Buyers impressed by Sud de France tasting

15 February, 2013

Wine buyers from across the globe pushed their palates to the limit in a bid to find hidden gems among more than 1,500 wines on offer at the Sud de France tasting in Montpellier.

The organisation brings together many of the most interesting wines from the Languedoc region under one banner and one roof.

The buyers had just one day to sift through legions of reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wines, from entry-level to icon.

A seven-strong UK contingent competed with buyers from India, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and the US, among others, to secure meetings with the best producers in the region.

Each producer could meet no more than 20 buyers out of 220, so demand was high for a sit-down with the most competitive winemakers.

After a day of tasting, 40-minute meetings were arranged between buyers and producers throughout the rest of the week.

UK buyers said they were pleased with the wines they had tasted and the meetings they secured.

Benjamin Proctor, of London chain Borough Wines, said: “Most of our wines are French and the Languedoc is one of our most popular regions. It’s something people are getting into. Our customers respond well to these wines. They are happy to try producers in a region not as well known as Bordeaux and Burgundy.

“You can get a lot better value here and a lot more variety.

“Even now some of the more premium stuff is starting to compete in terms of quality.”

Borough Wines has forged strong relationships with Languedoc producers over the past two decades, and winemakers from the region regularly visit its shops to meet staff and educate consumers.

“Ours are local shops in small communities and it’s nice that they come over two or three times a year and meet our customers,” said Proctor. “It’s different service to what they can get at a supermarket.

“The thing I like about the Languedoc is that you have so many unusual grape varieties and interesting blends.

“It’s a quirky region and it’s fun to explore the nooks and crannies. I would like to put in a few big orders based on what I’ve seen and who I’ve met.”

Stewart Travers, wine buyer for Cambridge Wine Merchants, is a veteran of the annual event. It holds the title of Sud de France Specialist of the Year, a prize sponsored by the region, and Travers’ knowledge has helped the region become the group’s top seller.

He said: “Wine from the Languedoc has gone from nothing to our largest category and our most profitable category.

“They punch above their weight for the price point they are in, and they can compete with wines from more reputable regions on quality.”

He believes it is “almost ridiculous” to call Languedoc-Rousillon one wine region as it is made up of thousands of microclimates with a wide range of terrain and terroir.

“The region covers everything – white, red, rosé, sparklimng, sweet,” he said. “Languedoc is difficult for UK merchants – they think it has good wines but they choose not to ship them because they think they will struggle to sell them.

“But I think it’s just about getting consumers to open their minds. It’s worked really well for us and I don’t see why it can’t for others.”

Derek Robertson, of Norwich-based Premium Wine Collections, added: “I came here two years ago and came back because it has a fantastic selection and is a great place to find good-value, well-made wines. The diversity of the region is excellent.”

Ingrid Johnson, owner of the Flying Corkscrew in Hertfordshire, said attending the Sud de France event – along with the likes of Vinexpo and Vinitalty – is crucial to the survival of her business.

She runs the shop with her husband, Paul, but 80% of their business comes from supplying the trade.

“We still use UK suppliers for certain wines to fill gaps in our portfolio, but ideally we wouldn’t use any UK suppliers, but it takes time,” she said.

“We have put some of our suppliers’ noses out of joint because we are getting better wines cheaper by coming to these events.

“We have to do the legwork and we’re increasingly importing our own wines. It’s the only way we can survive. We supply to the trade and the bottom line is all about money.

“Everyone is finding it really, really tough. You can see that in the retail sector. Without coming to events such as this we would not win any business.”

She added: “We still have a core of retail customers just after quality, who won’t bat an eyelid at coming in and spending £700. But most people are looking for price and we have started selling entry-level wines such as Pinot Grigio.

“We have had our business for almost 20 years now. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, you have to keep analysing the market. You are going to have to go through a couple of recessions. You have to be evolv- ing all the time. I think we are coming out of this recession now.

“You have more chance of surviving if you have something exclusive to you – that’s absolutely key. I think Languedoc will be good for that.

“We have found some stunning wines at this exhibition.”

Ian Webb, a Leicester-based importer who supplies the trade through his business, Aldeby Wines, added: “It has great diversity and people who really care, people producing something of quality that represents where they are from.

“They make some interesting wines here. If you pay £12-£14 retail on a bottle of wine from this region in the UK you get a really good bottle of wine. If you spend that on a bottle from Bordeaux or Burgundy it can be good but it could be pretty ordinary as well.

“People in this region are innovative but they respect tradition.

“You have to have a business head on and they offer some fantastic value for money.”




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