Liz Sagues judges the Saint-Bacchus awards
PUBLISHED: 13:04 26 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:17 07 September 2010
For the French to ask the English to decide their best wines must mean a massive swallowing of national pride. But all credit to the CIVR - the professional committee which oversees the quality and promotion of wines from Roussillon in Southern France - f
For the French to ask the English to decide their best wines must mean a massive swallowing of national pride.
But all credit to the CIVR - the professional committee which oversees the quality and promotion of wines from Roussillon in Southern France - for taking judging of its annual Saint-Bacchus awards beyond national boundaries.
Belgium, Germany and now London, where the setting was La Maison de la Region Languedoc-Roussillon, just behind Oxford Street.
Since the showroom opened a couple of years ago, its main focus has been trade-oriented - although more consumer events are intended soon (watch this space).
Some 50 British judges - wine writers, sommeliers, educators, importers and restaurant owners, in all a very serious line-up - were invited to determine Roussillon's current top wines.
The judges (myself included) were charged with whittling down the 158 which had made it through the first round, held in France, to just one or two Bacchus-worthy choices in each of 17 categories.
We were split into panels of three or four and given plenty of time to judge a maximum of 20 wines per panel.
With two experts in matching wine with modern oriental food, Christine Parkinson, wine buyer for Hakkasan, and Jean-Louis Naveilhan, head sommelier of Sumosan, I was charged with choosing the best of the Cotes du Roussillon whites and the sweet Muscats de Rivesaltes.
The first is a fascinating, rapidly-developing sector, predominantly blends of grenache blanc and gris, macabeu and malvoisie, plus roussanne, marsanne and vermentino.
The second has the largest production of the region's four categories of vins doux naturels.
Here, fermentation of the perfumed yet subtly different muscat a petit grains and muscat d'alexandrie is stopped by the addition of grape alcohol - leaving wines which at their best are delicate and delicious, especially with summery puddings.
The standard of the wines - on all the tables - was generally high and we found it impossible to choose a single winner in each of our categories.
The French, ever pragmatic, allowed us in two both.
The dry whites spanned a broad scent and flavour spectrum and two stood out - one fresh, minerally-crisp and delightfully bright-fruited, perfect summer drinking, the other more serious and complex but less immediately Roussillon in character.
Wines for different occasions, but both stylish, modern and very attractive.
The Muscat de Rivesaltes selection was even more fascinating - from light wines bursting with peachy, citrussy scents to serious, more deeply-flavoured examples.
One was totally different, an amber-coloured, oak-edged example of how wonderfully top sweet muscats can age.
Atypical, yes, but it had to have a Bacchus - as did a wonderfully complex and classy younger wine, pale and subtle.
You're dying, I hope, to rush out and buy these and other Bacchus winners.
But their identities won't be revealed until a gala evening in Perpignan later this month and they may not all be available in Britain after that.
But what can you buy now from a region where enormous vinous progress has been made over recent years and where some truly special wines are emerging?
Most accessible are some very good wines at M&S - Les Orris red and white (£8), Collioure blanc (£10) and Cuvee Extreme (red, £9) - while some Waitrose branches have the very fine Matassa Cuvee Romanissa (red, £18).
For more choice, go to independents and specialists such as Stone Vine and Sun (www.stonevine.co.uk),
Les Caves de Pyrene (www.lescaves.co.uk) and Bibendum (www.bibendum-wine.co.uk), whose Els Pyreneus wines from Jean Marc Lafage are excellent.