Beginning late January and going through springtime, each French wine region has its Concours des Vins (“wine competitions”) to select wines that may eventually be sent to the Concours General Agricole Paris, France’s largest such competition with more than 15,000 wines submitted from over 4,000 French winemakers.
I’ve never participated in this important wine event, but I feel a link to it as I’m down in the “trenches” each January and February in Toulouse, where I live, tasting wine from different Southwestern France wine regions in local and regional competitions that eventually lead to the Paris event. One of my favorites is the Concours des Vins de Gascogne. These are wines from the Gers department west of Toulouse. Côtes de Gascogne is the wine appellation, and white wines are the stars here. The varieties include Colombard and Ugni blanc, which are also used to make the area’s famous Armagnac brandy, and Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Gros Manseng, either in single-variety white wines or blends of at least 85% Colombard mixed with Sauvignon and Chardonnay (up to a maximum of 15% of the blend).
Besides the dry white wines, there are also semi-sweet and sweet wines made from extremely mature Gros Manseng grapes. And there are also rosé and reds made from Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. At this year’s Concours des Vins de Gascogne (the 34th) I was on a panel that tasted a dozen blended white wines and an equal number of semi-sweet Gros Manseng wines. The majority of them were quite good; even better than what I recall from previous competitions that I’ve helped judge. Which makes sense, as the Côtes de Gascogne wines have gained a reputation as being amongst the best fruity, crisp and aromatic French white wines.
The Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine (which goes by the acronym OIV, from its French language name l’Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin) deals with the technical and scientific aspects of viticulture and winemaking. A group of students in its Masters of Science in Wine Management course were also serving as tasters in this year’s Gascogne wine competition. The two OIV students at my table reflect the multi-disciplinary, international backgrounds of the students. Maher Harb, who has planted several acres of vines on his family’s farm in Lebanon where he hopes to make wine, worked previously as a business intelligence analyst in Paris. Cedric (sorry, I didn’t get his last name) told me that he had a degree in sociology and worked in Paris before with humanitarian organizations.
Over the next year the students will travel to 25 wine-producing countries, tasting wine and meeting wine professionals involved in all parts of the wine industry (production, marketing, selling, management, etc.). You can follow the students’ adventure on Harb’s wine blog, Jus de Syrah.