WHY ALL EYES ARE ON THE LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON THIS YEAR?
How has the Sud de France Languedoc-Roussillon Top 100 competition evolved during the three years you have been chairman of the judging panel?
The Top 100 has grown from an already established competition and now fully celebrates the wines and character of this complex and individual region. The wines are attracting more and more wine merchants, and consumer drinkers are ready to explore the Languedoc-Roussillon more adventurously. The competition is very well supported by the producers and our judges, and it helps sell the wines effectively. Many of our judging panel are very committed and keen to return each year. We are always discovering fresh new wine names. There is now also an increasing number of higher-end wines being entered, alongside familiar, very reliable brands which are able to produce consistent wines in bigger volumes.
How do you recommend starting to get to grips with appreciating this vast and diverse region?
Nobody can copy wines that are made to reflect terroir. Go down the varietal route and also look at the IGP wines where grape variety is the doorway to the wine. New World wines are leading the way back to this too. Most trophies in the Top 100 were chosen from designated regions, and there were outstanding wines among the blends too during our judging day.
What is so dynamic about the Languedoc-Roussillon region right now?
The modern Languedoc-Roussillon is full of history but it is not old. It is a relatively young wine region and so much of it is yet to be discovered by wine consumers. It has really developed in the past 20 years and has changed massively and rapidly. There are many new producers and styles of wine being made. The region is huge; twice the size of Bordeaux. Imagine the diversity when you have a landscape that ranges from high altitude through to terraces and plains. The best winemaking there is reflected in wines which give that sense of place and also those which are skilful blends – some of the best reds are blends. Look at the Piquepoul and Syrahs; explore the wines of Corbières and Saint-Chinian.
What can we look forward to next in the style of winemaking, experimentation and the wines becoming available on the market?
There has been huge improvement in quality year on year. We have seen this in the 2012s, 2013s and 2014s in the competition. Languedoc-Roussillon does not intend to make the most experimental wines, but you will see marginal movements. The region is maturing and the new winemakers are gaining so much experience. You will see every single winemaking style, including sparkling and fortified wines, and over 30 grape varieties. Supermarkets and multiples have embraced Piquepoul and Corbières, but could do better in offering more diversity. This gives great opportunity for independent merchants. Generally in the on-trade, wider representation is needed. There is so much value for money to be found.
What are judges looking for in compiling the Top 100 and naming the trophy winners?
We are looking for very skilfully, well made wines. Many of the wines we settled on were blends. The judges are delighted to see big-name domains, and we are also excited to discover new names that we have never seen before, going through to the trophy line up. In terms of regions, we have a wine from Terrasses du Larzac, two from Côtes du Roussillon, a wine from La Clape – one of the most historic areas – a AOC Faugères; also a Muscat sec and a AOC Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup blend. The two top trophies have been awarded to a AOC Corbières blanc and a AOC Saint-Chinian.
What do Brits really like about Languedoc-Roussillon wines?
Prices continue to be very appealing. Consumers are increasingly buying into individual names, but still have some way to go in becoming fully familiar with the region. However, it is one of the easiest to promote. The countryside is beautiful, many people are enjoying relaxing holidays there and there is plenty of south of France sunshine. What a great memory to associate good wines with.