This is an annual tasting that I really enjoy. Wine writers, and this year, for the first time, sommeliers, are asked to choose three of their favourite wines from France, in three different price bands – under £8; between £8 and £15 and something special for Christmas. There are some classics, and some quirky and original wines, and of course the Languedoc got a good look in. And the great thing about this tasting is that you know that there will be no dud wines, because one of your colleagues is really enthusiastic about each of the 150 wines at the tasting. It was quite a marathon and what follows are my highlights.
2011 Côtes du Roussillon, Château Saint Nicolas - £5.99 - Waitrose
Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. Good colour. Rounded, ripe and perfumed, with a touch of orange and some leathery fruit on the palate. Youthful and characterful and excellent value.
NV Berry’s Crémant de Limoux, produced by Antech – £11.95 – Berry Bros & Rudd
A blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac and Pinot Noir. Lemony, creamy nose; ripe and rounded palate; maybe a touch earthy, but with a nice balance.
NV Domaine Préceptorie de Centernach, Coume Marie - £10.99 – The Wine Society
A blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Macabeu and Carignan Blanc. Light golden. Quite a rich, resinous rounded nose, with more resinous oak on the palate. Lots of texture, weight and body, and considerable length. Full of character.
2010 Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Cuvée Occitania Mauzac should have been included but it had transmogrified into their sparkling Blanquette de Limoux, which was rounded, ripe and creamy with some herbal notes on the finish.
2011 Vermentino, L’Atelier Miquel, Pays d'Oc - £9.99 - Waitrose
Quite a rounded nose, with some herbal notes, and on the palate ripe with a pithy finish. A Vermentino with some character.
NV Le Mas des Masques, Silex Chardonnay - £14.50 - Swig.
I'm not sure exactly where this is from. The producer's name was a cryptic SCEA DDM and the address 13100, which is somewhere in the Bouches du Rhone. This was wonderfully funky. A light colour; ripe oaky buttery and powerful and both nose and palate. Rich and characterful. And about as far removed as you can get from my favourite Chardonnay that is Chablis.
And straying out of the Languedoc across the water to Corsica:
2011 Coteaux de Cap Corse Rosé, Domaine Pieretti - £13.95 from Yapp Brothers. And also available at Harrods, as their new buyer, Jo Aherne MW, informed me, but I don’t have their price
Grenache Noir, Nielluccio and Alicante. Pretty light colour; light fruit on the nose with a delicate palate, but also with some hidden weight. Lovely balance, and very stylish.
There was also a rosé from Chêne Bleu, an estate near the Dentelles de Montmirail – I can’t give you the grape varieties, or the correct price, as there was a bit of a blip and the tasting sheet said Chardonnay! A nicely rounded ripe, rather vinous rosé, with texture and body. Very satisfying.
2011 Mas Coutelou, Le Vin des Amis – Roberson Wine - £12.95
Grenache, Syrah Cinsaut and Mourvèdre. Lovely fresh ripe juice fruit, and on the palate, ripe and intense flavours with liqueur cherry fruit. Lovely depth. Lots of character. Showing really nicely.
One of my suggestions – I strayed outside the Languedoc for the others – was 2009 Domaine des Trinités, Faugères le Portail 2009 - £9.31 from Ellis of Richmond.
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Fresh perfumed fruit. Medium weight. Supple Faugères fruit, with the herbs of the garrigues. Gouleyant and easy to drink. Midi sunshine in a glass.
1999 Domaine Fontanel, Rivesaltes Ambré– £14.95 - Stone Vine & Sun and Indigo Wine.
Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. Intense amber colour. Lovely ripe sweet walnut fruit on both nose and palate. Rounded and rich, smooth and unctuous, but with a bite. A long finish.
2011 Domaine Pieretti, Muscat de Cap Corse. - £21.00 - Yapp Bros.
Lots of perfumed fruit on the nose. Ripe and pithy and characterful. A bitter sweet finish.
2011 Domaine Jones Blanc –. £16.95 - The House Wine
Grenache Gris. Medium colour. . Ripe and textured on both nose and palate, with lots of nuances. Some lovely southern fruit, with a touch of spice.
2008 Collioure, Domaine Cazes, Notre Dames des Anges - £22.46 – Harrods
Medium colour. Quite ripe and rounded, with some warm spice and dry tannins on the palate. A warm edge on the finish.
2011 Domaine Jones, Fitou - The House Wine - £20.83
Carignan, Grenache, Syrah. Warm ripe spice on nose and palate; restrained opulence, ripe spice with dry tannins and some fleshy fruit. Good balance.
2009 Maury, Domaine Mas Amiel - £18 - £25 Lea & Sandeman, Slurp
Medium colour. Ripe and dense and spicy on both nose and palate, with lots of black fruit and a dry edge on the finish.
2008 Clot de l’Origine, les Quilles Libres, Cuvée Spéciale, IGP Côtes Catalanes - £23 – Raeburn Fine Wines
Grenache Gris and blanc. Light golden colour. Ripe, rounded, rich and leesy with a resinous note on both nose and palate. Good acidity. Youthful with potential for development. develop. Lots of nuances and texture. Very intriguing.
2008 Domaine le Soula blanc. Côtes Catalanes - Roberson Wine - £26.95
A blend of Sauvignon, Macabeu, Vermentino, Grenache blanc and Gris, with a drop of Marsanne, Roussanne, Malvoisie du Roussillon and Chardonnay. Light colour. Quite rich and leesy on the nose. Rounded ripe textured palate. Great depth and length. Could age, but drinking nicely now.
And straying in to Provence:
2009 Bandol, Domaine Tempier - £11.75 per half bottle - The Wine Society.
Medium colour; rounded dry supple nose; subtle elegant leathery notes on the palate. Understated power. Delicious.
2008 Palette blanc, Château Simone – Yapp Brothers - £30.00
Clairette, Grenache blanc, Ugni blanc and Muscat blanc. Light golden colour. Quite rich and leesy with some resinous notes on the palate. Rounded and intense and plenty of ageing potential. Lots of character.
2011 Bandol rosé, Château de Pibarnon - £20.50 – Slurp
Mourvèdre and Cinsaut. Pale orange pink. Quite rounded and ripe and vinous, but also elegant and understated on the palate. Nicely characterful.
2010 Bandol, la Bastide Blanche - £13.99 - Waitrose
Mourvèdre and Grenache. Quite rounded and ripe and very nicely balanced, with good fruit and depth. Surprisingly ready to drink, but with some tannin and alcohol on the finish.
2010 Maury, Domaine Terres de Fagayra - £29.00 - Caves de Pyrène
Grenache Noir. Medium colour. Quite rich and intense on the nose, and on the palate rich and sweet with a herbal note. Still very youthful with an alcoholic edge.
And I could go onto enthuse about Chablis, as well as some original flavours from the Jura and the Pyrenees, not to mention the Loire valley and the south west.......