Jancis Robinson / Hecht & Bannier

2014-02-28 Jancis Robinson

If California is America’s fruit basket, then the Languedoc is Europe’s grape bin. Never was this more apparent than this week at Vinisud, the annual assemblage of producers from the Languedoc-Roussillon and other southern French regions.
Trade fairs such as this can be brutal. Tens of thousands of generic Languedoc wines are fighting to sell, all at the same relatively low price. With so much choice It takes much more than mere taste to grab the attention of the drinker. Ladies and gentlemen, we are entering the murky world of marketing.

There were dozens of wholly competent Languedoc reds and whites that I tasted over the two days of Vinisud. (Incidentally, I also tasted dozens more of the top-end wines from the region, tasting notes for which will be published forthwith.) To a large extent they are based on the same grape varieties, come from the same vintage, have the same alcohol level and a very similar flavour profile. They are mostly clean, fruity, modern, easy-drinking and pleasant.

This is an achievement the region can be proud of: there were virtually no faulty or unbalanced wines in evidence. But this only means it gets harder distinguishing between them.

What does it take to protrude from this profusion? Well, this is what marketing people get paid for, I suppose. I singled out Hecht & Bannier’s range for several reasons. The name sounds authentically French, but is easy for non-French speakers to pronounce. The labels are well branded with a legible typeface and plenty of white space. Overall, the image manages to be distinctive and modern, giving a premium feel within the mid-range price bracket.

Sorry, I slipped into marketing jargon myself there. I’ll just go and wash my mouth out.

Behind this finely tuned branding are the people. Messieurs Hecht and Bannier are no marketing trick, they are very real individuals and were manning their Vinisud stand personally, taking time to pour and chat with anyone who came to taste. They were honest, realistic, open-minded and clearly had great faith in their wines.

They make their range of 13 wines from purchases of grapes and wines all over the Languedoc, Roussillon and Provence. They claim to be famous for being the négociant that pays the highest prices and are proud of that. Minervois, Corbières and Bandol are among the appellations represented, as well as a red, white and pink carrying the generic Languedoc appellation. It is the white specifically that really appealed to me.

Stylistically, these three wines conform entirely to the expectation of Languedoc wine. That is not pejorative. The 2012 red, made from Syrah, Grenache and Carignan is full of hearty black fruit and sleek tannins. The white is Picpoul blended with Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, and it has a sort of hazelnut character that reminded me of good Soave, with a herbal note which is romantically compared to the garrigue of the Languedoc landscape. The Picpoul gives a fresh acidity so important for whites while the other two varieties provide substance and stuffing to flesh out the palate.

This Languedoc Blanc is available in Germany, France, Switzerland, the US, the UK and Japan. Wine-searcher.com provides a total of 70 stockists around the world of their various 2012s.

Their very good website gives more details on my wine of the week, and all their others. I didn’t taste the entire range but feel confident in recommending all of them without hesitation. Now that is the mark of a strong brand.