Is there anywhere on earth that offers better value-for-money wine than the south of France? Perhaps Portugal can vie for the honour, but generally, the Languedoc hits that sweet spot with a thundering kiss. The area is huge (bigger now with the expanded region of Occitanie that includes the Languedoc-Roussillon vineyards plus part of the Rhône Valley and the South-West). Specifically, it's the PGI-demarcated Pays D'Oc, covering 51% of vineyards within the Languedoc-Roussillon region, that shines its headlights and honks its horn joyfully in a way that nowhere else can. Like a cheeky little sports car that turns heads wherever it goes, the attraction is clear and the statistics speak for themselves.
Created in 1987, Pays d'Oc is now France's top still wine exporter by volume and represents 72% of French PGI wines, over 1200 independent wineries and 230 cooperatives. Varietal expression is key with 58 permitted grapes allowing a gamut of flavours and styles based primarily on single varietals. This is possible due to a combination of Mediterranean climate and the huge array of soil types - sandy, limestone, schist, clay and stony gravel. Additionally and crucially, there's a strong commitment to sustainable development, incorporating corporate, economic, environmental and social responsibilities.
A special Press Tasting during the London Wine Fair at the excellent The Bird in Hand restaurant showcased a selection of wines from this region coupled with some delicious food. Although unsurprisingly the reds felt generally heavier than the whites, they still demonstrated a lightness of touch that belies the hot summer climate and resultant alcohol levels.
Two white wines stood out - Domaine des Lauriers Viognier 2016 (£8.50-£10 from various wine merchants), a gently aromatic wine with yellow fruit notes, touches of herbs plus a refreshing minerality and Domaine Paul Mas Mas des Tannes Reserve Blanc 2015 (£11.75 from Soho Wine Supply), a richly textured, fuller bodied organic wine, made from Grenache Blanc, that delivers fruit and spice notes with a savoury edge and creamy mouth feel.
A fried courgette flower - one of the appealing starters to accompany the choice of white wines!
Among the reds, two contrasting ones to recommend are Les Domaines Auriol Maison Vialade Family Sélection Pinot Noir 2015 (£8 from Myliko Wines), a fresh berries and spice expression with fine tannins and Alma Cersius Terra Patres 2014 (£21 from Barton Brownsdon & Sadler), an elegantly labelled bottle of fruity, floral and spicy complexity from the blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with notes of plums, cassis, well-balanced acidity and a subtle hint of coffee and walnuts.
More information on the region and the wines can be found here.