According to the marketing folk, Languedoc-Roussillon wines now come from the Sud de France, a place "where creativity meets diversity". I was given the chance to find out if the product lived up to the hype when I was asked to join a panel judging 150 wines from the region. Although it does perhaps make it clearer where the wines come from, you might think it a little surprising that Sud de France excludes Provence, given that Provence, in many minds, is the South of France.
But no, Sud de France is that vast Mediterranean tract of vineyard heading from the fishing port of Collioure near the Spanish border all the way to the Massif Central. It comprises 60 vins de pays (or IGPs) and more than 30 appellations, ranging from the better-known Corbières and Minervois and parts of Côtes du Rhône, to the lesser-known likes of the Côtes du Vivarais and Cabardès. If that's what they mean by diversity, it's also the case that this amorphous splash of green produces white, red, sparkling, sweet and fortified wines from a cornucopia of grape varieties.
Since it's Provence that's famous for its rosés, you might not expect as much from the western half of the South of France, and you'd be right. The exception was the delicately refreshing, raspberryish 2009 Domaine Bégude Pinot Noir Rosé, £7.49, buy 2 = £6.99, Majestic.
The more impressive white wines ranged from the value for money to the esoteric. In the former camp was a peachy and tangy 2009 Paul Mas Estate Pépinière Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, £8.99, Majestic, and a fresh, pear-scented, shellfish-friendly 2009 Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine Guillaume Cabrol, £7.99, Majestic. In the latter, a superbly concentrated baked appley 2006 Vinci Coyade, £24.99, aubertandmascoli.com, vied for top honours with an exceptionally rich and honeyed, apricoty 2008 Terret from Léon Barral, Vin de Pays de l'Hérault, £17.59, Caves de Pyrène, Guildford (01483 554750) and the wonderfully idiosyncratic, smoky rich and minerally dry 2007 Matassa Blanc, £28.50, Caves de Pyrène.
Red wines account for more than two-thirds of the South's production. Great value is even more of a feature here with serious competition between the supple and smoky, northern Rhône-ish 2008 Domaine les Yeuses Les Epices Syrah, £8.99, buy 2 = £6.99, Majestic, on the one hand, the more traditional but no less full-flavoured 2007 Château La Dournie (Majestic is now onto the lighter, but attractive 2008, £7.99, buy 2 = £6.99), and the vivid pepper and spice of the Chateau du Vieux Parc, La Sélection, Corbières, £11.25, Great Western Wine, Bath (01225 322 800).
Less well-known is the Roussillon's capacity to deliver great traditional fortified sweet wines. The nut brown, rich and coffee sweet fruit of the Maury 1928 Solera, Cask no 886, around £18.99, 50cl, SH Jones, Banbury (01295 251177), Christopher Piper, Devon (01404 814139), Weavers, Nottingham (0115 958 0922), seems to come from a bygone era and in some ways it does. More remarkable still, the 1999 Domaine de la Rectorie Vin de Liqueur, Cuvée Elisabeth, £39.98, Amphora Wines, Melton Mowbray (01664 565013), is a liquid golden confection of smoky, salted caramel with a superb nutty intensity. It's treasures like these that give genuine credence to the Sud de France's diversity billing.Reuse content