The Languedoc-Roussillon Sud de France / Sud-Ouest Top 100 celebrates the best wines from Languedoc, Roussillon & South-West France. The area is so vast it would take you five hours driving on good French roads to get from one end to the other. Earlier in the year, wine critic Tim Atkin MW and his team, blind-tasted their way through the region’s wines – with the aim of getting to the Sud De France Top 100. Our Justin Keay tasted this selection and produced his own list – whittling 100 wines down to just 12.
“Producer-wise, there was lots of Domaines Paul Mas, some Plaimont and Domaine Gayda, and some Vignobles Foncalieu but curiously nothing from the region’s true behemoth, Gerard Bertrand,” writes Keay about the Sud de France 100 selection.
As I walked up the stairs towards the Sud de France tasting in Great George Street, off Parliament Square, I had a strong sense of anti-climax. Not because this was yet another lunchless tasting (I had my familiar Tesco BLT in my backpack); and not because I wasn’t looking forward to tasting through the Sud de France Top 100 selected blind by Tim Atkin and his 14 strong team from 403 wines from the world’s largest, most diverse and maybe also fastest improving wine region.
No, it was because I had just come from watching the resignation of the Liar in Chief around the corner, and was cherishing the delicious joy of Boris Johnson’s Clownfall. My fellow tasters seemed similarly energised but it wasn’t to last very long.
“My God, who are they going to choose next? They’re all appalling, ” said one, clutching a sample of what turned out to be a very good value Viognier.
Chastened by the grim prospect of the witless Liz Truss as Prime Minister, it was time to switch from whine to wine.
Sud de France is the umbrella brand for the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon Occitanie–Pyrénées Méditerranée – a region that stretches from the Rhône Valley, through Languedoc and Roussillon adjacent to Spain, and up into the Sud-Ouest, a diverse and sprawling region in its own right north of Toulouse comprising Gascony and famous AOCs including Madiran and Saint-Mont. I pulled out Google Maps to plot a route from Banyuls sur Mer in Roussillon to Coteaux des Glanes in the Sud-Ouest, Sud De France’s northernmost AOC: almost five hours driving over 431 kilometres, with many producers, vastly differing terroir and a whole lot of wine lying in between. All of which makes the task of choosing a Top 100 all the more challenging.
The Languedoc-Roussillon Occitanie–Pyrénées Méditerranée region stretches from the Rhône Valley, through Languedoc and Roussillon adjacent to Spain, and up into the Sud-Ouest …
So how were the wines?
My sense that this is a much improved region was confirmed, with the whites especially showing great freshness and originality; producers are seeking to show a sense of place in their wines and are succeeding by better varietal choice (Grenache Blanc and Gris show well here, as do Viognier, Chardonnay and um, Albariño whilst more regional grapes like Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng are also exciting). Reds, thankfully, are less oaky (but still, it must be said, tending towards the heavy side with 14/14.5% alcohol not unusual); more than one third of the chosen reds were oaked against just 25% last year, whilst 54% of all wines had sustainable credentials against 46% in 2021.
Producer-wise, there was lots of Domaines Paul Mas, some Plaimont and Domaine Gayda, and some Vignobles Foncalieu but curiously nothing from the region’s true behemoth, Gerard Bertrand, which felt a little strange, given his reputation for both volume and quality. And only one sparkling wine, the perfectly decent Domaine Rosier Ma Maison (AOP Blanquette de Limoux) NV, made from Mauzac and Chardonnay. But such are the vagaries of choosing a relatively small selection from such a vast sea of choice.
Here’s my Top 12 from the Sud De France Top 100
Domaines Paul Mas Truly Irrestible Viognier St Gabriel (IGP Pays d’Oc) 2021
Wow, what incredible value. This delicious full bodied, fruit-charged Viognier is fantastic value at around £8. Apricot, lychee and other flavours supported by good acidity. Co-op.
Domaine Gayda Altre Cami Grenache Gris (IGP Pays d’Oc) 2018
This was a standout at the recent Domaine Gayda tasting in London and here it also impressed, with great freshness and balance and moreish fruit. Classy and distinctive. Cambridge Wine.
Laurent Miquel Albariño (IGP Aude) 2021
I was a bit surprised to find two or three examples of what is arguably Spain’s star white variety on tasting here but this spicy, unoaked example – made from grapes grown at altitude – was the standout. Different style to Rias Baixas, but interesting and moreish. Good value at around £12. Waitrose.
Domaines Paul Mas, Clos Astelia Le Grand Blanc (IGP Terres du Midi) 2020
Even before tasting, this wine was a standout thanks to its unusual bottle, rounded with glass dots around the top. But the contents were equally striking, lots of rich fruit supported by good acidity and balance. Seeking distribution with a suggested retail price between £25-30.
Maison Sinnae Elements Luna (AOP Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun) 2021
This unoaked but very fruit forward blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Rousanne is quite weighty but also fresh, with all three varieties working well to create a harmonious whole. Seeking distribution with a suggested retail price of £12.50-15.
Domaines Paul Mas, Silene Chardonnay (AOP Limoux) 2021
Another very good value wine £10-12 RRP, this is a big, surprisingly complex oaked Chardonnay that really delivers on taste. Silene – whose image decorates the bottle – was a character from Greek mythology and a mate of Dionysius who used to gain special wisdom after a few drinks. If they tasted anything like this, old Silene would have been wise in no time flat. Co-op.
Domaines Paul Mas, Chateau Laurianne Soleil Blanc (AOP Cotes du Roussillon) 2020
Yet another Paul Mas wine but this time from Roussillon and very different. A structured wine made from vines planted in Tramontane terroir comprising Grenache Blanc and Macabeo. Spicy, quite fruit forward and with 14.5% alcohol, not shy either. Soho Wines.
Plaimont Le Faîte (AOP Saint Mont) 2017
This famous historic cooperative never makes a boring wine and Le Faîte is no exception. An oaked blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu, this is complex, spicy, with lots of savoury fruit and a long, lingering aftertaste. Corney & Barrow.
Domaines de Nizas Le Clos Rosé (AOP Languedoc) 2021
This was a standout amongst the pink wines because of its fruit-driven freshness and zesty acidity. Made from an unoaked blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre – the grapes are hand harvested at night for maximum freshness – the wine is matured on fine lees and shows delicious floral notes but also has roundness and elegance. Really quite perfect for a summer afternoon. Hayward Brothers.
Domaine Gayda Villa Mon Rêve (AOP Minervois La Livinière) 2018
Gayda’s one and only AOP wine is rightly regarded as something of a classic and the 2018 is no exception: 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache, this is a well-constructed wine, with lots of character reflected in cedar, cassis and a very long finish. 100% organic. Cambridge Wine
Domaine de Cébène Felgaria (AOP Faugeres) 2017
This hefty wine shows as black as pitch in the glass and has a pleasantly chewy character with lots of black berry and cassis fruit supported by careful oaking. One of the oldest vintages on show here, this blend of predominantly Mourvèdre but also Syrah works really well. One for a cold autumnal evening, with strong cheese. Seeking distribution.
Domaine Laurens Le Dernier Lion (AOP Marcillac) 2017
The ‘last lion’ was my last wine of the tasting and what a great wine to go out on: full on, 100% Fer Servadou (aka Braucol), a variety that doesn’t pull its punches and here is really full on, very distinctive flavours with cedar and fern behind the cassis and blackberry attack, this has enormous length. Unoaked, but with lots of heft, style and character as you might expect for its £30 plus pricetag. Hourlier Wine.
Sud de France will be holding another tasting – this time involving the producers of the Top 100 – in central London on October 18. Who knows – it might even coincide with another prime ministerial resignation or government collapse. Cheers to that thought, anyway.