Just ran my first tutored tasting under the appropriate theme of South of France. A tasting of 8 wines from around the Languedoc-Roussillon backed up with plenty of visuals of the vineyards, locations and profiles of the people behind the wines.

I am often asked how I choose wines for the tastings and my response is always the same. Firstly they have to be good wines, not necessarily super expensive, just made with care and with a desire to express and encapsulate the spirit of their location. Secondly, all the wines are from producers I have visited. Essential to understand the location, method of working and general philosophy. Finally, all the wines are from people I like and respect. Every good wine has a great story behind it and the tastings are much more meaningful when you can communicate the personal and historical context.

For the record the wines tasted were as follows :

Blanquette de Limoux 2006 Rives-Blanques. Always good to start a tasting with some fizz and this wine from Jan and Caryl Panman sets the perfect tone.

Picpoul de Pinet Beauvignac 2007. A 4€ wine from the Cave Cooperative in Pomerols. Crisp, clean, refreshing from the vineyards bordering the Etang de Thau. Cried out for a plate of oysters !

Le Ciste Blanc 2006 Cotes du Roussillon, Domaine Laguerre. Rolle 30%, Marsanne 20%, Roussanne 20%, Grenache Blanc 20%, Maccabeo 10%. One of the most expensive wines of the tasting and the one which divided people the most. Half the assembled tasters loved the layers of flavour, depth and clear, balanced structure of the wine. The other half found the oak too obtrusive.

L’Archet Rose 2007 Vdp , Domaine Gayda. A well balanced, vibrant rose from the host domaine. Not too heavy on the colour or the extraction, very few bothered to reach for the spittoons on this one.

“Paysage” Coteaux du Languedoc 2006, Mas Plan de l’Om. 85% Carignan from the schist based soils of the Terrasses de Larzac. Made by former pharmacist and round the world yachtsman, Joel Foucou. Perfumed with immaculate balance, it demonstrates how you can make wines with real class without reaching for the sledgehammer.

Minervois GSM 2006 Chateau la Bouscade. A mathematically symmetrical blend of 1/3 each of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from my favourite Languedoc “garagiste” David Cowderoy. A dense, silky style with emphasis on ripeness, accessibility and a real desire to please.

“Les Bartelles” La Clape 2006, Mas du Soleilla. The biggest red of the tasting both in concentration and alcohol (14.5%). More Newfoundland than Rottweiler, a wine of undoubted power and pedigree but with masterful restraint and subtlety.

Banyuls Parcé Frères 2006, La Rectorie. Many people’s favourite wine of the tasting and one that didn’t disappoint. Mostly Grenache Noir with a liberal inclusion of Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc. So difficult to harvest the 3 different varieties separately that they just throw them all in together ! These VDN (Vins Doux Naturels) wines are always popular when tasted – just need to work out how to translate this to commercial success.

A lively session throughout with plenty of comments, observations and discussion. At the end of the tasting everyone agreed that they had discovered something new and most importantly left with a good impression of the region’s wines. Un bon départ.