The Top 100 Panel Tasting
On 29 April, an expert panel of judges, led by chairman Tim Atkin MW, tasted their way through 403 wines made in the vast Occitanie region. After careful consideration, the best entries were chosen to be showcased at the Sud de France Top 100 tasting on 21 June. The results were illuminating: there was a notable increase in wines with organic or sustainable credentials – 54% in 2022 vs 46% in 2021. In addition, more than a third of the Top 100 red wines were unoaked compared with a quarter in 2021 (21% reds with no oak in 2022 vs 12% in 2021).
However, the panel freely admitted that picking favourites from such an expansive line up was no easy task. “Generally the samples had very generous fruit and seemed to provide great value for money, which is reflected in the wines that made the top 100,” said Elizabeth Kelly MW, Majestic Wine’s buying manager. “Some of the Minervois were particularly good, a region that used to be quite common to find in the UK and perhaps is not so well represented any more – there were Syrah-dominant wines with lovely perfume.”
Meanwhile, Jeroboam’s wine director Peter Mitchell MW was seduced by the quality of Grenache Blanc, in addition to the headline red appellations.
“Among the AOP wines, the general standard was high. Indeed, the best were very good, with Faugères and Fitou producing some standout wines,” he said. “The whites from Grenache Blanc with a little barrel ageing were also really exciting and stood out for me.”
Wine writer Rosemary George MW was no less impressed with the general standard of quality and diversity emanating from Occitanie. “I always enjoy this tasting – wines from St Chinian and Pic St-Loup stood out. And some very enjoyable Picpoul,” she said. “The red wines from the Languedoc have wonderfully spicy fruit – either for immediate drinking or with a streak of tannin for some ageability.”
Although the panel tasted a broad range of labels, some unifying trends were identified among the numerous sub-regions of Occitanie. The judges reported that many wines offered wonderful freshness and poise, with noticeably subtle levels of oak impact. Conversely, the talk around Occitanie is of terroir and producing site-specific wines that communicate their origins. The overall impression formulated was of an extremely heterogeneous vineyard; there are great variances in character depending on local conditions, even if the grape variety is the same.
“I think that a lot of the wines showed marked regional differences, in fact it showed the diversity of the region and the points of difference coming out,” observed Elizabeth Kelly MW. She believes that this emphasis on regionalism will help Occitanie attract higher-spending consumers, in the market for affordable premium wines. “Majestic customers are taking the area more seriously; we have a number of premium brands in the range that customers love for the sheer quality and diversity, and the great value for money that the region offers.” The panel’s consensus is clear – this is a region in the ascendant.