Drink John Wil­son on the best of France

With the most grape va­ri­eties, France has some­thing for every­one

The Irish Times Magazine - - FRONTLINES - JOHN WIL­SON

On Fri­day the French cel­e­brate their fête na­tionale, oth­er­wise known as le qua­torze juil­let or, outsi de France at least, Bastille Day. France is home to some of the world’s great­est wines. Every­one has heard of Bordeaux, bur­gundy and cham­pagne. Yet the coun­try of­fers so much more than these.

The real France is made up of count­less small re­gions pro­duc­ing unique lo­cal wines made from grape va­ri­eties un­heard of else­where.

I am talk­ing about Mon­deuse from Savoie; Fer Ser­vadou from Mar­cil­lac and Gail­lac; Courbu, Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng from Ju­rançon; Ar­bois from Chev­erny; Sav­agnin from Jura; and many more be­sides. Add the more fa­mil­iar re­gions, such as Sancerre, Mus­cadet, Beau­jo­lais and Châteauneuf- du- Pape, and you have the great­est num­ber of grape va­ri­eties and re­gions known to hu­mankind. The only coun­tries that can com­pete in terms of va­ri­ety are Italy and Greece.

At times it seems as if we know each and ev­ery area only to find sev­eral re­gions, pre­vi­ously known only to the wine anorak, sud­denly spring to promi­nence. Ju­rançon and Jura would cer­tainly fit this cat­e­gory; Mar­cil­lac and Savoie are wait­ing their turn, al­though both are avail­able through the more ad­ven­tur­ous im­porters.

The word “ar­ti­san” is widely abused, but many of these wines are made by small farm­ers who of­ten strug­gle for recog­ni­tion in a world in­creas­ingly dom­i­nated by large brands.

Qual­ity can be mixed, al­though the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion cer­tainly make bet­ter wine than their pre­de­ces­sors.

The good pro­duc­ers are re­ally worth seek­ing out, as they of­fer wines with real char­ac­ter and ter­roir ( an­other much- abused term), of­ten at rea­son­able prices. You won’t find them for ¤ 6.99 in your lo­cal su­per­mar­ket, as no­body can make a profit at this price. But spend ¤ 10-¤ 15 and you can find wines of in­di­vid­u­al­ity and in­ter­est – or, for a few euro more, wines of depth and com­plex­ity. The three wines be­low have all of these qual­i­ties.

France also has the ad­van­tage of be­ing close by. Ship­ping small quan­ti­ties of wine from Aus­tralia and Ar­gentina can be pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive. It is far eas­ier for spe­cial- ist im­porters to ac­cess a few dozen cases of t he more recherche French wines.

Food, wine and France are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked. It is hard to think of one with­out the oth­ers.

Each re­gion has dishes to ac­com­pany the lo­cal wines. I know many read­ers have spent happy hol­i­days me­an­der­ing along pic­turesque coun­try roads, dis­cov­er­ing the home- grown cui­sine.

France pro­duces ev­ery style of wine, from the light­est re­fresh­ing white to the most ro­bust red. Any­one who claims they don’t like French wine hasn’t tried hard enough – or doesn’t like wine.

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