Sun-kissed winning wines from Languedoc-Roussillon

Vilarnau Brut Gaudi Sleeve

TO celebrate the British Open last weekend I opened some wine. That is the closest affinity I have to golf. I didn’t even have a British “open” it was a French “open” with wines from Languedoc-Roussillon.

It is the most prolific wine-making region in the world. Yes, there are some mass-produced so-what wines, but there are lots which are good value sun-in-a-bottle delights.

Sud de France Top 100 wines
Sud de France Top 100

I was interested when the good people of Sud de France Top 100 contacted me and told me about their competition which is now in its second year. The Top 100 team do exactly what it says on the tin … find 100 of the finest wines from the region.

Over 650 wines were narrowed down to 100 during a rigorous blind tasting by a UK panel of industry experts, chaired by Tim Atkin.

White wines led the way: 40% of the Top 100 were white, even though they only account for 13% of the region’s production.

Says Isabelle Kanaan from Sud de France Développement: “Languedoc-Roussillon is an extremely diverse region, with talented winemakers producing every variety of wine; but is best known for its reds.

“It is fantastic to see that the Top 100 has helped highlight the overwhelming quality of Languedoc-Roussillon white wines, which are deserving of as much praise and attention as the region’s outstanding red wines.”

So there you go. One third of the Top 100 wines are available in the UK. I tasted two of them.

Paul Mas estate Marsanne wine review
Les Domaines Paul Mas, Paul Mas Estate Marsanne 2013

Paul Mas Estate Marsanne 2013 Top 100 Awarded (Majestic wines for £8-10). These grapes are grown in rolling hills just a few miles from the Mediterranean.

I love marsanne. Some of this wine was aged in oak barrels, so what you get is lots of stone fruits on the nose, apricots, pears and some vanilla from the oak. To taste, firm, juicy and creamy stone fruits.

Château L’Hospitalet, Grand Vin, 2012 wine review
Château L’Hospitalet, Grand Vin, 2012

In a higher price range is Château L’Hospitalet, Grand Vin, 2012 Top 100 Awarded (available from Majestic wine for £20-25) from Coteaux du Languedoc la Clape. La Clape was once an island and grapes grown on the limestone here have a distinctive character.

So much care has gone into this ruby red delight; syrah, grenache and mourvedre grapes are hand-picked, fermented separately and then aged in new barrels for up to 16 months. Only the best are then blended into this wine. There are spices and dried and fresh red fruit, hints of muskiness and brittle wood. A rounded burst of spicy fruit on the palate.

Look out for the Top 100 sticker on bottles in stores near you. You can also check out more details at www.suddefrance top100.co.uk

Also in my glass … Cor blimey, we’ve had some warm weather. So I opened bubbles. First up, the most beautiful bottle I’ve seen in a long time … if you like the Catalan architect Gaudi.

You can admire lovely Gaudi-style blue and pastel swirls on the sleeve of Vilarnau Brut NV Cava (£11.49, stockists include Ocado, The Oxford Wine Company, Cambridge Wine Merchants and TheDrinkShop.com) while enjoying its all-round prettiness.

Vilarnau Brut cava review
Vilarnau Brut cava

It has apples, pears and some lemons with a steady stream of delicate bubble and is from the very reliable stable of Gonzalez Byass.

Codorníu Brut NV (RRP £9.49 at Tesco and Sainsbury’s) has its own limited edition, a gold-wrapped bottle sleeve featuring a print of Barcelona’s key landmarks. Codorníu has won several awards over the years for its cava. For under a tenner you get a fizz popping with citrus and flowers.

Published in the saturday extra magazine July 26,  2014

International Wine Challenge announces Wine Merchant honours

The International Wine Challenge Merchants' Awards 2014

THIS girlie, as I write, has a mild red wine hangover. I have tried revitalising shampoo but it hasn’t worked, so I’m going to write to the Shampoo Ombudsman.

The reason for my “mild” head? This week the International Wine Challenge announced its Merchant Awards and I was there “quietly” enjoying the occasion.

Proof, if it were needed, that I was quiet at the International Wine Challenge Merchants' Awards 2014
Proof, if it were needed, that I was quiet at the International Wine Challenge Merchants’ Awards 2014

The headlines then (and it’s always nice to know these things when you’re shopping around for vino):

Marks & Spencer picked up the Supermarket of the Year gong. Highly commended was Morrisons.

Oddbins won High Street Chain of the Year (if there isn’t one near you, they have a website www.oddbins.com).

Wine Club of the Year was awarded to The Wine Society, of which this lady with the mild head is a firm fan. The cost of a lifetime share is £40 with no annual fee or obligation to buy; and you can bequeath membership to your kids. Great wines too. (www.the winesociety.com)

Great value sparkling wine was awarded to Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Prosecco Conegliano DOC which has graced this column on a couple of occasions.

You can find out more at www.internationalwinechallenge.com, plus you can search for individual award-winning wines.

In my glass … A workpal, who shall remain nameless, pointed me in the direction of some wines from Marks & Sparks. Anyway, Barrie (oops) said that he’d picked up a bottle of Indian wine and that it was very good indeed. The “very good indeed” wine turned out to be Jewel of Nasik Tempranillo Syrah 2013 and I can tell you, dear reader, that Barrie is bang on the money.

IMG_2043And talking about money, it comes in at £6.99, the same price as its sister wines Jewel of Nasik Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and Jewel of Nasik Zinfandel Rosé 2013.

I’m always one for a challenge and a glass of something new. M&S has worked with Sula Vineyards high up in the hills of Maharashtra north-east of Mumbai to bring this range of wines to our shores. Sula’s grapes are harvested during the dry season, to avoid the monsoon.

The sauvignon blanc was a crisp, citrus and gooseberry burst, with some herbs and a touch of stone fruit. M&S recommend you try it with chicken tikka masala.

Jewel of Nasik Zinfandel Rosé 2013, is salmon-pink deep and plump with fresh and dried strawberries. If you enjoy rosé then I can’t see any reason why you won’t like this; for me it was another rosé. It was OK. Again, M&S recommend either tandoori tiger prawns or monkfish tikka.

Jewel of Nasik Tempranillo Syrah 2013, is medium-bodied with deep cherry and blackberries. These two grapes are known for their intense peppery sprinkles, and this wine is no exception. Lamb rogan josh, say the M&S foodies.

Am liking all the food in these pairings; but these are old world grapes in a New World environment. Just  take a simple route … try them on their own.

Abbotts & Delaunay Zephyr Limoux
Abbotts & Delaunay Zephyr Limoux

Also in my glass … For a special occasion try Abbotts & Delaunay Zephyr Limoux (£16.99, www.averys.com), made from 100% handpicked chardonnay grapes created by a boutique winery in the Languedoc Roussillon region. It’s a subtle chardonnay humming with apricot and marzipan, and with a citrus in-the-mouth linger, akin to lemon tart.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine July 19   2014