Wine competitions are a great way of promoting interest amongst consumers and wine growers alike. They can provide an enormous boost of confidence for a new wine grower and help establish reputations. However, they also need to be taken with a generous pinch of salt, as I found out a couple of weeks ago in the Hérault.
The competition that focuses on the valley of the Hérault has now been going for 25 years and it has established its credentials over that time. It covers wine growers from 42 villages, around Clermont l’Herault, Gignac and Aniane, an area that includes Montpeyroux, St. Saturnin and some Terrasses du Larzac villages, as well as part of the Grès de Montpellier. The number of entrants has grown steady, over the years, and this year there were 240 wines from 69 cellars, with 123 jurors to taste them all.
The organisation of the judging begins quite seriously – wine growers are allowed to be judges, but they certainly may not judge their own wine. I was on a table with Bernard Pallisé from the Montpeyroux coop; Jacques Beauclair who runs a mobile bottling company; Pierre Rossignol, a young man who is working for the cooperative of Pomerols while studying viticulture, and one of the directors of Millésime Bio, Thierry Duchenne. We had a dozen wines to taste and we were expected to give some sort of medal to about one third of them. The gold medals would go forward for the trophy tasting. All we knew about our range was that the vintage was 2008 and all had spent some time in oak – the wines could have been vin de pays or appellation, and from any of the permitted grape varieties of the region, so Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Syrah. I was more severe than my co-tasters, and only found one wine that I really liked, and happily gave that a gold medal, while my fellow tasters found a silver and a couple of bronze medals.
We were then expected to decide between us who should go on to the super jury that would judge the gold medals. Most of my fellow tasters had previous engagements for later in the morning, so haphazardly by process of elimination I found myself on one of three tables of the super jury, with half a dozen red wines to taste. We were six tasters, and three of us liked one wine, and three of us another. Somehow we reached a decision; I am not sure quite how. Most of the wines were pretty good, but I was rather shocked that one of the gold medals reeked of brett.
My table then decided that I should represent the table for the super super jury – we were three, plus the president of the competition, Guillaume Biau, with Philippe Cabrit from the Syndicat des Vins du Coteaux du Languedoc, and Bernard Agay, a retired director from the ICV, l’Institut Coopératif du Vin, and we had three wines to taste. A white wine – did it or did it not deserve a trophy? – and we had to make a decision between two red wines. The white was delicious, everything that a white Languedoc wine should be, with some lovely understated fruit, delicate white blossom, and no overpowering oak. And of the two reds, one was richer and spicier than the other, and so that was the winner.
And then the bottles were unveiled - 26 bronzes, 30 silvers, 20 golds. And two trophy winners. I was thrilled about the white wine. I had had a conversation during the coffee break with my friends Jo and André from Villa Dondona in Montpeyroux and Jo was telling me how excited she was about their white wine, made for the first time last year. And that was the winner – Cuvée Espérel, a delicious blend of Grenache blanc, Vermentino, Marsanne and Roussanne in descending order. Jo was stunned; André smiled and both were thrilled. It was a great recognition of their first white wine.
And the red came from Domaine Les Quatre Amours in Belarga. 2009 Cuvée Louis A blend of 75% Syrah vinified by carbonic maceration and aged in oak for 15 months, with the balance a traditional vinification of Grenache Noir. This estate is completely new to me and I shall certainly be going to visit. The wine was rich and spicey; sunshine in a glass.
And there is more information about the results on www.vins-vallee-herault.fr