Jennifer Ingellis, our partner in Williams-Sonoma Wine and one of Food & Wine’s 2012 Sommeliers of the Year, shares her favorite suggestions for affordable French wines.
When you first think of wine from France, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne probably immediately come to mind. While these regions are known for making some of the most renowned wines in the world, France has many other wine regions that deserve just as much attention for producing wines that are delicious and perfect for everyday enjoyment.
The Loire Valley
One such region that produces a wide variety of wines that range from crisp, minerally Muscadet to juicy, earthy herbal Cabernet Franc is the Loire Valley. The Loire Valley contains several regions and within each, distinct appellations, grape varieties and styles. Moving inland from the Atlantic along the Loire River, all of the appellations have a degree of maritime influence. Appellations like Muscadet Sevre et Maine, which are closer to the Atlantic, produce wines with distinctive saline characters, perfect for oysters. Another appellation, Chinon, is farther inland along the river, and is within the large Touraine region of the Loire Valley. Chinon is most known for its reds, most often composed of Cabernet Franc. These reds are crunchy, juicy and earthy- versatile food wines that don’t need a special occasion to be enjoyed.
In the shadow of Bordeaux, another appellation, Bergerac, is ripe for finding value reds with plenty of Bordeaux character. Like Bordeaux, Bergerac is divided by a river, the Dordogne, but due to its more temperate climate the wines tend to be riper. This Merlot based blend from Chateau Thenac is a perfect example, with classic Bordeaux characteristics and supple texture.
Yet another illustration is in Southern France, the Languedoc region, with 18 appellations covering approximately 100,000 acres. A plethora of exemplary wines for every day come from this region. The majority of wines produced in the Languedoc appellations are red blends composed of percentages of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignane. Warm, sunny days and cooler nights ripen grapes, yet allow the grape’s natural acidity to remain. This produces plump, ripe, fruit-driven wines that are still focused and vibrant. One of these hidden treasures from the Minervois appellation is a Grenache based red blend from Anne Gros & Jean-Paul Tollot.
The Rhone Valley—especially Costières de Nîmes
Finally, tucked within the highly regarded and well-known Rhone Valley region, is another appellation that often over-delivers for the price, Costières de Nîmes. While most of the wines produced in this appellation are red, there are also delicious white Rhone blends produced. With an average of 2700 hours of sunshine a year, along with cool on-shore afternoon breezes, grapes easily ripen while keeping freshness and focus. This Roussanne-based blend from Mas Grand Plagniol has great purity, intensity and is an outstanding example of over-delivering for the price.
While France may have a wealth of wines that are meant to be cellared and saved for special occasions, remember that there are also plenty of wines for every day of the week. Wine is a part of everyday life in France, to be enjoyed by all, not just a few.
For more, check out our full collection of French wines.
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