Are you looking for a wine region that exudes style and class, with producers who are interested in a sense of presence and terroir, but with wines that are priced at the more reasonable end of the spectrum? Of course you are. In that case I would heartily recommend looking to the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon.
Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a prestigious wine tasting hosted by Sud de France, the CIVL (Conseil Interprofessionel des Vins du Languedoc) and Tim Atkin MW, which was attended by a mixture of UK wine professionals and producers from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. Tim had led a judging of wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon that were being presented at the London Wine Fair and had brought the best 19, as voted by the distinguished panel, to allow the assembled guests to try them.
The venue for the tasting was the Goring Hotel, a hotel that epitomises London's traditional style and quintessential class like no other. From the Union Flags draped outside the hotel, the bell-boys and front of house staff bedecked in waistcoats and tails, to the luxuriant and plush soft furnishings inside the hotel, this hotel oozes old-school refinement and elegance.
I tasted my way through the 19 wines that Tim and the team presented and below are a selection of my highlights.
On the white front I was particularly impressed with the selection, although they made up only three of the 19 - I found them poised and elegant with plenty of interesting character. My favourites were:
2014 Cellier des Chartreux "Origine" (IGP Gard, 100% Chardonnay) which had a nice, clean grassy profile to it. Slightly softer and gentler than a Chablis, but nonetheless pleasing, I thought.
2015 Hecht and Bannier "Languedoc Blanc" (AOP Languedoc, 60% Piquepoul Blanc, 25% Roussanne, 15% Grenache Blanc) which had a very decent mouth-feel to it and was bright and fresh with crunchy green apple and zingy lemons; it was nice with acidity without being overly tart.
2012 Château Le Bouïs, La Cigale (AOP Corbières, 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache Noir) which was ripe and rich with a slightly plummy feel, there was a little grip from some tannins too.
2013 Domaine Aubaï "La Douzième" (IGP Gard, 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier), this wine had a pleasantly funky nose with a touch of smoky bacon; on the palate it had a nice peppery kick to it. The Viognier was there to just add a touch of finesse to the wine and smoothing it out.
Last on the reds front was my favourite wine of the evening, the 2013 Château Beauregard Mirouze "Lauzina Rouge" (AOP Corbières, 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache Noir) which again featured a lovely smoky nose and a pepper bite on the palate.
Both of the last two wines demonstrated why the Languedoc-Roussillon is such an interesting and exciting wine region. They are made in a deliberately northern Rhone, with a focus on poise and elegance and on providing wines that represent great style and artistry; things that wines from the more famous climes of France (Rhone, Burgundy and Bordeaux) are renowned for and, as a result, charge a great deal of money for. I didn't see a price list, but I am certain that these wines would retail for a much lower level than their more famous counterparts.
As you would expect from a venue like the Goring they put out an incredible four course menu of food. We were split onto four tables, mixed between invited guests (like myself) and the producers of the wine themselves. In between each course the producers would move between the tables in something that resembled a speed-dating event! This was a really good idea as it allowed us to spend some time talking to the producers and finding more about (and try, of course!) their wines.
The dinner started with a Cured Sea Bream served with Fresh Peas, Mint and Preserved Lemon, which was an inspired choice for a starter - the dices of succulent Sea Bream and flavours of the preserved lemons matched very nicely with the Cellier des Chatreux.
Interestingly after such a traditionally English main course, we then moved to a cheese course featuring English cheeses. I think this was a nod of the head to our French hosts; the French, of course, always take their cheese before their sweet. They also believe that rather than having port or sweet wines with cheese that you should have red wine (although this does, depend on the type cheese), which was fortunate as we had plenty of red wine!
For dessert we had a Chocolate and Bitter Orange Tart, which was, once more, cooked to perfection. This was a rich, decadent pudding that made you feel good about life when you ate it. In fact, it was so rich and so decadent that I couldn't even finish it - that never normally happens!! The only shame here was that we didn't have a Vin Doux to pair this delicious pudding against.
As you no doubt will be able to tell from this post, this was an exceptionally well organised and enjoyable evening. I am hugely indebted to Sud de France, CIVL, Tim Atkin MW and Su-Lin Ong for organising such a wonderfully creative and pleasurable evening and for opening my eyes up to the wonderful wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon. Now to explore it further...!
Are you already a fan of the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon? If so, what are your top tips?