Organic Sud de France

The organic movement is well-established in France with strong connections to the markets of Northern Europe.  German, Dutch or Danish consumers may well know their organic from their biodynamic but it’s more of a struggle in England.  The term ‘organic’ does mean something in the supermarket or on the wine list – if for most people, just a sort of reassuring ‘box ticked’ that this bottle has not had (unspecified) nasty chemicals added to it; the term ‘biodynamic’ might as well be written in ancient Babylonian, so little does it mean.  So at the end of the day, for most consumers the wines need to stand on their own feet and recommend themselves.

‘Sud de France’ is a branding and marketing exercise from growers in Languedoc-Roussillon, a vast area from the Spanish border to the Rhône.  Well aware of the mind-boggling complexity of the area (over 30 AOCs, plus single varietal Vin de Pays d’Oc for all the main varieties plus VdPs for each départment …), the hope is that the consumer can buy ‘Sud de France’ with confidence.  And why not?  Apart from boutique wineries producing top wines, there are large volumes of inexpensive, well made wine to be sourced from this the sunniest part of France.  The following are a selection of wines tasted at the Sud de France ‘Organic and Biodynamic’ tasting in London on 8 December.  Most of the wines here are from small (ie 10 hectare), family owned and run estates – and therein lies their interest.  The wines reflect the passions and idiosyncrasies of their owners.  You couldn’t be further from a homogeneous, industrial product.La Reserve d'O

La Réserve d’O were showing three wines: Bilbo 2008, made from 80% Grenache, was a decent basic red with a fairly neutral nose, while Réserve 2008 is a 40-40-20 blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, no oak ageing, which slows good fresh fruit and herbs, with good length.  The star wine, however, was Le O 2006, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault, which had lovely warm fruit.   It’s no surprise, but this is what the hot south most easily does best.

Detlef BordonDomaine Pradines d’Amont is another very personal winery with a good range of wines made in small quantities.  They keep their wines until they think they are ready. For example, the very special  Venus 2004 has only just been released.  It will only be made every seven years from a selection of Carignan and Syrah vineyards, using whole grape fermentation.  It showed very good dense red fruit, balsamic notes and some sweet spice. Good persistence. Another very unusual ‘wine’ is their sweet Carthagène 2006, which is made from grape juice and spirit, which is then aged in wood, and therefore is not technically a wine at all.  Sweet, very pleasant, nice caramel notes, not very complex but enjoyable.

Virgile Joly has a typical range of wines, two whites and three reds but the one that really stands out is the Virgile blanc 2005.  Made from very low yield Grenache blanc (25 hl/ha), just 2,000 bottles were made: it is direct pressed into 500 litre barrels in which the fermentation and 18 months of maturation takes place.  Five years after harvest the wine has a nose of almonds, herbs and old wood with a surprisingly dense and fresh palate of stone fruit.  Very good, very individual. I also tasted wines from Foncalieu – Les Cardounettes and from Rouaud with none of them really standing out.

All in all this tasting was a bit of a mixed bag.  Unfortunately, I did not taste the wines of the two larger companies here, especially CLVD – Vignobles Gilles Louvet with 700 hectares.  There is a really interesting issue about organic/biodynamic and large scale, but that will have to wait for another day.  If you are committed to buying organic wines, it was good to see the range on offer and the various levels of quality.  If you assess the wines on their own merit in the glass, then there were quite a lot of ordinary wines here – rather modest fruit, not necessarily very fresh, – so being consistently of a good quality remains an issue.  But the best wines are really worth seeking out – for being made in a positive relationship with nature and for their sheer individuality.

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4 Responses to “Organic Sud de France”

  • winefriend:

    Thanks, Cendrine – sadly I won’t be at Prowein but I hope the organic wine tasting goes well. All the best!

  • Dear David,

    If you’re planning to go to Prowein (27-29 March), don’t miss the organic wine tasting which we organise at the Vinum stand hall 4, D50, during those 3 days: they are wine which were awarded a gold medal at the last “Challenge Millesime Bio” competition, and they are really worth a sip!
    Hope to see you there!
    Best regards,

    Cendrine Vimont, from Languedoc-Roussillon organic wine trade association.

  • winefriend:

    thanks, Louise – it was a really worthwhile tasting

  • Louise Hurren:

    thanks for this thoughtful review, David! hope to see you at another tasting soon. best wishes, louise

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