The Buyer
Sud De France Top 100 shows the depth of variety across Occitanie

Sud De France Top 100 shows the depth of variety across Occitanie

The Sud De France team were back in London this October promoting its annual Sud de France Top 100 selection. The selection is designed to showcase the best wines from across the Occitanie region, as voted for by a sage panel of some of the UK’s finest buyers and tasters. We sent the Buyer’s Mike Turner along to find out more about the wines on show and pick his favourites from the exciting line-up.

Mike Turner
18th December 2023by Mike Turner
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

The Sud de France Top 100 is “proof that the region can produce fine wines as well as the more everyday fare – but often here, the wines still over deliver,” according to judging chairman Tim Atkin MW.

Throughout the Sud de France Top 100 were dotted names of new AOCs and IGPs that reflect the increasing exploration in the region

Just four months on from being at the same event space and exploring the wines of the Occitanie region, I was back. This time my brief was to taste through all of the Sud de France Top 100 wines selected by the panel and pick out the choicest drops of the bunch for us to get on our radars. Those that know me will know that this immediately fills me with dread. I am one of the slowest wine tasters you will ever meet and marvel every time I note someone spending 30 seconds sniffing, swilling, spitting, and scrawling a short-hand squiggle before moving on. I’m usually still struggling with my lanyard at this point.

This time around, however, I was genuinely excited about the task at hand. My June trip to the “Experience Le Sud” tasting had peaked my interest in finding out more about the increasingly fine wines produced in the region, and the chance to taste the best 100 from across Languedoc, Roussillon, the South-West and the Southern Rhône valley (to the west of the River Rhône at least) was too good to turn down. I grabbed a tasting glass, had one last whisper to myself in my terrible French accent of “courage, mon ami!”, and off I went…

Sud De France Top 100 Selection

The high quality and rising confidence of the winemakers of the regions saw more wines of higher retail prices enter the competition, with many over £20 RRP. That’s not to say even at higher prices the wines lost the reputation of their home regions for delivering fabulous value for money. As noted by Atkin in his programme notes, the entries were “proof that the region can produce fine wines as well as the more everyday fare – but often here, the wines still over deliver.”

Small regions shine out amongst the big names

Thierry Thomas of Mas du Novi

Throughout the Sud de France Top 100 selection were dotted names of recent AOCs and IGPs that reflect the increasing exploration and experience of the grape growers and winemakers in the Occitanie.

I have to admit that AOP Languedoc Grés de Montpellier is a new one on me. I’m not saying it’s a new one on everyone out there, but even the most ardent of Languedoc lovers will admit this small region, nestled in between the city of Montpellier and Picpoul de Pinet to the south west, could be considered ‘niche’. In fact, only 9,000 hl of wine are produced in the AOC in total each year.

Mas du Novi, whose wines placed well in the Top 100, produce 10% of the entire output of the AOC on its own. Owner and winemaker Thierry Thomas bought the property in 1994 when fresh out of winemaking college in Montpellier, and was drawn to the unique combination of soils and climate.

“The big point of difference to the terroir here is the soils,” revealed Thomas. “They are laden with pebbles and pockets of iron-rich clays. We’re also very close to the sea despite the 150m altitude of the vineyards. This means we get regular moist air from the sea that streams up the Côteaux before stopping at the top and keeping the whole area beautifully fresh.”

Thomas’ property is surrounded by 50 hectares of organically cultivated vines and 50 hectares of the kind of Southern French landscapes adorning the postcards, with woods and garrigue plants all overlooking the coast and the ever-popular Étang de Thau lagoon. But it’s not all scenic luxury, grape growing has its challenges, least of all with the vines’ low yields.

“The average yield on the property is around 10 hl/ha,” whinced Thomas. “If I’m being positive, it can get to 15 hl/ha in a good vintage, but it’s what gives our wines such concentration and expresses the Grés de Montpellier.”

New AOCs maturing nicely

Andrew Jarvie of Clos Aguilem

Clos Aguilem is based in Terrasses du Larzac AOC, which gained its elevation to AOC status less than a decade ago in 2014. The following year winemaker and consultant, Jean-Charles Auffret, left his career in Champagne to establish vineyards in an area he’d long coveted since his days studying at the University of Montpellier. He raised the money for his organic project via a crowdfunding campaign across friends and colleagues, old and new.

One of the 17 associates is Andrew Jarvie, who now lives and works on the estate with Auffret. He cited the dynamism of the new AOC as a main reason for its recent successes.

“The dynamic profile of winemakers around us really spurs us on,” mentioned Jarvie. “We’re a group of relatively small properties. The average vineyard holding is just 13 hectares compared to around 40 hectares in nearby Pic St Loup, but we’ve got lots of natural factors in our favour. Most of all are the steep southerly slopes and the ever-present Tramontane wind which always manages to keep some freshness. Winemakers have arrived there from all around France and the world (as far as Argentina) looking to create something new, and it feels exciting to be part of.”

My Sud de France Top 100 mixed case

Given my aforementioned tasting speed, it took me all of the morning (and most of the afternoon if truth be told) tasting my way through the 100 wines that made it into this year’s Sud De France Top 100. From there, the original plan was to pick a top 6, but such was the quality of the wines on show, that changed to a top 10!

Two thirds of the Top 100 are looking for distribution and 8 of my 10 are in that position, so please do contact the Sud De France team for further information and winery contact details. I also tried to get a good smattering of wines across the pricing bands, so hopefully something in there for everyone…

Les Costières de Pomerols, Luvignac, 2022, AOP Picpoul de Pinet

A strange one for me to include, especially as it was one of the first I tasted and I’m not the biggest fan of this style of super fresh white wine. The wines from this region that stand out, however, are those that have the clearly high levels of acidity you expect, but have it so well integrated that it doesn’t leave you dribbling on your shoes. This wine was one of the nicest Picpoul de Pinets I’ve tasted…well…ever in fairness. White peach, apricot, crisp golden apples and lemon juice, but with a beautifully balanced minerality on the aftertaste. Berkmann Wine Cellars, RRP £10-13.

Cave de Roquebrun, Col de la Serre, 2022, AOP Saint Chinian

I love the wines of Sant Chinian, especially from the sub-region of Roquebrun, but mostly for the great value reds I’ve tried in the past. This beautiful dry white wine from Cave de Roquebrun is an unoaked blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. Pronounced notes of green apples, peaches, apricots, blossom, and smokey minerality and bitter lemon rind finish. Plenty of refreshing acidity to balance out the mouthfeel. Great for an aperitif or the dinner table. Looking for distribution, suggested RRP £13-£16.

Clos Aguilem, Le Mas Blanc, 2022, IGP Saint Guilhem le Désert

A blend of Grenache Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Rolle (or Vermentino to your Italophiles out there). This organically produced wine hits a fairly chunky 14.5% abv, but it still has perfect balance to boot. Grown on the steep slopes of the Terrasses du Larzac with the Tramontane wind providing almost constant freshness, this partially oaked dry white has a lovely spicy white pepper and stoney minerality with a plethora of stone, tropical and citrus notes. It’s a real gastro wine with a lovely waxy mouthfeel. Other wines from this producer worth a try include their Kiara red blend (itself part of the Top 100) and the 100% Carignan from a 65-year-old plot in the heart of the region. Looking for distribution, suggested RRP £16-£20

Mas Bécha, Hipgnosis 313, 2021, AOP Côtes Du Roussillon

This really is Grenache Blanc at its best. I love this grape variety and when it’s produced to this standard it’s hard to deny this is a grape capable of truly fine wines. Incredible flavour hit of green and stone fruits, lovely lifting jasmine floral notes, and a long aftertaste with a waxy and mineral mouthfeel. Appreciate it might be a hard sell if you leave it on the shelf and hope people pick it up off their own bat, but once people try it, they’ll be hooked. I know I am after just one taste. Hallgarten & Novum Wines, RRP £25.

Famille Carrière Pradal, Troglodytes, 2019, AOP Languedoc

Famille Carrière Pradal featured heavily in my article when I covered the Experience Le Sud tasting earlier this summer , so I was thrilled to see that its impressive portfolio had managed to place well in this year’s Top 100. This partially oaked Syrah and Grenache blend is deep, dark and brooding in the glass, but surprisingly light and lifting on the nose with vibrant violet petal floral notes, liquorice, black pepper and nutmeg spice accompanying the concentrated red and black berries, plums and cherries. The gorgeous garrigue notes come to the fore in the long and concentrated aftertaste. As Tim Atkin MW said in his pre-event notes, it’s great to see the Occitanie region proving it’s capable of truly fine wines, and this wine is a case in point. Looking for distribution, suggested RRP £20-£25.

Mas Du Novi, Prestigi, 2019, AOP Grés de Montpellier

One of two wines from Thierry Thomas’ cellars to make it into the Top 100. This blend of organic Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre goes through standard fermentation with selected yeasts before seeing 12 months in 225L barriques, of which 20% are new. The result is a perfect wine for those sweet oaked red lovers. Concentrated red and black fruits, with black pepper, nutmeg, violet petal and liquorice with an alcohol sweetness coming through at the end into the long finish. Other wines worth keeping an eye out for were the Novi 2016, which was effectively Prestigi’s big brother, and two single varietal minimal intervention amphorae-fermented wines from Syrah and Grenache respectively. Looking for distribution, suggested RRP £20-£25.

Abbaye Sylva Plana, Les Novices, 2021, AOP Faugères

I had a great time tasting through the wines from Faugères that made it into the Top 100. I could have picked four or five of them, including Château Estanilles’ excellent Sous Les Rocs 2019 or Mas Olivier’s Le Parfum du Mas Olivier 2022. In the end I decided upon Abbaye Sylva Plana’s Les Novices 2021, a blend of Cinsault, Carignan and Grenache Noir. Great concentration of red and black fruit with subtle garrigue notes, this would be a great evening glugger to suit a lot of palates. A top seller in the offing here. Looking for distribution, suggested RRP £13-£16.

Château Les Bugadelles, Cuvée Des 4 Vents, 2019, AOP La Clape

A gorgeous wine from the warm, coastal vineyard sites of La Clape AOC. Mourvèdre performs really well around here, and this makes up the majority of this blend with Syrah and Grenache Noir. Really juicy dark plums, dark raspberries, blackberries, liquorice, nutmeg, garrigue and black pepper. This claimed one of the new ‘Wines of Distinction’ rosettes at the end of the judging process, a decision I clearly agree with, especially at that price! Looking for distribution, suggested RRP £13-£16.

Domaine La Louvière, La Séductrice, 2021, AOP Malepère

I first came across Malepère a few years ago tasting the excellent wines of Maison Ventenac, and it’s always left me keen to try more when I get the chance. This region is just about officially part of Languedoc I believe, but sits in the foothills of the mountains so far inland that it gets both Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. So here we are, with an organic Languedoc wine made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Violet floral notes with red and black plums and cherries, blackberries, and liquorice spice. Slightly weird label, but actually helped it stand out from the crowd. Looking for distribution, suggested RRP £16-£20.

Domaine Gayda, Altre Cami Grenache Noir, 2021, IGP Pays D’Oc

Might just have sneaked it as my wine of the day. I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for a minimal label and a wax seal, but much more than that I’m a sucker for a top end, varietal, organic Grenache. Lovely build in the glass of lush red and black fruits with overlaying black pepper and garrigue. I’d be quite happy to smell this wine all day long. On the taste there’s a lovely grippiness from the tannins, and a perfect balance from the acidity, something I know Grenache gets poor reputation for. Well not here. It’s perfectly fresh with a super long, concentrated dark fruit and pepper finish. Looking for distribution, suggested RRP £25.

Sud de France’s Top 100 Tasting was an event organised by the Bureau de la Region Occitanie. For more information about the work of the bureau or the wines they represent, please contact Isabelle Kanaan on isabelle.kanaan@occitanie-london.com or Sébastien du Boullay on sbastien.duboullay@occitanie-london.com

Mike Turner is a freelance writer, presenter, educator, judge and regular contributor for The Buyer through his editorial company Please Bring Me My Wine. He also runs a wine events and ecommerce business, Feel Good Grapes, that explores and discusses the idea of sustainability in the wine trade.