Looking for a fireside glass this December? Peter Ranscombe explores wines filled with the warmth of the South of France.
FEW wine-growing regions ooze sunshine like the South of France; every glass of red feels like it’s bursting with the sun’s warming rays, while each glass of white brings back memories of the lapping waves of the Mediterranean Sea.
Stretching from the Rhone in the east through Languedoc and Roussillon and up into the Sud-Ouest or South-West, the giant Sud de France area includes lots of famous names, like Cahors, Corbières, Fitou, Lirac, Minervois an Picpoul, to name but a few.
With such an abundance of regions and styles, exploring the Sud de France’s wines is a must for any vinous adventures, but winter feels like the ideal time to concentrate on some of the richer tipples.
Domaine Sainte Rose Le Mistral, 2016 (£7.99, Majestic Wines)
One of my favourite producers, not just in the Languedoc, but period. Run by Scotswoman Ruth Simpson and her Northern Irish husband Charles, Domaine Sainte Rose makes a wide range of wines, covering many price points. Named after the cooling wind that blows through the Languedoc, this merlot is a bit of a fruit bomb, with plenty of black cherry, blackberry jam and vanilla flavours, yet with enough tannin to stand-up to beef. Look out for the slightly more grown-up 2016 Domaine Sainte Rose La Garrigue (£8.99, Majestic Wines), which is a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre and is more savoury, with red cherry and herby notes, living up to its namesake, the soft-leaved scrub.
Parenthèse Signé JST, 2015 (£11.95, Viader Vintners)
Arguably my favourite wine on show at the Sud de France autumn tasting thanks to its silky tannins and its rounded mouthfeel. I loved the interplay between the bright raspberry and red cherry and richer blackberry and black cherry flavours. A blend of 50-50 syrah and grenache, the fruit comes from biodynamic vineyards.
Domaine le Cazal Minervois Tradition, 2015 (£11.25, Yapp Brothers)
Tradition by name and tradition by nature on the nose, with plenty of the smoke, spun sugar and dark fruit aromas expected of Minervois. On the palate, it’s much more modern, with the silky tannins, a rich and rounded body, plus more of those blackberry and blackcurrant flavours entwined with vanilla.
Chateau Maris Le Carignan de Maris, 2013 (£9.75, Vintage Roots)
Carignan is an often-overlooked variety, usually used as a blending partner with grapes like grenache and syrah. When it’s harvest from older vines though, it can give concentrated flavours, especially if it’s farmed organically, which is what Bertie Eden does. There’s a mixture of smoke, red cherry and blackcurrant on the nose of his wine, with the fruit joined by a bit of chocolate and coffee on the tongue.
Domaine du Joncier l’O Côtes du Rhône, 2015 (£11.95, Stone, Vine & Sun)
On the nose, it’s the dark fruits that dominate, with blackcurrants and blackberries being joined by smoke. Yet red fruits are the order of the day on the palate as bright red cherry and red plum flavours mingle with vanilla and a delicious crack of spicy black pepper on the finish. It’s made using only grenache grapes that come from mature 45-year-old vines.
Chateau La Dournie Etienne Saint Chinian, 2013 (£14.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants)
A blend of syrah, grenache and carignan, this red has a lot of complex aromas, ranging from black fruit through vanilla and mint and then on into wood smoke and damp leaves. In the mouth, it’s the redder fruits that come to the fore, and they’re much lusher than the nose would suggest. A good food wine too, with plenty of dry tannins to handle a casserole or a meaty roast.
Domaine Sainte Rose Barrel Selection Roussanne, 2014 (£14.99, sainterose.com)
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to abandon drinking white wine. Instead of fresh and fruity sauvignon blanc, why not try something with a bit more body? The South of France is an ideal place to start and Ruth and Charles Simpson’s Barrel Selection Roussanne has a creamy mouthfeel from its well-integrated oak, which doesn’t over-power the concentrated lemon and apricot flavours. It’s wee sisters – the 2014 Domaine Sainte Rose Le Marin Blanc (£9.99, Waitrose) and the more savoury Domaine de Sainte Rose Coquille d’Oc Blanc (£7.49, Waitrose) – are equally worthy of attention, whatever the season.
Les Vignobles Foncalieu Piquepoul Rose, 2016 (£11.99, Frazier’s Wine Merchants)
And don’t ignore rosé wines either this winter. They’re so food-friendly, especially when it comes to a plate of cured meats and hard cheeses by the fireside. Piquepoul has been one of the wine world’s stars in recent years, establishing itself as one of the go-to whites for seafood, but here the Foncalieu co-operative has used its piquepol noir cousin to make a pink version. Lots of concentrated strawberry and raspberry flavours, but with rivers of refreshing acidity for balance and to provide the dryness to cut through fatty charcuterie. The sneak-peak I had of the 2017 vintage while visiting Foncalieu in October was similarly impressive.