Making the tough calls for the cause

The annual Languedoc-Roussillon/Sud Ouest Sud de France Top 100 tasting, chaired by Master of Wine Tim Atkin, is popular with tasters precisely because of the exciting array of wine styles being shown from across this broad and very geographically diverse region.

Taking place in the sun-slaked studios of The Worx in southwest London, the day begins with an expectant hush as the judges gather and are assigned to a table and tasting team. Tasting sheets at the ready, pens poised, palates primed, the flights of wines then began to emerge, placed in neat rows on the tables, with no more information offered than the broader region of origin of the wines.

It’s here that the years of experience and knowledge, the expertise and analytical skills of the best tasters kicks in.

As with past events, some of the best in the business were on hand to judge this year’s Top 100.

They included consultant Peter McCombie MW, wine writer and southern French expert Rosemary George MW, specialist importer Nik Darlington of Red Squirrel Wine, critic Anthony Rose, blogger Jamie Goode, Fullers wine buyer Neil Bruce, Bibendum buying director Andrew Shaw, along with several other trade luminaries and communicators besides.

First up was crisp, palate-freshening line up of fashionable Picpoul – a good start to the day. The pace then picked up, with IGP Chardonnay, other IGP whites, IGP Grenache-based rosé, IGP reds, AOC white Languedoc, AOC red Rhone, AOC red Pic Saint Loup, AOC red Minnervois and AOC red Saint Chinian all in a mornings work.

What also makes this an enjoyable challenge is that some 2/3rds of the wines don’t currently have a UK importer. Top 100 is designed to shine a light on what the region has to offer, and it certainly achieves this aim.

Thus, for both buyers and journalists in the room, there’s a real sense of discovery – which adds an element of intrigue to proceedings when you’ve unearthed a real gem and then have to wait until the end of the day to find out what is was that knocked you out (in a good way).

There’s also no conferring among the judges, until the end of a flight, when scores and notes are already written, unless a bottle is deemed faulty and a second sample is called into play. However, as the Sud de France Top 100 competition works by elevating the very best from several hundred wines entered, the judges do then get busy comparing scores and discussing – if there are any wines hanging in the balance – which samples should be put forward as being worthy of making the final cut.

My team was led by the highly experienced taster and judge Charles Metcalf, who gave equal weighting to all comments and arguments as to whether a wine was worthy or not and should go through. If we couldn’t agree, or a wine was just teetering on the edge of ‘in’ or ‘out’, then that sample ended up on a table with any other similar styles from other tables’ flights, to be reassessed against the quality of those that had definitely made the grade.

As said, it’s hard if enjoyable work, so a welcome bite of lunch and chance to catch up on trade gossip allows the palate to recover from the onslaught of the morning. Chips are all too tempting when you’ve tasted through so many wines, soothing the tastebuds with addictive ease.

Then it’s back to work again, with another 10 flights, covering various Languedoc and other southern French styles, including well-known AOC’s including Corbieres, Faugeres and the very good whites from Limoux, plus another fresh flight of rosés.

The overall quality, as the judges agreed, was high, with the tasting also re-impressing on all the incredible diversity available from the Mediterranean-influenced southern regions under scrutiny.

We hope you’ll agree if you know or taste any of these wines – it’s a cracking selection, covering pretty much all bases, from enjoyable, easy-drinking whites, reds and rosés, to complex and quite sublime food-friendly styles that can sit with the best in the world.