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Finding value in France’s wine regions

Andy Newman turns his back on the fashionable – and expensive – French wine areas in favour of less well-known, affordable alternatives

Whether it’s increasing costs of production, the plummeting pound, or growing demand from emerging markets such as China, it is undeniable that many of the French wines we have grown to love are becoming out of reach of most people’s wallets.

Wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy now command silly money, and finding value in most of the leading vineyard areas of France is becoming increasingly difficult. So does that mean that those of us who love French wine are going to have to start looking elsewhere to fill our glasses?

Thankfully not. The big money tends to follow fashion, but to find value the trick is not to follow the herd, but to seek out wine regions which are not so well-known, and which, therefore, are not on the radar of those with more money than sense. The good news is that in France, there are plenty such areas – and here is my guide to the 10 regions where you will find interesting wines at value prices.

Bandol
Situated between the gritty southern cities of Marseille and Toulon, the red wines of Bandol are suitably robust – sometimes described as fauve (feral) in character. It is Mourvèdre which rules here; the grape has to make up at least 50% of the blend, and often is much more. The result is rich, complex wines with aromas of leather, black fruit, spice and violets, and a rich earthy taste with tannins that need a few years’ ageing to mellow.

Beaujolais
Perhaps not an unknown wine region, but certainly one which has fallen out of fashion. Forget the bubblegum-flavoured, much-hyped Nouveau wines which were all the rage in the 1980s – it is the region’s 10 village crus (such as Morgon, Fleurie and Brouilly) which are of interest here, where the thin-skinned Gamay grape produces some surprisingly robust wines. The fact that leading Côte d’Or producers are investing here shows its potential, but it remains relatively affordable.

Corsica
Better known as a holiday destination, Corsica’s climate of endless sunshine tempered by sea breezes makes it ideal as a wine-growing area. The island’s most famous son, Napoleon, was actually the son of a winemaker. Being fiercely independent, Corsica has resisted the march of international grape varieties, so indigenous grapes such as Sciacarello and Nieluccio (both red) rule the roost; the Italian influence can be seen in the predominance of Vermentino whites.

Côtes Catalanes
Part of the Roussillon region right down by the Spanish border, Côtes Catalanes doesn’t even have appellation status, but the quality of the wine coming from here belies its IGP label. Reds based on the classic Mediterranean varieties of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan produce the best wines; you will also find Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the mix.

Côte Chalonnaise
There is such a thing as affordable Burgundy Pinot Noir, and the secret to finding it is here, immediately south of the stratospherically-priced Côte d’Or. Essentially an extension of the same hill, the wines, from the same Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, are a little lighter but very much more affordable. Seek out Rully for accessible, fruity wines, and Mercurey and Givry for a bit more structure.

Jura
Better known for its cheeses such as Comte and Mont d’Or, this small region sandwiched between Burgundy and Switzerland has a character all of its own, best typified by the Savignin-based vin jaune, which develops a sherry-like layer of flor yeast, giving it the same nutty and dried fruit notes. You will also find Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown here, as well as local varieties Trousseau and Poulsard.

Jurançon
Like its near homonym Jura, this is a mountainous region, but this time in the Pyrenees in the southwest of France. Home of the Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Courbu varieties, Jurançon produces dry and sweet white wines which both successfully balance richness and acidity.

Pic St-Loup
The coolest and wettest part of the vast Languedoc region, about 20km inland from Montpellier.  The benefit here is that the appellation calls for a high proportion (at least 50%) of Syrah, alongside Grenache and Mourvèdre, giving wines with spicy, earthy complexity – and a less ‘cooked’ flavour than other, hotter parts of the Midi.

Savoie
Right up in the Alps on the Swiss border, here you will find lighter-style reds made from Gamay and Pinot Noir as well as the local Mondeuse variety, and whites from Roussanne and Mondeuse Blanc. You may struggle to find Savoie wines in UK shops, but if you do, you will be whisked straight back to the snowy slopes of your last skiing holiday.

Séguret
One of the newer village appellations of the southern Rhône, Séguret is producing wines which are starting to rival the nearby (and much more famous, therefore expensive) villages of Gigondas and Vacqueras. Peppery Grenache-based reds are the stars, but don’t ignore the full-flavoured, crisp dry whites either.

Three wines Andy has enjoyed this month 

Mas Macia Cava Brut Reserva
(www.ndjohn.co.uk, £11.95)
Several notches above your run of the mill Cava, this has complex flavours of baked apples coupled with herbal notes and nutty, marzipan and yeast flavours on the palate. Balanced acidity and a long finish mean this should be on anyone’s budget fizz shortlist.

Le Veritable Jurançon Sec 2016
(Bakers & Larners, £10.99)
Made from the Gros Manseng grape, this is a great example of an interesting wine from a lesser-known region of France. Deep in colour, with quince and preserved lemons on the nose, it has a lively acidity with pears, grapefruit and quince on the palate.

Domaine Faiveley Mercurey La Framboisière 2015
(Bakers & Larners, £22.50)
Giving much more expensive Côte d’Or Burgundies a run for their money, this Pinot Noir is packed with red and black fruits, with a vegetal forest floor aroma. Velvety tannins, and a melded blend of fruits and savoury notes on the palate.

Published in Feast Issue 35 – April 2019

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