French Wine Winners 

Yes, you can drink French wine on a budget

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I'll bet that if you played a word-association game with most people and asked for their first thought to describe French wines, "expensive" and "quality" would be two of the most common descriptions. It's not that the French are incapable of making bad wine; I've had a few such bottles. But, they are rare. The French have a proven, proud history of quality wine-making.

Unfortunately, most of the best French wines are beyond my budget, and maybe beyond yours. As much as I lust after wines like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Chateau Pétrus, Salon, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Lafite Rothschild and such, I can't afford to drink them except on lucky occasions when some wealthy wine aficionado pours me a sip.

Still, I drink French wine regularly. That's because, thankfully, there are a lot of really good French wines available here in Utah that do fit my budget. I might not mistake any of them for Pétrus, but they're great everyday French wines that won't break the bank. Here are a few of my favorites:

If you look beyond the Champagne region of France for French bubbly, you'll find bargains. One is Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Brut ($19.99). The Albrecht family has been making wine in Alsace since 1425, and this light, delicate Brut is made just like sparkling wine from Champagne—by the méthode traditionnelle—but utilizing Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling grapes. It makes for a terrific aperitif or partner for light fare.

While we're in Alsace, we should also pick up a bottle of good Pinot Gris, one of the region's wine specialties. I love Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Princes Abbés ($21.99), a well-balanced Pinot Gris with apricot, white peach and honey notes, combined with a hint of smoke. It's an ideal accompaniment for Alsatian choucroute garni. And, although it costs a little more than I usually spend on everyday wine, there's nothing "everyday" about Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer ($28.76), which is about as good as Gewürztraminer gets. Beautiful floral rose aromas accompany elegant spice tones and flavors of lychee, apricot and ginger. It's a match made in heaven for foie gras.

One of my go-to house white wines is Le Cirque Grenache Gris ($13.99). It's aged in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation—but is quite aromatic with notes of honeysuckle. On the palate are ripe melon flavors as well as white peach and pineapple. I drink this wine often with sushi.

Maybe it's not Puligny-Montrachet, but at least I can afford to reach for a bottle of white Burgundy when it's Albert Bichot Macon-Villages ($14.99). It's 100-percent Chardonnay from the Maconnais region of southern Burgundy and is an excellent match for cream sauces, shellfish, seafood, white meats and Gruyere cheese. I served it on Valentine's Day with lobster risotto.

If you're in the market for a red Bordeaux wine with much better than average price-to-quality ratio, Chateau Les Verriers Bordeaux ($10.75) is a wine that delivers. Seriously? Ten-buck Bordeaux? Yup. This wine was a slam-dunk with a hearty la daube de boeuf a l'Avignonnais that I cooked up recently. For about a dollar more, Chateau du Juge Bordeaux ($11.99) from the right bank of the Garonne River Valley is another hard bargain to beat.

Finally, from one of the oldest vineyards in France—dating back more than 2,000 years—comes M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône ($12.99). It's a wine with firm, silky tannins, flavors of morello cherries, anise and pepper. It's a can't-miss match for steak au poivre.

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