Drinks: Languedoc lovelies

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Drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris heads to the sunny Languedoc-Roussillon and pulls the cork on some award-winning wines.

With most of France ‘en vacances’, August is one of the busiest months to visit the southern part of the country. But for a grape escape without the masses, Languedoc-Roussillon is a vast vineyard snaking from east to west, offering rich pickings for wine lovers.

Before the summer, the region’s winemakers were invited to enter the Sud de France Top 100 competition to find the best wines from the region. Almost 600 were narrowed down to 100 by drinks experts across the UK, with whites representing around 35% of the final selection, chardonnay coming out on top, and reds representing 60%. This was an impressive result for the blondes because red grapes dominate the landscape and only 13% of production is white wine.

At present, the majority of winning wines aren’t available to consumers in the UK. However, to appreciate the rural charm of those that are, here’s a snapshot of the judges’ favourites.

Supermarket own-label wines shouldn’t be sniffed at and even wine snobs will be bowled over by Finest Costieres de Pomerols 2012, AOC Picpoul de Pinet (£7.49, Tesco). Native to the Languedoc, the picpoul grape is becoming increasingly fashionable in wine circles and this deliciously refreshing summer wine topped the leader board by being voted Best White and Best AOC Wine. Aromatic and light with an orchard of lemony fruit flavours and good acidity (which is probably why it’s so popular in the sun-drenched south), it’s a great choice for ice-buckets at lunchtime.

A wine that bridges the gap between chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, viognier is widely planted here too, and at its best is aromatic and creamy with exotic flavours of apricot. Winemaker Laurent Miguel scored with his Laurent Miquel, Nord Sud Viognier 2011, IGP Pays d’Oc (£9.99 or £8.99 each when you buy 2, Majestic), a bright white with creamed apricot and glazed stone fruits that glide along with scents of nectarine and hint of oak on the finish.

Another polished wine, Domaine les Quatre Pilas 2011, Languedoc AOP (£8.49, Laithwaites.co.uk) may not have been vetted in the Sud de France Top 100, but it was picked out by Jancis Robinson when she blind-tasted more than 100 wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon, which is more than enough testament to the winemaker’s skills. A blend of vermentino, roussanne and viognier, the flavours charge together to produce a burst of white peach, round, honeyed fruit and perfectly balanced acidity on the finish.

Lying between the Mediterranean and the mountains, the diverse terrain of the Languedoc-Roussillon is widely planted with syrah, grenache, mouvedre, carignan and cinsault which lend baskets of flavour to the red corner of the tasting.

Enjoying a bumper summer, the Wine Society has been voted Wine Merchant of the Year for the second time in three years, and Wine Club of the Year for the third consecutive year at the IWC (International Wine Challenge). And with little gems like their Ollieux Romanis, The Society’s Cuvee 2011, AOC Corbieres (£7.25, www.thewinesociety.com) from the rugged terrain of Corbieres, it’s easy to see why the judges took a shine to it - and why members are keeping their wine racks well-stocked. A blend of carignan, grenache and syrah with a splash of mouvedre, this violet beauty is jammed with juicy cherry and strawberry fruits and notes of herbs.