Armed with a map of Occitanie, a tasting booklet and glass, David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus ventured into the unknown with last week’s French Wine Discoveries tasting. Luckily TV’s Joe Wadsack was on hand to guide Kermode and any other unsuspecting wine buyer through the mass of interesting wines from the South of France. As if to emphasise how Wadsack is one to snuffle out a gem of a wine and indeed a bargain, he was operating a novel ‘lucky dip’ the prizes being foie gras and fresh truffle (well it is Wadsack we’re talking about).
Kermode picks out the Top 10 wines you should be thinking about – six of which are actively seeking an importer. See below.
Much like the regions it showcased, French Wine Discoveries was enormous in scale, rich in diversity, occasionally revelatory and, sometimes, just a little bit confusing.
Representing more than 60 producers in total, around half were from the relatively new super-region of Occitanie, created around three years ago from a merger of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées. The biggest wine region in France, Occitanie represents a third of the country’s production and five percent of the world’s wine output, from a surface area of more than quarter of a million hectares.
Located between the Massif Central and the Pyrenees, Occitanie boasts that it is the only French region with all four climate influences: Mediterranean, Maritime, Continental and Mountainous, whilst also contending with ‘the four great winds’: the Mistral, Tramontane, Marine and Autan. The latter might also explain why the region is home to a third of the country’s organic vineyards, more than 1500 across 23 thousand hectares.
It all adds up to a lot of wine, a tantalising array to taste, and one of those ‘where to begin?’ moments. So what a wonderful idea to give a trestle table, and free rein, to that man-mountain-of-enthusiasm, Joe Wadsack, holding court in the corner, with his customary blend of knowledge and verve. As if his sheer, inescapable presence were not sufficient, Wadsack came armed with a ‘lucky dip’, with prizes of foie gras and fresh truffle: my kind of fairground attraction.
Of the wines on show across the vast room, at the Leonardo Hotel close to Tower Bridge, were those already enjoying significant success, including a Sauvignon that’s apparently the house wine in the House of Lords, and others with huge potential still seeking representation in the UK. Wadsack had chosen an excellent mix of both.
Coinciding with the Australian Trade Tasting, a couple of miles away in Holborn, French Wine Discoveries wasn’t especially crowded, but the producers I spoke to seemed delighted with the calibre of those who’d attended, suggesting it was a case of quality over quantity, with potential deals to be done.
David Kermode’s Top 10 French Wine Discoveries:
Château Rives-Blanques, Blanquette de Limoux (imported by Tanners), a beguiling Brut Nature, from 100% Mauzac, all 2017 vintage, with 16 months on lees, offering zippy, clean, fresh citrus and baked apple, with a lovely lingering finish. It’s not a substitute for Champagne, but something distinctively different and all the more exciting for it.
Château Rives-Blanques, Dédicace, 2018 Chenin Blanc, Limoux (imported by Tanners), the Panman family are among a select few making a varietal Chenin and this feels influenced by the Loire rather than the Cape. Organically farmed, with delicious layers of fresh green and yellow apple, tension, richness of texture and a subtle nuttiness in the finish, this wine demands at least another glass.
Chateau La Negly, La Brise Marine, 2019 (imported by Thorman Hunt), a blend of 70% Bourboulenc and equal parts Roussanne and Clairette, with bright grapefruit and ripe peach, broad texture, it’s aptly named as it offers an energising sea breeze of freshness and salinity, making it the perfect partner for grilled fish.
Vignobles Lorgeril, Marquis de Pennautier, “Terroir d’altitude” Chardonnay 2017 (imported by Ellis of Richmond), grown above 300 metres, rich, yet still beautifully fresh, with creamy citrus and red apple, and subtle vanilla spice from well-integrated oak.
Domaines Auriol Jarin des Vignes Rares de Cicéron Cépage Albarińo 2018 (seeking an importer), planted just 5 years ago, in response to global warming, Auriol’s neighbours are now following suit. This offers the fresh blast of citrus and salinity that you expect, but more tropical fruit character and an appealing herbal twist at the end.
Domaine Ricardelle de Lautrec, Cuvée Pontserme, Chardonnay 2017 (seeking an importer), from an organic-certified producer where sheep roam the vineyard, aromatic,with citrus, pineapple and peach, rich texture from bâttonage and a puff pastry toastiness from 9 months in barrel.
S. Delafont Cévennes Viognier 2018 (seeking an importer), one of the wines selected by Joe Wadsack for his showcase table, I was initially sceptical as I’m not generally Viognier’s number one fan, but this charmer had rich tropical fruit, plenty of textural appeal and, for those who remember the Topic advert, “a hazelnut in every bite”.
Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue, Picpoul de Pinet 2018 (seeking a trade importer, although it is listed by Direct Wines), with a ‘guide price’ of £14, this is a top drawer Picpoul with oodles of character, lemon blossom, vibrant acidity and bright fresh apple through to a long, pure finish.
Domaine de la Barthe Symphonie de Cinq Sens 2014 (seeking an importer), from Coteaux de Béziers, another of Joe’s choices, a mix of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon with lashings of ripe purple-fruited charm and juicy tannins, making it the perfect crowd-pleasing bistro wine.
Aubert & Mathieu, AOP Corbières 2018 (seeking an importer), from a dynamic double act, Anthony Aubert and Jean-Charles Mathieu, who work with growers and rented facilities across the region to produce a range of thoroughly modern wines that really look the part, thanks to the labels (that could be inspired by Dave Phinney’s incredible design touch at Orin Swift). The ‘18 Corbières, a blend of the Rhône varieties, led by Syrah, offers bright black fruit, cracked black pepper and at least a light waft of garrigue. Aubert and Mathieu are ones to watch!