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France: South

A big rise in entries saw the South gain a better presence on our Gold List this year. Though again the whites were stronger than the reds


With the wine world desperate for bargains, it’s perhaps no surprise that we saw a big increase in submissions from the vast vineyards of the South of France. Not only were they a key part of the House Wines section but white entries here were up 50%, while reds doubled.

As you would expect, the wines were mostly at the ‘affordable’ end of the spectrum, with most of the reds and all of the whites bar one under £10. It all made for a much healthier category, and after two years of struggling for places on the Gold List, the South managed a good spread of medals this year.

Perhaps oddly, given our association with the South of baking Mediterranean sun, the whites have often done better than the reds in SWA, and it was a similar story this year. The feedback was very positive, with the assorted Chardonnays, Viogniers, Rhône varietals and newly trendy Picpouls all finding fans among the tasters, though the lighter styles were marginally less popular. ‘Sometimes mineral is just a euphemism for “no flavor”,’ growled the Hide Bar’s Paolo Tonellotto.

The richer whites generally fared rather better, with the tasters commenting on a much more sensitive use of oak these days – older wood for gentle integration rather than ‘slap me about the chops with a freshly cut stave’ aromas.

‘Some of these white wines are great for the ABC crowd, because they have similar weight and body to Chardonnay to go with food, but they are very different,’ said Bread Street Kitchen’s Nigel Lister. Though ironically half of the white medals did, in fact, go to… er, Chardonnay, the wines were, as Lister pointed out, food-friendly.

This was borne out by the success of the Domaine Begude Chardonnay, which picked up a Food Match award for a sensitive pas-de-deux with a plate of veal, but in fact the tasters were pleased with all their medal winners.

‘They were characterful, and there was some complexity – they were especially good for the price,’ said Guillaume Mahaut of The Jugged Hare.

‘The Rhône varietals were lovely, with texture, length and minerality,’ agreed Michael Harrison of
Henley Hotel du Vin. ‘The acidity has been really well managed throughout the range.’

While the reds’ record this year of a Gold, four Silvers and a couple of Bronzes was its best haul yet in SWA, there were more caveats than for the whites, most of them centred around tannins. The tasters didn’t mind a bit of rusticity, but when that tipped over into wines that made their gums bleed, they were quick to kick the offenders out.

At the lower prices it tended to be single varietal Pays d’Oc, with the AC wines kicking in around the £8 mark. Above £10 we saw wines with pretensions of grandeur, frequently with several years of ageing, some of which were pretty good value. This remains one of the few areas of the competition where you can get a six-year-old wine for under £10.

‘There were some good value whites at the lower end, around £5-£6.’ Julien Sahut, China Tang at The Dorchester

‘I thought the pricing of the reds was good. You don’t need to pay too much to get quality. The wines were good at £9-£11.’ Philippe Loiseau, Yauatcha