Taste the sunshine at the Festival Sud De France
The Festival Sud de France kicked off in London last week, with the aim of bringing a taste of the Mediterranean to our fair shores. It’s a two week celebration of the foods and wines of the Launguedoc-Rousillon region of France and consists of a series of events which range from playing Boules to cheese and wine pairing. It culminates with Sud de France hosting its own marquee at the Taste of London in Regent’s Park this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Earlier this week I attended one such event – a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) wine tasting of the Laungedoc Grand Crus at Maison du Laungedoc-Rousillon in central London. Run by renowned wine writer Simon Woods, the tasting focused on some of the region’s premium wines.
Despite a winemaking history that can be traced back to Roman times, Languedoc-Rousillon is relatively new and ‘undiscovered’ by international-wine standards. With its vast array of soils, a geography ranging from coasts to mountains, warm sunshine, yet cooling maritime influences it is a wonderful illustration of the effects of ‘terroir’ on the finished wine.
The majority of the region’s wines are red, based on varying blends of a handful of key grape varieties; Syrah (Shiraz), Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. We tried seven different red wines, each from a different Languedoc appellation.
My favourite was a new world-esque, ‘Las Flors de la Peira’ 2008, from Terrasses du Larzac in Languedoc AOP. Apparently the vineyard owner is an Aussie and a musician – Rob Dougan from Clubbed to Death – and the winemaker is French. Made from a blend of 55% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Cinsault, it has a dark, intense, spicy and inviting nose of plums, blackberries, Garrigues and pepper. On the palate, juicy, mouth-watering red berry fruit, toasty vanilla and cinnamon spices combine with a touch of wild herbs and a very silky texture – it’s extremely quaffable.
With a little more complexity and a very different expression of ‘terroir’, Domaine d’Aupilhac La Boda 2008 from Montpeyroux in Coteaux du Languedoc AOP, is a little more earthy, developing clove, liquorice and tobacco aromas alongside bramble fruits and a touch of violets – characteristic of a Syrah and Mourvèdre dominated blend. The tannins although obvious, are softened thanks to well integrated toasty oak which contributes to a lingering finish. This is full bodied wine to have with food and will go particularly well with red meats and high protein dishes.
A slightly more polarising, but rather interesting wine was the Chateau Caraguilhes Le Solus 2009 from Corbières Boutenac AOP. The vineyard is organic and the wine made from a blend of 60% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre and 15% Carignan. With a gamey, slightly herbal nose, chewy tannins and a savoury, almost leathery palate, the fruit is not immediate. Some people felt that the wine was ‘a bit of nothing’, but I think it’s a ‘grower’. First impressions don’t always give the most accurate picture and when I went back to this wine after tasting the others, I found new layers of soft blackcurrant and herbal flavours, as well as some of the more complex meaty character coming through contributing to a long finish. This isn’t a crowd-pleaser, but it’s got a lot of intrigue, especially if you like your wines a little more challenging. It’s also relatively easy to get hold of from Waitrose in the UK.
There were only two white wines – these tend to be made in the cooler coastal areas or hilly sites inland. My pick out of the two was one from Limoux AOP.
South of Carcassonne in the foothills of the Pyrenees, it benefits from both the cooling influences of the mountains but also onshore winds from the Atlantic Ocean to the West and the Mediterranean to the East. Chateau Rives Blanques Mauzac Occitania 2010 is made from the relatively unknown Mauzac grape. It has delicious honeysuckle, ripe Golden Delicious apple and melon aromas which carry through on to the palate with the addition of subtle buttery, toasty notes as a result of barrel fermentation. This is a silky, full bodied wine balanced by refreshing acidity and a streak of minerality that contributes to a long, long finish. It’s a unique and delicious wine that would work very well paired with roasted or pan-fried fish or white meat. It’s available from Great Western Wines.
Languedoc-Rousillon is one of France’s largest vineyard areas and it has great potential in terms of quality production. The fact that it produces wines of all colours, in every style, from sparkling to fortified and from sweet to dry means there is something to suit every palate and every budget. Whilst this tasting only scratched the surface, I fully intend to explore some more!
For more great articles by Alex Reed, you can visit her blog here
Photography by Adam Reed.