France is often considered the epitome of fine wine. Finding French fine wine at a good value may seem impossible, but it's not as challenging as you may think. With so many regions to explore, there's excellent quality at a great value to be found all over la belle France.
Fine Wine Means High Quality
At the most basic definition, fine wine means high quality. While 'high quality' will vary from person to person, there are a few factors that can be used to objectively measure fine wine, and price is not one of them.
- Complexity - A complex wine is one that displays a wide variety of aromas and flavors. With each sip, new layers unfold.
- Balance - Balance refers to a harmony between the various structural components of a wine such as alcohol level, acidity, sweetness, and in the case of red wines, tannins.
- Production - This includes how a wine is made and what practices a winemaker uses to make her wines. This can mean using sustainable winemaking, or it could come down to the care and attention to detail applied by the vintner from harvest to bottling. Some fine winemakers use oak barrels to age their wines, and this can drive up the price, particularly if new oak is used.
Champagne is a favorite for many and is so named for the region it hails from, but there are many outstanding sparkling wines made outside the classic region. Champagne is made by a process called the methode Champenoise or the methode traditionelle and wines bearing cremant on their labels are made in the same way. What does this mean for bubble-lovers? It means you can get Champagne-like sparkling wines for nickels on the dollar - without sacrificing flavor or complexity.
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rosé NV
Delicious and made from 100% Pinot Noir, Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rosé NV is full of vibrant red fruit aromas like ripe wild strawberry and red cherry, with persistent bubbles. Considering the price tag of most fine rosé Champagne hovers anywhere from $80 into the hundreds, this is a steal for about $13.
Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux NV
A blend of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, the Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux NV (about $15) adds flavorful baked apple and honey notes to the Chardonnay's crisp apple and lemon zest. Gerard Bertrand is negociant (a wine merchant who buys grapes and assembles wine under his own name) who also owns several wine estate and is based in the Languedoc-Roussillon region and was voted European Winery of the Year in 2011. The former French rugby star produces many award-winning wines from the unique and versatile grapes native to that region and his lineup is worth exploring.
Stephane Tissot Cremant du Jura Blanc Brut NV
From one of the Jura's top winemakers, this sparkling Stephane Tissot Cremant du Jura Blanc Brut NV is exceptionally food friendly with stunning citrus, granny smith apple, orchard blossom notes, and delicate bubbles usually reserved for the finest Champagnes. Tissot's cremant blanc brut is composed from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and native Jura grapes Trousseau and Poulsard, which make for a beautiful wine that resonates with terroir, and is certified biodynamic. Usually a sparkler this well-crafted might put a major dent in your wallet, but Tissot's wines are typically affordable in the 20 dollar range.
Domaine des Baumards Carte Turquoise Brut NV
Domaine des Baumards is known for its sweet white wines made in Quarts de Chaume, but its sparkling wines are where the best value can be found, costing less than $20. Domaine des Baumards Carte Turquoise Brut NV is available in brut or demi-sec, or slightly sweet, the latter of which is perfect for meals with a slight spicy kick. Apples, white peach, with a creamy texture that is balanced out with a vibrant acidity and an excellent fizz.
For Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio drinkers looking to broaden their horizons, France holds a seemingly endless variety of choice. Everyday sippers to wines made from less familiar grape varieties allow white wine lovers to explore the treasure trove and even get creative with at home food and wine pairings. Although value whites can be found throughout France, regions producing high volumes of white wine, such as Alsace or the Loire Valley, are great places to start the hunt.
Meyer Fonné Reserve Riesling, Alsace
Although mostly thought of as a German varietal - and it is - the world-class Meyer Fonné Reserve Riesling is also made in France's Alsace region. History buffs will note that Alsace exchanged hands several times between the two regions over the centuries. Unlike many of their Deutscher counterparts, the Rieslings of Alsace are dry. Meyer Fonné's classic Riesling exemplifies the region; it's aromatic with citrus, peach, and honeysuckle notes, is refreshing, has a pronounced minerality and exceptional balance. Buy this for less than $30 and age it for a few years; you won't be sorry.
Gilbert Picq et Fils Chablis, Chablis
This domaine consistently produces high quality wines even in difficult vintages, a particularly challenging task up in Chablis that only the best winemakers can achieve. The Gilbert Picq et Fils Chablis, Chablis has the signature chalk-limestone almost saline minerality of Chablis, with lemon, orchard fruits, and white flowers. For a village level Chablis, Picq's example over delivers an all counts. Chablis lovers would do well to stock up as bottles are less than $30; keep a few bottles in the cellar.
Henri Bourgeois Les Baronnes Sancerre, Loire
With zesty grapefruit, apple and gunflint aromas framed by a chalky minerality, the wines of regions like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are some of the purest expressions of Sauvignon blanc in the world. Henri Bourgeois Les Baronnes Sancerre comes from old vines, meaning greater concentration of flavor and aromas. The quality is recognized worldwide but the price stays right in the 20 dollar range; Les Baronnes won Double Gold at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and was a Gold Winner at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition.
Champalou Vouvray Sec, Loire
Champalou makes easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing wines from Chenin Blanc. The couple behind Champalou also produce the full range of styles found in Vouvray, from dry to fully sweet, still to pétillant, or lightly sparkling. Sec means 'dry' although the ripeness of the Champalou Vouvray Sec might trick you into thinking it's a little bit sweet. Honey, apple, quince, a touch of citrus and white tea all feature on the nose and palate. With a rich body and a long finish, it's difficult to just have one glass, especially when it costs less than $15.
Clos Guiroulh Jurançon Sec, Jurançon, Southwest France
Jurançon is associated with the legendary sweet wine that French poet Colette once referred to a "great seducer." The dry version is no less enticing. Made from native grapes such as Gros Manseng and Courbu, the Clos Guiroulh Jurançon Sec often takes on a tropical fruit nose, honeysuckle, and flint, it over-delivers for the price of about $20, knocking the likes of Pinot Grigio out of the park.
Some of France's greatest wines are red. Burgundy and Bordeaux are both considered the standard bearers of quality, and usually carry a price tag to reflect it. Well-made wines from producers in both those regions are available, but it is well worth looking to less familiar areas. The Languedoc-Roussillon and Southwest France are great go-tos for phenomenal quality that won't rack up your credit card bills, and must haves for anyone who loves red blends.
Domaine des Costes Cuvée Tradition, Pecharment, Bergerac, Southwest France
Bergerac lies to the southwest of Bordeaux where savvy wine drinkers know they can find toothsome Bordeaux-like reds at a fraction of the Bordeaux cost (at about $15). Powerful, with a generous palate, these are wines made from Bordelais grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and a dash of Malbec. Pecharmant is Bordeaux, country-style. As the name suggests, Domaine des Costes Cuvée Tradition is a classic. Blackberries, black cherry, strawberry and cassis are tied together with a mineral backbone. While this wine can benefit from aging, it can also be consumed young to great satisfaction.
Coudert Pere Clos de la Roilette Cuvée Christal, Fleurie, Beaujolais
Made from Gamay, a sibling of Pinot Noir, Beaujolais rouge are typically brighter, lighter, and fruitier than the more brooding reds of Burgundy to the north. Violets, black fruits, raspberries, and strawberries are the dominant notes in this rich, mouthwatering Beaujolais. From the village of Fleurie, as the name suggests, these wines tend to have more floral aromas than the other Beaujolais crus. From arguably the top site in Fleurie, Coudert's Cuvée Christal is a prime example of the heights that Gamay can reach in the right hands and location, and is easily one of the best values coming out of Beaujolais today with individual bottles costing less than $20.
Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Vieille Vignes, Burgundy
Roche de Bellene is Nicholas Potel's most recent project. Old vine red Burgundy for a reasonable price (about $18) almost unheard of. Pretty, with fresh red berries and plum, the characteristic savory earth of Burgundy and aged in a mix of new and used oak that is usually reserved for premier or grand cru wines. With a concentration of flavor that suggests something more than the regional Bourgogne appellation, the Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Vieille Vignes is not a wine to be skipped over.
Chateau de Montmirail Cuvée de Beauchamp, Gigondas, Rhone Valley
Gigondas is the way to go for Chateauneuf-du-Pape devotees who don't want to rinse the bank on frequent CDP sessions; it's just under $25. This is a perfect red for everyday drinking that could easily be mistaken for a more expensive Chateauneuf. Slightly spicy, with dense black cherry, strawberry, dried herbs and tobacco, Cuvée de Beauchamp is a lush blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre; three grapes that make a regular appearance in Chateauneuf.
Great French Wine Buys
Whether you sip sparkling varieties or prefer reds over whites, a fine French wine is out there that that will fit your budget. Try a few and taste the difference.