice; their more fragrant flavours are overwhelmed and their acidity is more marked. And there was one Côtes du Rhône, as well as couple of wines from the Gard that are more Rhône than Languedoc.
The results this year were dominated by Domaines Paul Mas, with fifteen wines altogether covering various IGPs and appellations. And the very successful cooperative in Roquebrun dominated the appellation of St. Chinian, with a total of six wines altogether. There were some other big names, Laurent Miquel with his pioneering Albariño; Vignobles Lorgeril with wines from the Minervois, Faugères and Roussillon; Domaine Gayda with their flagship Minervois Villa Mon Rêve, as well as Figure Libre, an IGP from Malepère. Calmel & Joseph, Jeanjean and Foncalieu were other significant names, and Gérard Bertrand was conspicuous by his absence. I guess they did not submit many wines to the competition.
Given the wealth of variety amongst the smaller independent wine growers in the Languedoc and Roussillon, I was hoping for some new names and some new discoveries, and sad to say I was disappointed on that front. There were some independent wine growers, but not as many as I would have liked.
So, the highlights from the tasting included a couple of wines from Domaine la Louvière, a Chardonnay and their 2020 Malepère La Séductrice, with some fresh cassis fruit.
A Pic St Loup estate, Bergerie du Capucin offered a Chardonnay Viognier blend IGP Saint-Guilhem–le–Désert with some peachy fruit, tempered by the Chardonnay. There were just two Pic St Loup, Chemin des Rêves, Gueule de Loup and Domaine des Rocs, Santo Lupo, which is part of the Jeanjean stable. Both had the elegant fruit and freshness you would expect from Pic St Loup.
Given the variety of the Terrasses du Larzac, they were underrepresented, with one wine from Domaine Paul Mas at Château des Crès Ricards, and the other from La Jasse Castel, which I preferred with its round spice and supple tannins. And there were just three Grés de Montpellier, two from Mas du Novi, - one oaked and the other unoaked and both serious, and a more elegant Clos de l’Amandaie, with some spicy garrigue fruit, which is imported by Stone Vine & Sun.
Corbières was represented by Château la Bastide, 2017 Eidos Rouge, a heady blend of Syrah and Grenache, and 2018 Exuberance, an unoaked blend of Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre. This estate is run by a very competent Chinese woman, Nan Ping Gao, who has lived in France for over 30 years. I particularly liked 2017 Corbières Essentielle from Domaine la Cendrillon which is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir and refreshingly unoaked, with some elegant spicy fruit and a harmonious finish. Tanners Wine - £12.50. And there were a pair of heady Fitou from Domaine de la Rochelierre.
Faugères was represented by Domaine Florence Alquier which is the relatively recent reincarnation of the old estate of Domaine Frédéric Alquier. Florence is Frédéric’s widow and the estate is now run by Frédéric Desplats. The 2019 Black Slate had some spicy fruit with youthful tannins and a satisfying balance. 2019 Château Estanilles, Fontanille, was quite dense with oak and spice, as well as youthful potential. Château de Ciffre from Vignobles Lorgeril had some black fruit and structure. Mas Olivier - Esprit Nature comes from the Faugères cooperative, whose basic Faugères brand is widely distributed, and for my taste buds often lacks character. However, this was different. They have sufficient organic wine growers, to make an organic version, and this 2020 has some lovely spice and fruit with some supple tannins. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised. And the best Faugères of all came from Domaine de Cébène, Felgaria, a blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah. Brigitte Chevalier is particularly fond of Mourvèdre and this was a lovely wine with layers of flavours, for which she is looking for UK distribution. There’s an opportunity for somebody.
I was very pleased to see the small family estate of Lou Belvestit, a Côtes du Thongue property, in the line-up. Le Roem is a pure Syrah, with some understated peppery spice, and refreshingly unoaked with some youthful tannins. Emilie Alauze and her sister took over the family vineyards in 2011 and began bottling wines that had originally been sold en vrac. She too is looking for UK importer.
As for rosés, there were eight in total including one from Côtes de Gascogne., My favourite came from Domaine les Yeuses, an estate near Mèze who are on my list for a visit. Their 2021 O d’Yeuses, a partially oaked blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault was nicely rounded with satisfying texture and weight on the palate.
There were 30 white wines altogether, including six from the South West. There was just one Picpoul de Pinet, Reserve de Mirou from the cooperative in the village of Pomerols, with a salty tang. Having enjoyed my flight of Picpoul in the morning, I was surprised that only one made it through the Top 100. Single varietals featured, such as Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Viognier. Grenache Gris and also Clairette du Languedoc. And there were some blends of Languedoc AOPs, and IGPs. Calmel & Joseph’s 2021 Ams-Tram-Gram Quartier Libre, a blend of Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Roussanne, was nicely satisfying with well-integrated oak and good length.
There was just one Blanquette de Limoux, from Domaine Rosier, and surprisingly no Crémant de Limoux, and just one Vin Doux Naturel, Domaine de la Rectorie Pierre Rapidel, 2015 Banyuls, with some rich fruit that provided a bonne bouche at the end of the tasting. I had run out of descriptive tasting notes by that time.
And apart from the Banyuls, there were just five wines from Roussillon, far too few to my mind. Doesn’t Roussillon want to provide the Languedoc with a challenge? My favourite was from Domaine Fontanel, a family estate in Tautavel. Their 2018 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel, a characterful spicy blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre is imported by Stone Vine & Sun, for £20.00.
The other thing that surprised me about this tasting was the number of wine producers, who should know better, who are continuing to use seriously heavy bottles. If I want to lift weights, which I don’t, I will go to the gym. I certainly do not want to have to do it at the dinner table. Where is your commitment to sustainability?