Top Pays d’Oc wines to try

Pays d'Oc IGP

It’s four times the area and produces more than twice as much wine as Champagne (33,843 ha and 362 million bottles), for example; indeed it has a larger growing area and produces more bottles of wine than Bordeaux (119,000 ha and 700 million bottles per year).

More significantly still, it’s the home of French wine-making freedom. With no fewer than 58 varieties to choose from (plus, more recently, five new ‘innovative’ varieties), every grower can give full rein to her or his creative instincts – or the particular demands of their soils and sites. Varietal wines, blends, sweet wines – you’ll find Pays d’Oc IGP examples of all of these wine types, and wines at all price points, too, from bargain territory all the way up to prices that reward the highest wine-making ambitions.

A last point worth stressing is consistency. Amazingly enough for such a huge production volume, every wine is tasted by a panel of experts before the wine is put on sale – that means around 900 samples a week, assessed by 450 accredited tasters. The rejection rate is not insignificant – between nine and 20 per cent.

The result is a set of wines that combines value with drinkability and classic French subtlety, too. Here’s my selection from the 53 ‘Ambassador Wines’ to represent the essence of Pays d’Oc IGP picked for 2019 by an international jury of sommeliers, consultants and journalists.

Pays d’Oc white wines

Cantalric, Sentiers du Sud, Colombard 2018
This bright gold wine will come as a contrast to those familiar with Colombard wines in the Côtes de Gascogne. The aromas have a sweetness to them – but it’s honey and soft citrus; there’s nothing grassy or grapey here. On the palate, too, this Colombard is dry, fresh, clean and pungent: a clear contrast to off-dry Gascogne. It’s vinous and sappy, too, with bright southern lemon flavours: that pungent freshness would be great with food. 88

Domaine les Yeuses, Vermentino 2018
The Dardé family’s Domaine les Yeuses, sited close to the lagoon of Thau, proves that it isn’t just Picpoul that can offer classy whites from this sea-breeze location. Here it’s Vermentino, the Ligurian and Sardinian favourite, which steps into the limelight with an acacia-and-almond scented white with plenty of brimming peach and apricot fruit on the palate. It’s crisp and fresh even though the acids are low: those sea breezes again. 90

Domaine d’Aigues Belles, Premier Rolle 2018
Rolle is the local French name for Vermentino – but this version from Gilles Palatan’s and Gilles Pelletier’s Aigues Belles is very different to the Domaine les Yeuses rendition. We’re further inland here, not far from cool Pic St Loup, and this wine is much fresher and leafier to smell. In place of yellow summer fruits, look out for apple-freshened celery, marrow and agave. A subtle lees richness from partial barrel-fermentation on the finish adds further class. 90

Vignobles Foncalieu, Griset 2018
The increasingly planted and now-fashionable Sauvignon Gris (Fié in the Loire) has a much less flamboyant character than Sauvignon Blanc, and this impeccably vinified example from the Foncalieu team summarises its poised tautness. It’s blended from fruit grown on two sites, one luminous and warm, the other cooler and more wind-exposed. Very delicate citrus and pear provide the discreet fruit notes. If you like Pinot Grigio, you’ll love this. 88

Les Vignerons de Florensac, Chardonnay 2018
Here’s an out-and-out winner grown close to the Picpoul de Pinet zone – and a perfect example of the stunning value that Pays d’Oc IGP can offer. (It was so good I begged to take it home to drink after the tasting.) You’ll find the best of Chardonnay on the nose: the subtle infusing milk-and-oatflake closeness. On the palate, too, this wine is gentle, nutty, close-grained yet fresh, with poised, enticing drinkability. Hard to think of a better simple, unpretentious Chardonnay than this. 90

Maison Castel,…

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