Education is the key to understanding these renowned wines
French wines are some of my personal favorites. They are refined, focused, well structured and delicious.
I also understand how they can be intimidating for wine novices, for they are classified by the regions that they come from and not by the grape varietal, like we are used to here in the U.S. Another misconception is that French wines are expensive, this cannot be further from the truth, for some great values can be found, with the proper research. For this particular article, I am going to focus on a couple different French reds that will satisfy a variety of palates, and budgets.
Let’s start in Burgundy, for this is the easiest region to understand when it comes to French Reds, for if it’s from Burgundy it is Pinot Noir. Wines from Burgundy do tend to be on the expensive side. As a matter of a fact, some producers from this region make the most expensive wines in the world. David Duband is a producer who makes several fantastic wines, one of which is his Bourgogne Hautes Cotes De Nuits, Louis Auguste.
This Pinot Noir is an incredible value, drinking way above its price point. The nose is full of wild floral notes, rich cherry and earth, the palate has nice cherry flavors, followed by wild mushroom and forest floor flavors, with a fantastic finish with balancing acidity tannins. This well-structured wine is a crowd pleaser for sure, and all for under $30.
Provence is not a region well known for its red wines, but more for its roses. I was lucky enough to find one from Mas de Gourgonnier. This wine is a juicy blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. Bright red fruit and spice stand out on the nose, with strawberry and raspberry flavors on the palate. The finish is smooth with nicely integrated tannins, earth, and herbal notes. This is the perfect example of a value wine from France, from a region not well known for its reds.
Bordeaux is one of the most complicated regions to navigate for its red wines. The grapes used in Bordeaux blends are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, usually with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot being the dominant grape. The reason it is difficult to follow is that each producer uses different blends. Sometimes Merlot is the lead grape and other times Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes just two varietals are used and others have all five. This leads to wines that vary in flavor and texture, so it is important to ask your wine professional what the wine’s blend is and what amounts to decide what you will like best.
Chateau de Landiras is one of my favorite red Bordeaux. This wine is 80 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard is a small family-owned Chateau in the Graves section of Bordeaux, with great care going into the farming of the land and making the wine that only a small family operation provides. The wine has an aromatic nose filled with black cherry and currant, the palate fills with dark fruit and earth, with great structure and balance throughout. Unlike many red Bordeaux, this wine is meant to be enjoyed when it hits the shelves and does not need any bottle age. It is a great value at around $20.
Another fantastic producer in Bordeaux is Chateau Pascaud, another family owned vineyard that puts great care into their land and the wines they produce. This blend of 90 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cab Franc shows blackberry, floral and mocha notes on the nose, with soft tannins and juicy black cherry on the palate. The finish is full and balanced with a touch of licorice. It has a true Bordeaux character ready for consumption at the modest price of under $15.
The Rhone valley is home to my two favorite French reds, one for everyday drinking and another for special occasions. Cotes du Rhone is the everyday drinking wine for people in this region, as well as myself. Les Garrigues is a producer that hits the nail on the head with its blend of 60 percent Grenache, 25 percent Syrah, 10 percent Mourvedre and 5 percent Cinsault. Spicy and fruity is the best way to describe this one, perfect for sipping with friends or paired with BBQ. At around $10 a bottle, it would be difficult to find a better value for a fruity smooth drinking red.
Clos du Mont-Olivet is an exceptional Chateauneuf du Pape and a perfect wine for special occasions. A similar blend to it’s little brother Cotes du Rhone has 80 percent Grenache and the rest rounded out with Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvedre. This wine comes from the best terroir in the Rhone Valley, making it more complex and balanced. On the nose, this wine exhibits red fruit, spice and floral notes, followed by fresh raspberry and rose petal on the palate. The finish is long and smooth with spice, sweetness, and well-integrated tannins to add balance. It is still considered a great value for Chateauneuf du Pape for $35 a bottle.