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:-
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.