Bundle of French Beauties 

Bargain wines for Francophiles

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If I were, say, Bill Gates, I’d probably drink Domaine Leflaive Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2009 white Burgundy daily, with lunch. And you could do that, theoretically. It’s available here for a mere $404.73 per bottle. But that’s a little rich for my budget—and probably yours. So, while I won’t make the claim that any of the following wines would rock your boat quite like the Leflaive, they are all very good, well-made French wines that won’t put you in the poorhouse.

One of my best summer discoveries this year was a Rosé from the Languedoc region of France called Mas Belles Eaux Rosé 2008 ($9.99). Before summer completely fades into fall, I recommend picking up a bottle or two to enjoy on the porch while the weather is still warm. Belles Eaux is a beautiful 17th-century Languedoc mas (farmhouse) shaded by hundred-year-old oak trees, where you can enjoy tapas in the recently renovated orangerie, along with wines like the Mas Belles Eaux Rosé. This light and lovely Rosé is composed of 90 percent Syrah along with 10 percent Mourvedre. It undergoes low-temperature fermentation in steel vats and has surprising length on the palate for a Rosé. It’s a nice end-of-summer barbecue wine to enjoy with grilled sardines.

Another terrific find was a wine my wife selected for the label art. Well, sometimes you get lucky, and we did with a Southern Rhone white wine called Michel Gassier Nostre Pais Blanc Costieres de Nimes 2009 ($15.98). Robert Parker gave a score of 91 points to this lusty blend of Grenache Blanc (80 percent), Viognier (10 percent) and Roussanne (10 percent). It’s a rich, full-bodied white wine with flavors of white peach, honey and green apple, combined with a firm backbone of minerality. This has become my go-to Rhone white when I’m looking to drink something like Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc but don’t want to spend that kind of dough.

Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong buying bottles with Perrin & Fils on the label. Jean-Pierre and Francois Perrin of Perrin & Fils are two of the most influential winemakers in France, making world-class wines, including those of Chateau Beaucastel. Thankfully, not all of them are budget-busters. In fact, one of our favorite house wines is their Vieille Ferme Blanc ($7.99), a dependable, fruity, light white wine for everyday consumption. Perrin & Fils Vinsobres “Les Cornuds” 2007 ($18.99) is a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache that just seems to get better as it sits in the glass. It’s a very traditional-tasting Cotes du Rhone red—a little leathery and meaty, with spicy tannins and herbal notes. I love it with grilled meats. Spicy cherry-jam aromas and red-fruit flavors are brimming in Perrin & Fils Gigondas “La Gille” 2006 ($19.99), which also has a touch of anise on the finish. This one is 80 percent Grenache and 20 percent Syrah—a powerful and robust wine that tastes like it should sell for a lot more than 20 smackers.

Bubbles—who doesn’t love bubbles? Unfortunately, French Champagne is a bit out of reach for many of us to drink regularly. However, I’ve found a bubbly from the Chablis region of Burgundy, of all places, that has become one of my faves: Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne Brut “Pinot Noir” NV ($18.99) is made, not surprisingly, with 100 percent Pinot Noir. This lovely sparkler has the richness and complexity that you’d expect from Pinot Noir, along with a fine mousse, and it’s made with the exact same techniques as bubbly from Champagne. The result is a lively, citrusy and toasty sparkling wine that’s a real crowd pleaser, as are all of these bargain Frenchies. 

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