Loyal readers will recall that I intoned about France two weeks ago. Specifically, I wrote about the giant slalom, to use Olympicspeak, performed by wine sales within France since the 1980s. It has not all been downhill, to be fair. There are two French wine markets, not one, a dichotomy that eerily mirrors the country’s society prior to 1789.
En bref, you’ve got your aristocratic, pricey potations, which constitute the minority and are doing more than fine. Then you’ve got your vast proletariat of simpler fare, which, for the most part, has struggled not just at home but abroad, where bargain-priced competition from New World regions is particularly fierce.
Until recently, I might have described the situation as a French Revolution in reverse: The future kept getting brighter for fancy wines (hello, $1,000-a-bottle Mouton), while prospects for the plebeian underclass were looking ever ominous. Liberté, egalité, fraternité? Not in the world of chardonnay (or, as the rich call it, Montrachet). But it’s been my impression, perhaps yours too, that the quality of France’s affordable pickings, at least on these shores, has been improving.
Such thoughts I pondered while sampling dozens of French wines recently. Most of them are part of a promotion in Ontario government stores clustered around higher-volume, reasonably priced offerings.
The selection below doesn’t include fine, reliable brands I’ve covered in the past, such as La Vieille Ferme, Les Jamelles, Guigal, Paul Mas, Château Bonnet and Fortant de France. But they offer a snapshot of the growing quality what one might call bleu-collar wines.
Remoissenet Père & Fils Renommée Bourgogne Blanc 2010 (France)
SCORE : 90 PRICE : $19.95
A highly regarded property in the Côte d’Or, this domaine delivered remarkable value (by Burgundy standards) with this entry-level chardonnay. Full-bodied and smooth, with impressive ripeness and mid-palate volume, it shows plump fruit and an almost baby-Meursault richness, with cold butter and gentle smoke. Available in Ontario.
L’Évidence Bordeaux 2011 (France)
SCORE : 90 PRICE : $17.30
This is an excellent red Bordeaux for the price of a factory-farmed New World cabernet. It’s medium-full bodied and very dry, with sticky yet elegant tannins lending structure to currant and raspberry fruit and a light dusting of graphite. John Howard, the Canadian behind Niagara’s impressive Megalomaniac brand, is part owner of this fine St-Émilion château. Available in Ontario.
Hervé Azo Chardonnay Bourgogne 2011 (France)
SCORE : 90 PRICE : $16.95
Another white-Burgundy bargain, this relatively lean, medium-weight chardonnay shows a soft yet lively texture with peaches and lemony-yeasty tang. A leesy, smoky-matchstick note in the aroma carries through on the palate. Available in Ontario.
Gariottin Malbec Cahors 2010 (France)
SCORE : 89 PRICE : $13.20
For the most part, the trendy malbecs of Argentina bear scant resemblance to the rustic examples of Cahors in southwestern France. To generalize, the latter are sweetish, smooth and grapey and the former are stern and tannic. Here’s something of a fusion, though still more Gallic than gaucho. It’s a full-bodied red and unusually smooth, with plum and dark berries getting traction from dusty tannins and finding a counterpoint in the funky aroma. It’s like eating fruit downwind from a horse stable. Available in Ontario.
Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012 (France)
SCORE : 89 PRICE : $15.30
Ponciago, in the Beaujolais town of Fleurie, is owned by the esteemed, large Burgundy producer Bouchard Père & Fils. This is expertly crafted gamay for the money. Light and bright, with a floral aroma, it doles out playful cherry candy and herbs, lifted by crisp acidity. It’s distributed in Alberta by Renaissance Wine & Spirits of Calgary. $18.15 in Quebec.
Yvon Mau Colombard Chardonnay 2012 (France)
SCORE : 85 PRICE : $8.95
It’s hard to beat this light, clean white at the price. It’s crisp, yes, but has a soft core that suggests peach and orange, complemented by subtle floral aromatics. Can you say “bargain house wine”? Available in Ontario.
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The Flavour Principle, by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, was named best Canadian Food & Drinks Book in the 2014 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. It’s published by HarperCollins.