Q&A with Tim Atkin MW

The best wines from the South of France are celebrated in The Top 100 Awards. For both the trade and consumers, it is a definitive list of memorable, crafted, vibrant wines to look out for. Tim Atkin MW is chairman of the judges, and here he talks about the competition and what it seeks to do

Which aspects impress you when judging this full array of entries?
Two things above all. The improving quality, year on year, and the sheer diversity of wine styles this region produces. There are entire countries that are more homogenous than Occitanie.

What kind of wines do the judges rate most highly?
We look for wines with personality and individuality, wines that have a sense of place. It’s an over-used word these day, but balance is important too. As a group, I’d say we’re less impressed by power and lashings of new oak, and partial to balance and harmony. We don’t taste the samples with food, but we have one eye on the table, as it were.

Wines from Occitanie are stocked by virtually every quality merchant. Which styles from the Languedoc- Roussillon and the Sud-Ouest should make the foundation of such a list?
Make the most of that diversity, I say, and also of the value for money that
Occitanie offers. The varietal wines are great and, where more “international” grapes are concerned, have helped to increase its profile, but don’t miss out on lesser-known “local” grapes such as Négrette, Fer Servadou, Vermentino and Gros Manseng, or on blends, which are really exciting at their best. Mediterranean red blends are arguably the standout category in the region. For new things, keep an eye on Albariño, the improving rosés and Pinot Noir.

What makes this huge region continue to be so highly regarded
by and essential to merchants and sommeliers?
Diversity and value for money, most of all. But it’s also a very beautiful region to visit with real tourist potential. And it’s easy to get to, so merchants and sommeliers can visit for themselves and have a look at the different terroirs, appellations and IGPs.

Are there recent developments in the region which have helped the winemaking improve?
Less focus on new oak in some of the top wines has been a positive development for me. And also the recognition that Carignan can be a wonderful grape when it’s grown in the right place.

Over the time you have been chair of the judges, what are the main changes you have seen among the
wines entered each year?
A gradual, but impressive improvement. As the region’s image has improved, so more top producers are investing there and producing what, at their best, are exceptional wines. I think the value for money has
got better and better, too. These are wines that often over-deliver.

What is the significance of the annual Top 100 to consumers?
It’s a curated list, chosen by people who know the region well
and understand its wine styles. It’s also important that most of the top
producers enter, so we have the luxury of picking 100 really good wines from those that we taste on the day.