I think it goes without saying that if I could drink Lafite Rothschild Bordeaux or the brilliant Burgundies from Romanée-Conti on a regular basis, I surely would. However, my budget only allows for that sort of insane indulgence once a millennia or so. I’m guessing that most readers of this column are similarly wallet-constrained.
But just because I can’t often afford the aforementioned blockbuster wines doesn’t mean that I can’t still enjoy very good French wines. As the U.S. dollar gains strength against the Euro, we’re beginning to see French prices coming down a tad. Here are a few good French wines to please the palate without breaking the bank.
Many years ago in New York City—when Tony Bourdain was still cooking at Les Halles Brasserie—I spent a lot of nights there sipping French wines I’d never heard of. My apartment was a mere two blocks away. I recall ordering bottles of CorbiÃ¨res, in particular, since it was the cheapest option on the wine list. CorbiÃ¨res is an appellation within southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region, and that’s where ChÃ¢teau Pech-Latt CorbiÃ¨res 2010 ($12) is made. The Languedoc climate is mostly hot and dry, lending itself to hearty grape varieties like Mourvedre, Carignan, Marsanne, Grenache and Syrah. This particular CorbiÃ¨res is certified organic, a 40/30/20/10 blend of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, respectively. Dark cherry, plum and raisin flavors dominate on the palate, along with hints of cassis.
Another Languedoc wine—this one white—that I’ve been enjoying throughout the summer is Coteaux du Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet 2011 ($12). Picpoul—also spelled Piquepoul and sometimes called Folle Blanche—is a grape variety mostly grown in the RhÃ´ne Valley and the Languedoc. On the palate, there’s tart acidity and green apple, lemon, pear and lime flavors. It’s a slam-dunk with shellfish, light pasta dishes, cold picnic chicken or even Chinese takeout. Equally tempting—and also from the Languedoc—is Gérard Bertrand ChÃ¢teau L’Hospitalet 2010 ($17), a blend of Bourboulenc, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc. It’s delicious with a big pot of moules mariniÃ¨res.
Most of us are familiar with the budget-busting Chardonnays of Burgundy. Well, you’re not likely to mistake either of these Chards for Romanée-Conti Montrachet (priced around $5,000 a bottle), but France also produces perfectly good Chardonnay-based wines that almost everyone can afford. One of my favorites is La Noble Chardonnay 2009 ($10), a very concentrated and creamy, well-balanced wine. Put it in a brown paper bag before serving and no one will know that it’s a $10 bottle. Ditto Louie Latour ArdÃ¨che 2009 ($10)—another great bang for your buck, offering the power, rich bouquet and long finish of a top-tier white Burgundy without putting the wine budget in the red.
Le Cirque 2010 Grenache Gris is as wonderful as it is affordable ($13), with ripe melon, pineapple and white-peach flavors. And if you’re really paying attention, you might notice a little green tang at the end of each sip. There’s also a hint of something that tastes like charred Anaheim pepper in the finish. One more French white: Helfrich Riesling 2007 ($9), from Alsace, has gorgeous aromatics along with strong mineral notes. It’s crisp, dry and a perfect partner for fried chicken.
RhÃ´ne wines have always been good money-savers, and this one is no exception: Chateau de SégriÃ¨s CÃ´tes du RhÃ´ne 2010 ($15), a traditional RhÃ´ne blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan that is fairly light (edging toward Beaujolais) and soft on the palate. It’s a food-friendly CÃ´tes du RhÃ´ne that pairs beautifully with roasted chicken and pork dishes.