FOOD & DRINK: Wines from France’s Midi region

For value for money the wines of France’s Midi in the south east corner, just above Spain, take some beating. Whites are typically fresh and floral, reds are ripe, full, and often spicy.

Behind those exotic and expensive French Mediterranean towns and beaches there is a host of vineyards producing reasonably priced quality wines.

Years ago the wine was produced solely by dozens of cooperatives but now there are many individual growers.

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The Midi is a vast mountainous vineyard area stretching from the foothills of the Pyrenees west towards the mouth of the Rhone. The climate is Mediterranean but the mountains to the north give protection and help to keep temperatures down with the cool night air. Sea breezes also help near the coast.

There is a huge diversity from Corbieres, Minervois, Roussillon, Limoux, St Chinian, Fitou and others.

The ‘in’ white of the area is Picpoul de Pinet. The vineyards surround the Bassin de Thau near Montpellier, famous for its oysters.

Pinet is the village at its centre. No wonder it’s a great match for seafood. Here are a few decent Picpouls:

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Picpoul de Pinet, Les Vins du Litoral (Asda £6) Nose of Granny Smith apples; palate is crisp, fresh, tropical fruit palate, easy drinking.

Vignerons de Florensac Picpoul de Pinet, Bernard Chérel, Languedoc (M&S £10) Lemon peel and spice.

Tesco Finest Picpoul de Pinet 2018 (£7.50) Tangy hint of apple, pear and lemon, with a light dry finish.

Baron de Guers Picpoul de Pinet 12.5pc (Sainsbury £8) Zesty and fragrant from around the town of Pomerols overlooking the Med.

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Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine Félines-Jourdan 2018 Crisp, fresh, citrus and herb. Enjoyable on its own or with seafood.

Other popular grape varieties here are Viognier, Marsanne, Vermentino, and Clairette.

Clairette was the original grape for whites in Languedoc for hundreds of years:

Paul Mas Vinus, Hérault 2017 12.5pc (Morrisons £8.25) A rich and exotic Clairettedu Languedoc. Fruity, floral, citrus and tropical fruit. Delicious on its own or with seafood, salads and white meats.

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Now for Viognier: Coop Irresistible Viognier Pays d’Oc, Paul Mas 13.5pc (£8) A fresh, zingy, honeyed white. Good on its own or with fish and salads.

Viognier Pays d’Oc, Domaine du Bosc 2018 13.5pc (The Wine Society £7.75) Great value. Rich, exotic, peach.

Cuvée Balthazar Viognier 2017, Pierrick Harang, Roussillon 13.4pc (Waitrose £11.49) Tropical fruit, creamy apricot, lime, mango and some minerality. A fine well balanced wine.

Marsanne 2018 13pc (Aldi £5.99) Pear, honey, vanilla, some subtle toasty notes. Good value.

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Paul Mas Estate Marsanne ‘La Forge vineyard’ Pays D’Oc 2018 13pc (Majestic £11.99, £9.99 mixed 6) A rich and mellow but well-balanced white from 100pc Marsanne grapes. White flower and hazelnut aromas and delicious pear and honey flavours. Perfectly suited to all fish dishes.

Vermentino, the white of Sardinia and Italy, can also be found in the Languedoc. Voyage au Sud: Vermentino 2018 12.5pc Pays d’Oc is a smooth refreshing white - a more elegant and minerally Sauvignon Blanc.

Paul Mas Réserve Grenache Blanc- Marsanne-Vermentino 2018, Languedoc 13.5pc White peach, flower blossom and refreshing citrus. Great with spicy dishes.

Coop Irresistible Viognier Pays d’Oc, Paul Mas 13.5pc (£8) A fresh, zingy, honeyed white. Good on its own or with fish and salads.

On to some of the many good reds:

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Taste the Difference Languedoc Rouge 2018 13.5pc (Sainsbury’s £8) Intense, well structured, packed with black fruit and toasted spice aromas. A palate of dark, brambly, forest fruits, a hint of cocoa and a touch of coffee, figs and vanilla. Perfect with grilled meats.

Chateau Capitoul, La Clape , Languedoc 2017 13pc (Coop £8) Big, fruity blackcurrant, blackberry Syrah, a bargain.

Paul Mas Réserve Grenache/Syrah/ Carignan, Languedoc (£9.39) Blackberry, black cherry, some earthiness.

Mon Plaisir du Sud Rouge 2017 12.5pc (Majestic £7.99, £6.99 mixed 6) This super concentrated blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache demonstrates the charm of Languedoc reds, with its soft black fruit intensity and clove spice. Easy drinking.

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Now going north to south through the region. Firstly Faugeres:

Finest Faugères 2018 13.5pc (Tesco £9) Jammy red fruit, spicy notes, big tannins. One for a big steak or game.

Faugères Premières Domaine Alqeier 2016 14.5pc (The Wine Society £14.95) Syrah and Grenache, refined black cherry and spice. Delicious.

St Chinian has some spicy reds with plenty of personality:

Finest St Chinian 2017 13.5pc (Tesco £6.50) Full-bodied with black fruit and savoury spice flavours Smokey notes add richness and complexity.

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Taste the Difference St Chinian 2016 Laurant Miguel 14pc (£9) An easy drinking, intense berry flavoured blend of Syrah and Grenache, some dark chocolate and spice on the finish.

From Minervois, La Liviniere is the top area for reds:

Minervois La Livinière Cuvée Cantilène, Chateau Sainte-Eulalie 2016 14.5pc (The Wine Society £13.50) Probably my favourite estate in Minervois. Dark, fruity, fragrant, refined, bit of oak and some soft, ripe tannins.

Chateau Maris Les Vieilles Vignes 2017. This is a lovely biodynamically-grown Syrah wine with dark fruit flavours and hints of spice from parcels of very old Minervois vines. Great.

Then comes Corbieres:

Corbieres mountains are dry and barren, useless for most crops, but vines thrive on the bare, mostly limestone, soils.

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Talking earlier of the many cooperatives, Castelmaure is one of, if not the best. I’ve slipped in another white here:

Corbières Blanc, Le Blanc Paysan 2017 13.5pc (The Wine Society £8.25) Wonderfully fruity from Grenache Blanc.

Now the red:

Castelmaure Corbières 2016 14pc (Tesco £9) Well balanced, fruity, red fruit and spice. The palate shows sweet cherry and berry fruit but also a nice savoury character and grippy tannin on the finish. Beautifully balanced.

Wine Atlas Corbieres (Asda £5.50) Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, rustic and powerful. This is a generous, fruit-forward and herby red single estate Corbières from Château de Fournas.

Further down is Roussillon:

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The hills of Corbieres to the north and the Pyrenees to the south make an amphitheatre with the plains round the town of Perpignan. But even here the land dips and rises everywhere. The region has historical connections with Spain’s Catalonia:

Cotes du Roussillon Villages Rouge, Les Millières, Domaine Gardiés 2017 13.5pc (The Wine Society £12.50) A rich and full bodied treat.

Mas de la Dona, Cotes de Roussillon Villages 2018 15.5pc (Majestic £12.99, £10.99 mixed 6) From Chateau Dona Baissass (a favourite of Robert Parker) this wine is brimming with concentrated dark fruit and spicy prune flavours.

These are only a few of the many good, relatively cheap wines of France’s Midi. Give them a try.

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