Bargain French wine? You’d better believe it …
It might seem odd to talk of value for money when it comes to French wine, given that it boasts some of the most expensive wines in the world, but in my view it’s hard to surpass. Of course, France produces a lot of poor and overrated wine, too, but it’s still possible to find thrilling and affordable bottles from every part of the country – so long as you know where to look.
As prices of premium wines have risen elsewhere, French wine looks increasingly good value. The price of champagne, for example, often compares favourably with that of English sparkling wine, especially if you go for own-label: Waitrose’s current offer on its attractively creamy Blanc de Blancs Brut (12.5%) at £18.99 (down from £23.99) is a good case in point.
With other styles, it’s a question of knowing what names to keep an eye out for, especially on restaurant wine lists, where a taste for classics is punished with a hefty markup. Choose Mâcon Villages instead of spendy appellations such as Chassagne-Montrachet, say, and vibrant beaujolais rather than pricier options from the Côte d’Or. And the vast swaths of vineyard in the Languedoc-Roussillon still deliver reliably enjoyable drinking, such as Sainsbury’s ridiculously good-value Taste the Difference Languedoc Rouge 2017, which is now on offer at £6.25 – a price that makes it a great house red.
If a wine is from a region you haven’t heard of, chances are it’s better value than one you have. Reuilly from the Loire, costières de nîmes from the edge of the Rhône, bergerac from just outside Bordeaux, jurançon sec from the south-west, as well as the obscure pacherenc du vic bilh, which also offers delicious sweet and dry wines, are all worth seeking out. (The Wine Society has a luscious, sweet, 12% pacherenc from Château d’Aydie at £12.50 a 50cl bottle.)
French wines labelled with the place they’re made are almost invariably more interesting than ones marketed by grape variety – with the odd exception such as the piquepoul noir and jura chardonnay in today’s sidebar.
You can also look to France for good examples of natural wines, including on-trend pétillant naturel (AKA pet nat), a hugely charming, gently fizzy style of sparkling wine that’s bottled while it’s still undergoing fermentation. I’ve been drinking Maison 54 (11%) from Borough Wines this summer, which was so popular it sold out, but has apparently just come back into stock at £16 a bottle. Give it a try. It’s time to make wine spritzes classy again, and this rosé-based one has a lovely, floral nose that’s the perfect companion to any late-summer garden party. This subtle and elegant drink uses a homemade rose water and vodka mix that’s great to have in the cabinet to add aromatics to all kinds of cocktails; it keeps for ages, too.
To make the infused vodka, stir the sugar and rose water into the vodka until the sugar dissolves, decant into a sterilised bottle and seal.
To make the cocktail, put a good handful of ice cubes in a stemmed wine glass, then pour over a measure of rose vodka, the wine and lemon juice. Top with soda and garnish with rose petals.
Léo Sagel, The Jones Family Kitchen, London SW1