Driving home from a trip to the wine shop with four cases in the car I was struck by the realisation that every one of the 48 bottles on board was French. I cannot recall the last time that has happened.
The fact is that French winemaking has greatly improved at the in recent times, especially on modest wines and they can offer real value for money.
I bought 24 bottles of claret, as the red wine of Bordeaux is known. This area of south-west France surrounding the Gironde Estuary is the largest wine producing region in France and makes wines at all price points. Its top wineries, known as Chateaux, makes some of the most prized and expensive wines in the world.
But there are more than 2,000 Chateaux in Bordeaux and I was purchasing at the bargain priced end. Two years ago I enjoyed some Chateau La Grave Bertin 2009 and bought a case of their 2010 vintage. This trip I came away with the 2011 vintage. I bought six bottles each of two other Chateaux I had also enjoyed, Chateau Talais 2010 and Chateau Guy Garance 2009. Their average price before sales tax was £5.70 ($8.75). You might not find the above named wines in your area but there will be other bargain priced clarets and you won’t go wrong if you buy from a reliable merchant.
Bordeaux red wines are nearly always blends. Merlot is the most grown black grape in Bordeaux, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and these wines are Merlot dominant blends. Easy drinking, fresh and fruity and inexpensive, just my type of wine, and they are perfect with roasted meats.
The other areas all but six of my wines came from are Corbieres and Rousillon in the south of France. I bought from two producers but both wines are blends of Grenache and Carignan. I like both varieties but a blend is often greater than the sum of their parts. Carignan is a variety written off as plonk when I started learning about wine but careful wine making has brought recent recognition for its qualities. I love these soft approachable wines packed with flavour and the taste of summer, and they match so well with so many dishes.
The last of my purchases was half-a-dozen Domaine Gouillon from the Cote de Brouilly, on recommendation from a friend. I don’t drink much Beaujolais but have recently enjoyed some at friends so thought I should get re-acquainted. All red Beaujolais wines are single varietals made from the Gamay grape. Gamay is a variety that is rarely found elsewhere and yet it is fascinating how it reflects the area it is grown in. Cote de Brouilly is one of ten ‘Crus’ (named sub-regions) within the Beaujolais each making a distinctive version of the variety.
So now I have filled some gaps in my wine shelves, and loaded the ready-rack in the kitchen.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.