I took part in a fascinating tasting earlier in the week. The négociant company Calmel & Joseph (see an earlier blog from last summer) organised a blind tasting of twelve wines from Languedoc-Roussillon and twelve wines from the southern Rhône, that had been awarded the highest marks in this year’s two guides. Revue du Vin de France and Bettane & Desseauve. Amongst the line-up was Calmel & Joseph’s top wine from their own vineyards at La Madone in the Corbières, not far from Trèbes.
The order of tasting was decided by pulling names out of a hat, so the order was entirely random. The vintages were the current one on sale, in most cases either 2016 or 2017, but there were four exceptions. We knew that the oldest wine was 2005. And that was all we knew about the origins of the wines. We tasted under the beady eye of a huissier, a bailiff in French, but I think in England, they would have used a solicitor, to ensure there was no favouritism. After we had tasted, the marks were added up and averaged out to find the order of ranking.
We were thirteen journalists in all, four English based either in London or France; an American who lives in Bordeaux, a German who has lived in Roussillon for forty years and the others were French, mostly from Paris. It was all very calm and measured, allowing plenty of time to enjoy each wine. And they were delicious. Inevitably there were wines that I liked more or less, but the overall quality was impressive. I found my marks were in a very close bracket, between 92 and 98 out of 100. I gave 98 to three wines, two from the southern Rhône and one from the Languedoc. And looking at the average afterwards, it was apparent that there were some much more severe markers than me, as the average marks ranged from 86.8 to 95.62. Naturally I tried to detect which wines were Languedoc Roussillon, and which were southern Rhône. The tasting started with a Châteauneuf and then a Rasteau, which was followed by Beaucastel, Hommage à Jacques Perrin, and then came Gérard Bertrand’s rather sturdier Clos d’Ora from the Minervois, which was recognisably Languedoc rather than Rhône.
There were just four Languedoc wines in the top ten. The top Languedoc wine was 2017 les Cocalières, from Sylvain Fadat's Domaine d'Auphilac in Montpeyroux. I gave it 97. It had a distinctive perfumed nose, and on the palate, was quite fleshy with perfumed fruit, and an elegantly tannic streak on the finish. The wine comes from a spectacular limestone vineyard at 350 metres above the village of Montpeyroux where Sylvain has planted Syrah and Grenache. And at 19.00€ it was the cheapest wine of all, and represents amazing value. And my top Languedoc wine, but only just, and 7thoverall was Cal Demoura’s 2017 les Combariolles, Terrasses du Larzac, with a deep young colour and a rounded harmoniously spicy nose and palate, with good mouthfeel and texture. 26€
The other Languedoc wines included 2009 Cuvée Leone from Domaine Peyre Rose in 6thplace. It was mature and leathery on the nose, with some cedary notes on the palate. I thought that maybe it was just beginning to start its descent from cruising altitude. 74€.
Domaine de Montcalmès, 2016, in 9thplace, at 28€, had quite a firm structured nose, with some rounded ripe fruit and a tannic streak, with a satisfying balance and mouthfeel.
However, I had Languedoc wines in my personal top ten, such as Mas Champart, 2016 Clos de la Simonette, 22€, which was quite sturdy and characterful, with some rustic tannins and a long finish.
Mas Jullien, Lous Rougeos 2017, 44€, had a deep, young purple colour, with youthful peppery fruit on the nose and palate and considerable potential. I felt it needed more time, whereas most of the other wines were ready for drinking. The same could also be said for 2017 Clos Marie, Simon, 38€, with very youthful fruit; it still tasted a little adolescent but with potential.
2013 Aurel, from Domaine les Aurelles, 19.00€, showed some evolution with a lightly leathery nose and palate and some dry spice. It was one of the more mature wines of the tasting.
And there were just two wines from Roussillon Domaine Gardiès, 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, la Torre,58.00€. Compared with some of the other wines, it was ripe and dense with firm tannins and some integrated oak. It was still very youthful and concentrated and needs time. 2016 Muntada from Domaine Gauby was more elegant and retrained with some spicy fruit. As it happened, I gave them both 95.
And of course, you would like to know which wines came out top. In third place was Tardieu Laurent’s Vieilles Vignes Gigondas 2017, 37€, with elegantly harmoniously spicy fruit. Next came a Châteauneuf du Pape from Domaine la Janasse 2014 at 65€ with some spicy red fruit and a balanced steak of tannin. As it happened it was the very last wine of the flight and a very good note to finish the tasting. And the board was swept by a 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape from Chateau Rayas at 700€ a bottle. It would be churlish to suggest this was an uneven playing field, as there is no doubt that the wine had the advantage of maturity. It was simply drinking beautifully – this is the moment at which I probably indulged in a bit of internal spitting. It had some sweet perfumed fruit, with some leathery notes, and so many nuances, with an elegant harmonious finish. There was no doubt that it stood out above all the rest.
As for our host's wine, Calmel & Joseph’s 2017 la Madone from the Corbières, 54.00€, was a little restrained on the nose, but had some fresh vibrant fruit, balanced with youthful tannins and a spicy peppery finish. It was showing plenty of potential. It was not in the top ten, but Laurent Calmel was very philosophical. That was not the object of the exercise, but to see how the best of the Languedoc compares with the best of the southern Rhône. I initially thought that I would have preferred to taste just Languedoc, but in fact putting the two regions side by side was very rewarding. It showed how far the Languedoc has come and how far much further it has to go. Some of my fellow journalists quite rightly asserted that the Languedoc needs to be able to hold its own and compete with the best of the south of France on the international stage. A comparative tasting like this shows how much the region has developed over the last few years, and I have no doubt that it will carry on doing so.