Wine:London toasts the grapes of Southern France

Tomorrow sees the start of London’s third Sud de France Festival – with the aim of giving sunny Mediterranean flavour to the final days of summer.

But this year, for purely practical reasons (compare rain-free days here with the statistics for southern France), the focus of activity has changed.

So, sadly, the outdoor wine and food market in Cavendish Square in the heart of the West End won’t be held this year.

Instead, there are all kinds of under-cover activities still within easy reach of Ham&Highland, from wine tastings and masterclasses to a giant “gardienne” (beef, wine and olive casserole) and cooking courses.

There are happenings indoors in Cavendish Square, at the Maison de la Region Languedoc-Roussillon, from whence comes the impetus for the 17-day festival.

The Wine and Spirit Education Trust is running three evening sessions there (�25 each, �60 for all three), giving an insight into why the region’s wines are so interesting and appealing.

Speakers are the ever-entertaining Simon Woods (September 13, fine wines), Julia Harding MW (September 20, traditional and unusual grape varieties) and Eric Aracil (fortified wines).

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The festival event closest to hand is included in the inaugural wine-tasting weekend run by the Three Wine Men (Tim Atkin, Oz Clarke and Olly Smith) at Lord’s cricket ground, St John’s Wood, on September 24 and 25.

There will be a dedicated Sud de France zone with producers present and the chance to buy wines as part of a 500-wine experience. Tickets are �20 for any one of the three sessions.

Tempting, too, is a food and wine tasting on September 21 led by Charles Metcalfe at Vinopolis wine experience at London Bridge, where throughout the festival a �5 upgrade on the entry price adds in a Languedoc-Roussillon wine and food showcase area.

There’s activity on the high street, too, with free tastings at Waitrose (September 17 and 24) and Majestic (September 16 to 22), special offers at Jeroboams branches and a Sud de France-inspired menu at Cote restaurants.

Which wines will be opened at Waitrose and Majestic haven’t yet been revealed. But both have some very enjoyable wines from a region where standards have soared over recent years without the prices following suit.

To highlight one example, both retailers have the good sense to stock wines from English emigr�s Charles and Ruth Simpson, whose Domaine Sainte Rose whites and reds are stylish and exceptional value for money.

At Majestic, the red Les Derniers C�pages 2010 (petit verdot and mourv�dre) balances dark fruit flavours and smooth tannins elegantly, languishing long on the palate without overpowering what’s on your plate. While the white Le Marin Blanc 2010 (marsanne and roussanne) has an attractive apricot character with fresh, rich concentration that adeptly avoids excess. Both are �7, if you buy at least two bottles.

The Waitrose offering is the white Coquille d’Oc 2009 blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier and muscat (also �7), which is crisp, floral and fragrant – a particularly lovely wine for a late summer lunch or aperitif.

But there are many more Languedoc-Roussillon wines which combine good modern grape growing and cellar work with the tradition and terroir of a region that deserves better appreciation. Do use the opportunities the Sud de France Festival offers to experience them.

n For details on the September 21 tasting, visit For September 24 and 25 tasting, visit For the 17-day wine festival, visit