The Pays d'Oc IGP Collection 2018
19 heart-stirring wines!
If there's one wine region of the world that has it all, then surely it's the South of France. The first area of the country to be planted with vines by the Romans over 2000 years ago, it used to be known more for bulk wine production than quality. However, a transformation has been taking place over the last 30 years and now it is home to wines of real quality, huge variety and outstanding value for money.
Under the Occitanie umbrella, the region includes the Languedoc-Roussillon plus a small part of the Rhône Valley and 75% of the South-West vineyards that lie within the Midi-Pyrénées. To put this into context, it's huge - ten times larger than Burgundy, covering one-eighth of the whole of France, producing one third of all French wine and 5% of total world production (France is 18%)!
The region benefits from a varied terroir that typically comprises a hot, dry and windy Mediterranean climate with 320 days of sunshine per year plus a diverse range of soil types, altitudes and microclimates. While there are several well-known AOCs/AOPs here, perhaps the most interesting and dynamic of all classifications is the IGP 'Pays d'Oc' that undoubtedly is home to many of the best value wines.
Established in 1987 and covering four Départements - Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Hérault, Gard - the Pays d'Oc encompasses about half the vineyard area of the whole Languedoc-Roussillon, stretching from the Spanish border to Provence. While it produces around 50% of all wine in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the aim was always to create a quality varietal range, providing both an alternative for vineyards not eligible for appellation status, but also allowing for a more experimental approach to winemaking in the region. This concept of varietal expression is key with 58 permitted grapes allowing a diverse range of flavours and styles that still retain close ties to their native land. Grapes can be blended from across the region if required and there's a plenty of innovation, including a wine made from the Galician grape variety Albariño.
Wines from the 2018 Collection.
For the last 12 years, a panel of international wine experts has selected a Pays d'Oc IGP Collection that represents the quality, originality and creativity of the region's wine production. For 2018, a total of 19 wines were chosen, incorporating 7 whites, 1 rosé, 10 reds and 1 dessert wine, the selection demonstrating with verve the diversity of flavours that can be achieved in this unique part of the world.
It's always subjective to pick out favourites, but the following five particularly impressed when I had the opportunity, honour and pleasure to taste them at the The France Show 2019, held in London from 25th to 27th January:-
- Les Vignerons du Sommiérois Viognier 2017 (sadly not available in the UK)An eminently drinkable, rounded and refreshing, organically farmed (but not certified) Viognier with notes of peach and pineapple.
- Domaine d'Aigues Belles Premier Rolle 2017 (not yet available in the UK, although currently Thos Peatling Fine Wines and Your Sommelier import some of their other wines and may be able to source the Rolle if customers ask for it at an estimated RRP of £20)A fresh and fruity expression of Rolle (Vermentino) with notes of lemon, grapefruit and hints of pear plus a fuller texture from the partial use of oak and a long finish.
- Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Grenache 2017 (£11.00 from Chesters Wine Merchants)A delightful floral and fruity rosé, made from a blend of 70% Grenache Noir and 30% Grenache Gris, that delivers flavours of crunchy red berries with a touch of citrus, a hint of spice and some mineral freshness.
- Abbotts & Delaunay's Domaine de la Métairie d'Alon Pinot Noir La Métairie 2016 - certified organic (£19.99 from Majestic Wine and The Real Wine Company)Another beautifully made, almost Burgundian-style wine from Laurent Delaunay that's full of perfumed, juicy cherries and forest berries with savoury and earthy touches, a little touch of peppery spice and great balance.
- Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2016 - certified organic (£22.00 from Harper Wells, Loki Wine Merchant and Glug Wines)A gorgeously fresh and succulent expression of this varietal with ripe blackcurrants, cherries, herbs, a touch of cedary spice and a fine streak of tannin to rein in the opulence of the fruit.
One in four bottles of organic wine sold in French super/hypermarkets are Vins de Pays d'Oc, so it is fitting that two of the above selection are certified organic. Together with a commitment to sustainable viticulture and social responsibility, this unique wine region is forging an exciting future and one that should appeal particularly to UK consumers looking for good quality, ethically-produced, modern wines at affordable prices.