France loves its wine competitions. And they can be fun to judge. Last week, I was invited to take part in an all female jury, of writers, not necessarily specialists in wine, but enthusiasts for the written word. Our task was far from onerous. We simply had to select our favourite wines from a range of wines from the cooperatives of the Languedoc that had already won a gold medal. As you might imagine, the quality was pretty high, and amply demonstrated just how well a good cooperative can work for its region.
The cooperative at Baixas in the Pyrenées-Orientales was our host. I was on the rosé panel, with four tasters, and just eight wines to sample. And our decision was virtually unanimous. The key question was: how do you like your rosé? I had two possible winners, one light and delicate, the other fuller and riper, but both delicious. My fellow panellists much preferred the riper wine, which turned out to come from the cooperative of Vinça in the Pyrenées-Orientales near Prades. So that was our coup de Coeur.
Pop Frutti Syrah Grenache, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes 2009, from Les Vignerons des Terres Romanes.
I got to present a trophy to the jolly director of the coop, Serge Siffre, who was as pleased as punch to win. I had to read out our joint tasting note, which made references to strawberries and cream and finished with the exhortation ‘à consommer sans modération’.
The other winners were the Cave de Pomerols in the appellation of Picpoul de Pinet, for their 2009 Viognier Vin de Pays d’Oc, sold under their Beauvignac label. It had some convincing peachy varietal character. The cooperative at Hérépian, les Coteaux de Capimont in the Haute Vallée de l’Orb won the red trophy for its 2009 Merlot. I didn’t get a chance to taste this, for the simply reason that the judging had been so close, and much debated, that there was none left. However, I do remember being very agreeably surprised by the coop’s wines when I tasted them last summer at Cuisine dans la Rue in Bédarieux. There were two trophies for vin doux naturel. Fittingly our hosts won a prize for their Muscat de Rivesaltes, 2009 Dom Brial, which was deliciously fresh and aromatic, with lovely grapey fruit. The second trophy went to Les Vignobles de Constance et du Terrassous at Terrats in the Pyrenées-Orientales for their Rivesaltes Grenat 2007, which had some lovely ripe red fruit. Think young ruby port.
No event of this kind happens in France without the opportunity to spend some time around a table and the Baixas coop did us proud with an array of charcuterie, salads and local specialities. They produce Côtes du Roussillon Villages and a range of Rivesaltes, as well as vin de table and vin de pays. And they used the occasion to show off some mature Rivesaltes, all amber in colour and made from Grenache, with some Maccabeu which had been aged in old foudres and possibly topped up, a little like a solera system. The 1989 was rich and nutty with some honeyed notes and a long rich finish. The 1979 was mellow and drier, with lovely concentration. The 1969 was turning drier and nuttier, with a long satisfying finish, and the 1959 was long and dry with elegantly restrained flavours of walnuts. I could have spent a long time deciding which I liked best. They were all delicious. And afterwards they took us to see their new vineyards up in the hills behind the village. The Canigou, the highest mountain of this end of the Pyrenees was now shrouded in cloud, with rain threatened later in the evening.