I was invited to take preside at an wine competition last week, namely Signature Bio, the 25th organic wine competition for the wines of Languedoc Roussillon. Organic wines are becoming increasingly important in the Languedoc; after all the region has a fantastic climatic advantage over the rest of France, with more hours of sunshine, and also winds that will dry up any lingering humidity after the rain. However, this year might prove problematic if the weather continues to be as cool and temperamental as it has been over the last few weeks. And the figures speak for themselves, in 2001 there were 279 producers registered as organic, with 3764 hectares, and by 2011 the figures had risen to 1199 estates with 19.907 hectares. And at Millésime Bio earlier this year I spoke to several people for whom 2012 was their first year of production as organic wine growers.
We were 60 ‘wine professionals’ including two other local MWs, Matthew Stubbs from Vinécole, and Juliet Bruce-Jones, but no wine growers, judging 234 wines. I was on a friendly table, with Alex Francis, who I first met at a wine fair in Chablis more years ago than either of us care to remember; he now runs Vins y Vinos. There was Jacqueline Bonnet, whom I know from tasting the wines of Château Perdiguier; she is an oenologist and has tasted at almost every competition over the past 25 years. Sam Stratham is an Australian who grows organic grapes, at Rosnay estate in New South Wales, but has yet to make his own wine, and the fifth member of the table was Alban Marjotte from the Gruissan tourist office. And our wines were 2012 reds. We were told that if they were not yet been bottled, they were ready for bottling. The first few wines were ripe and fruity and in some cases quite alcoholic. Roussillon I thought, ripe Grenache, so when the wines were unveiled I was somewhat thrown to find that they were Côtes du Rhone, and that there was also a Lirac. But those are not in the Languedoc, I remonstrated. Oh yes, they are, I was told. They are in the Gard, and that department is part of the Languedoc …… I gave up protesting. I know when I am losing a battle in the face of French bureaucracy, but I did feel that including Côtes du Rhone created a misleading impression alongside more structured Languedoc wines.
I have tasted for Decanter’s World Wine Awards for the last ten years, and that is undoubtedly one of the most professionally organised competitions around. So I am always quite intrigued to see how other competitions work – my table had 18 wines to taste, so not an arduous morning, by any means. And we were told that we could not award more than six medals. In fact that was not an issue – we only wanted to give five, a gold, a silver, and three bronzes. The recommended marks for medals also perturbed me. Gold started at 16 out of 20, whereas for Decanter it is 18.5 out of 20. In fact that was not an issue either; we just marked: category of medal or no medal.
A small group of us then had to retaste the seventeen wines that had been awarded a gold medal and pick out two wines for a special mention. Fortunately I did not have to exercise any great powers of diplomacy here – we were pretty unanimous and would have liked to have awarded three special mentions. One of them was an absolutely delicious Costières de Nimes that came from my table – Terres des Chardons, Marginal and the other was a Rivesaltes Grenat 2010 from Domaine la Rourède. And the third wine that missed a special mention by a whisker was a Languedoc AC Domaine de Costes-Cirgues. I am not sure if I am supposed to mention that, but the wine did stand out above the other gold medals. In fact I liked it so much that I have arranged a cellar visit, so more anon.
I feel strongly that allowances should not be made because a wine is organic. A wine is good, or it is not. And I found the same faults in organic wines as in non-organic wines. There were wines which suffered from an excess of oak, with drying fruit, or an excess of alcohol, and even some green flavours, but the best had lovely fruit and typified the best of the Languedoc, confirminged the exciting potential for organic wines in Languedoc-Roussillon.