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

Roussillon wines will warm the soul as the rainclouds gather

ROUSSILLON is  the sunniest place in France, just over the Pyrenees from Spain.  Sun and warmth. Remember that? I’ve been seeking it out in  liquid form while the rain has been ceaseless.

You can turn to these wines to warm your soul alongside a gravy-rich casserole and some buttery mash. Peas too if you like.

The Côtes du Roussillon sits next to the Languedoc in the south of France and is  one of the country’s most up-and-coming wine regions. The best vineyards in the north fall under the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages appellation. Red wines only here;  powerful and complex wines with a good aging potential.

Not sure if the written word can describe how much I loved Calmel Joseph Côtes du Roussillon Villages, 2011 (£12, or £11 for six, at winetrust100.co.uk). Occasionally I find a wine I forget to drink (no sniggering at the back).  I was  engrossed by  its beguiling aromas of rich ripe black fruits,  herbs and – bear with me – rumours of a distant woodland campfire.

When I  sipped,  there were explosions of spicy berries, a beautiful depth of  juicy black fruits,  a rich mouthfeel and soft tannins. It is  a blend of grenache, syrah, carignan,  deep ruby  and  14.5% abv. It won  two golds at the 2013 International Wine Challenge, including the Cotes Du Roussillon Villages Trophy. Lovely.

Calmel Joseph Côtes du Roussillon Villages
Calmel Joseph Côtes du Roussillon Villages

Cotes de Roussillon Villages ‘Occultum Lapidem’, Domaine de Bila-Haut 2011 (£18.95 www.swig.co.uk) is also from the superior northern vineyards and  a blend of syrah, grenache and carignan. Took me a while to grasp that the underlying nuance of its peppery black fruit aroma was  a wet  leather jacket. Some liquorice too. Bright acidity and pepper again to taste;  with bitter sweet squeaky fresh blackberries. Complex and very interesting.

Saint Roch Côtes du Roussillon Syrah Grenache (£6.99, Morrisons and morrisonscellar.com 14% abv) nosed with lots of black fruit and a woody charm. Grapes are grown on old vines, which have cast aside the flippancies of youth and now concentrate on the best things in life; producing fewer grapes but with more intense flavours. For less than £7 you get a wine which is sunny and deep, peppery and fruity and best with food.

By contrast, the region is  known for sweet wines. As I’m visiting Roussillon, metaphorically,  then it would be rude not to look at a couple.

Croix Milhas Rivesaltes Ambré (£7.94 for half a bottle, Tesco) is a blend of grenache gris, grenache blanc, macabeau and muscat. It has had three years in oak which adds the nutty, caramel and coffee aromas which float above its amber hue. Fresh and zingy, oranges and nuts and dried fruits to taste. I had a slither of aged cheddar,   (blue cheese would be best). It was  sweet and savoury moreishness and my toes sensed its 16.5% abv.

Mas Amiel Vintage Blanc 2010 (£21.99, theperfectcellar.com 16% abv) It is a white Maury, with an interesting back story from grenache gris vine to glass.  The fermentation is stopped  by adding alcohol, which kills the yeasts, leaving lots of sugar in the wine. It is aged in two separate stages.  I know it is over £20, but everything is relative – how much would you spend in a pub? This complex sweet wine is a delight. I sipped  on its own, well chilled, though it would be ideal with desserts. It had a tangerine and citrus nose, a flirtation with honeysuckle. To taste, vibrant and  zesty tangerine and grapefruit,  and honey and crystallised fruits lingers after every sip.

Published in the saturday extra magazine February 1st 2014

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express