I love visiting the South of France and there are three things that never fail to make it a wonderful trip – the weather, the food and the wine. Visiting small local vineyards is always part of it; making an afternoon of it and taking a tasty, inexpensive bottle (or three) back to enjoy with a home-cooked supper and friends. The charm of this part of the world keeps its devotees coming back time after time, living their dream of buying crusty baguettes in the morning and local wine in the afternoon, but now it seems they have even more reason to stick around (and sip around), as the region’s reputation for high quality wine is skyrocketing.
I came across the Languedoc-Roussillon/Sud-Ouest Sud de France Top 100 at the London Wine Fair, which was fantastic showcase of what the region has achieved. I tasted some excellent whites (a couple of my favourites were the Vigné-Lourac Sauvignon Prestige and the Laurent Miquel Vérité) and some very sumptuous Syrahs. It was also great to see a few wines from Pic Saint Loup in there – I went on a wine tour there last year and learned a lot about the vineyards and their struggles, so it’s awesome to see them succeeding so brilliantly outside of the region! After this wonderful introduction to Sud de France wines, I couldn’t wait to check out more at the Sud de France Annual Tasting a couple of weeks ago.
Held in Manchester Square Gardens inside a marquee, it had the cheery feel of a garden party, despite the grey skies on that particular afternoon – but clouds schmouds – wine is basically sunshine in a glass, right? Sud de France were also celebrating their tenth year in the UK, so as well as some wonderful wines, there was also a huge birthday cake for everyone to tuck into. Wine AND cake – totally worth blocking out the remainder of the afternoon for.
There were 25 producers from the Occitanie region, comprising of the Languedoc, Roussillon and the Pyrenees, showcasing around 200 wines made from 40 different grape varieties – definitely enough to keep us all busy for a solid few hours!
I think the best thing at such an intimate tasting as this, is getting to meet and chat to the winemakers and hear about their reasons for making a particular wine in a certain way or how they might have presented the wine to appeal to a specific market. I really enjoyed talking to Isabel from Domaine de l’Oustal Blanc in the Languedoc. Her wines, called Prima Donna and Giocoso, appeal to the sophisticated drinker and she tells me they are listed in a few Michelin star restaurants. Very feminine, both in branding and in taste, I found them to be smooth and elegant.
There can also be hugely personal stories behind the winemaking process, and I found that when talking to Christelle from Domaine du Bosc Rochet. She told me that the vineyard had been in her husband’s family since the fifties, but the estate was falling into disrepair, and they came to a crossroads where they had to decide whether to let it go or take it over themselves, which would require a lot amount of money, love, commitment and dedication. They decided to go for it and they put everything into it, with friends and family helping out in any way they could. It’s been a tumultuous and emotional journey for them, but they have persevered and taken the vineyard into the modern day with their story very much attached to their wines. They made the shift from the traditional to something dynamic and different, and the result is a portfolio of wines that are contemporary in style, which are very fruit-forward and rarely oaked. Each wine is a dedication to a loved one or to a time in their journey – there is Le Petit Lenny, a wine named after their small son and there is Mademoiselle for their daughter, which represents her dreamy character, being a versatile, bright, easy-going wine; stylish in its simplicity. Many of their wines are made to be shared with friends while having fun, to be drank young, perhaps on their own or with casual lunches or dinners. But, they do have a couple of special ones that can be kept and aged in bottle for up to five years, which are more complex – Une Autre Histoire (Another Story) and Carpe Diem.
It was eye-opening to see just how much the region has to offer and the expansive range of the offering. There is very much the traditional cluster of wines, which are superb and could certainly compete with the more revered of the French wines, but there are also the fresh, contemporary wines that aren’t bound by old rules and regulations; where the winemakers are making the most of the freedom that the region offers and are being bold in their processes to bring interesting, exciting wines to the market. There are winemakers coming from other parts of the world too, bringing their influence to the styles, such as Jem Harris from Australia who manages Domaine La Louviere, and lots of women winemakers, who also bring a different, dynamic approach and energy to the industry.
The Sud de France tasting has certainly encouraged me to look to that region now for some excellent wines for every occasion – and there’s no need for a trip to France to support these wineries and enjoy what they produce – I can do it from here! Although, I would never say no to frolicking with a wine glass in the South of France… in fact, after writing this, I feel like booking a trip right now…