What an evening we had last Thursday. The Wine Gang joined forces with Sud de France and the 50 wine lovers who’d snapped up the tickets to taste wines from the Top 100.
Le Top 100 is the annual blind-tasting competition to select, no prizes for guessing, 100 top wines from the South of France. This year, as the newly constituted Occitanie region, it took in the South West as well as the huge arc of Languedoc-Roussillon from the Spanish border round to the Rhône Valley.
Our wine festivals, where there are hundreds of wines to taste, plus Wine Walks and Masterclasses, are well established: the five-festival winter season kicks off in Birmingham this Saturday. Our Ultimate Evenings, intimate, tutored tastings for 25–30 people, are equally well established, especially the annual, sell-out Ultimate Champagne (6 December this year: tickets go on sale shortly), but Le Top 100 was a new format for us and it was a huge success. We’ll definitely be doing more.
The tasting was held in the smart, centrally located headquarters of Sud de France UK in Cavendish Square, London and Jane, David, Anthony and I each had a table of six wines showcasing the quality and diversity of styles of Occitanie's wines. There was no question that it was both the quality and the sheer variety that were a revelation to the tasters. They were free to taste what and where they liked, but most worked through table by table and then returned to their favourites for a recap. The four of us were there to pour and talk about the wines. There's nothing we like better – and we were so busy for the whole three hours that I barely really caught up with the other three, but I can at least tell you about the six wines I showed: a pink fizz, a dry white and four reds.
Sieur d’Arques Crémant de Limoux Première Bulle Rosé
Graceful, supple sparkling wine with mouthwatering, fresh raspberry and strawberry fruit. A Chardonnay-dominated blend with 10% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir. This has been available from Tesco, but is not currently in stock.
Château Coujan Saint-Chinian Cuvée Bois Joli 2016
A rare white Saint-Chinian, made from Roussanne, Rolle (aka Vermentino) and Grenache, oak fermented and matured. A perfume of mirabelles, with quince and minerals subtley framed by oak on the palate. Absolutely lovely.
Maison Ventenac Cabardès Les Années Folles La Délicate 2015
A 50% Cabernet Franc, 30% Syrah, 10% Merlot, 10% Grenache blend from Languedoc’s most westerly appellation, Cabardès, in the limestone foothills of the Massif Central. The combination of cooler climate and Cabernet Franc gives a green capsicum freshness to the raspberry, black fruit and graphite flavours. Drier, lighter and more linear than reds from warmer Languedoc areas.
Bergerie du Capucin Languedoc Pic Saint Loup Dame Jeanne 2015
A Syrah-dominated blend with 20% Grenache and a smidgen of Mourvèdre. There’s no oak to get in the way of the Syrah's enticing floral, cherry and raspberry perfume and purity of flavour. My joint favourite red with the Saint-Chinian below. Christopher Piper Wines have the 2014 vintage at £14.54.
Domaine Belot Saint-Chinian Mouleyres 2015
An oak-aged Saint-Chinian made from 60% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache. Fragrant, ripe red fruit, especially raspberry, notes of garrigue, spice and smoky almond. Generous and satisfying. Joint favourite red.
Château Villemajou Corbières Boutenac Grand Vin 2015
A dark and powerful wine made from Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre aged in French oak barrels for almost a year. Succulent black fruit, with liquorice herbs and spices and a rich, oaky wrap. It was a firm favourite of many tasters. This wine is not in the UK, but many other wines made by Gérard Bertrand in his signature ripe, oak-aged style are.