The best French wines you’ve never heard of
John Wilson: Jurançon and Jura, Marcillac and Savoie are four upcoming areas with some great wines
French wine: everyone has heard of Bordeaux, burgundy and champagne. Yet the country offers so much more. Illustration: Theresa Tibbetts/DVV/Getty
On Friday the French celebrate their fête nationale, otherwise known as le quatorze juillet or, outside France at least, Bastille Day. France is home to some of the world’s greatest wines. Everyone has heard of Bordeaux, burgundy and champagne. Yet the country offers so much more than these. The real France is made up of countless small regions producing unique local wines made from grape varieties unheard of elsewhere.
I am talking about Mondeuse from Savoie; Fer Servadou from Marcillac and Gaillac; Courbu, Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng from Jurançon; Arbois from Cheverny; Savagnin from Jura; and many more besides. Add the more familiar regions, such as Sancerre, Muscadet, Beaujolais and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and you have the greatest number of grape varieties and regions known to humankind. The only countries that can compete in terms of variety are Italy and Greece.
At times it seems as if we know each and every area only to find several regions, previously known only to the wine anorak, suddenly spring to prominence. Jurançon and Jura would certainly fit this category; Marcillac and Savoie are waiting their turn, although both are available through the more adventurous importers.
The word “artisan” is widely abused, but many of these wines are made by small farmers who often struggle for recognition in a world increasingly dominated by large brands. Quality can be mixed, although the current generation certainly make better wine than their predecessors. The good producers are really worth seeking out, as they offer wines with real character and terroir (another much-abused term), often at reasonable prices.
You won’t find them for €6.99 in your local supermarket, as nobody can make a profit at this price. But spend €10-€15 and you can find wines of individuality and interest – or, for a few euro more, wines of depth and complexity. The three wines below have all of these qualities.
France also has the advantage of being close by. Shipping small quantities of wine from Australia and Argentina can be prohibitively expensive. It is far easier for specialist importers to access a few dozen cases of the more recherche French wines.
Food, wine and France are inextricably linked. It is hard to think of one without the others. Each region has dishes to accompany the local wines. I know many readers have spent happy holidays meandering along picturesque country roads, discovering the home-grown cuisine.
France produces every style of wine, from the lightest refreshing white to the most robust red. Anyone who claims they don’t like French wine hasn’t tried hard enough – or doesn’t like wine.
Bottles of the Week
Gloire de Mon Père 2014, Tour des Gendres, Côtes de Bergerac 12.5%, €21.50
A silky, seamless, elegant red wine awash with soft ripe blackcurrants. Perfect for a posh dinner party. From Blackrock Cellars, Le Caveau, Corkscrew, 64 Wine, Green Man Wines
Jurançon Sec Vitatge Vielh 2012 Clos Lapeyre 13.5%, €22
Unpronounceable and unputdownable. Stunning wine with rich honey, orange-peel and pineapple fruits, a strong mineral seam, and a long, bone-dry finish. From 64 Wine, Green Man Wines
Berthet-Bondet Côtes du Jura Tradition 2013 13%, €31
Captivating fino-like wine with tangy, racy, crisp apple fruits, grilled nuts and a dry finish. From the Corkscrew
This Week’s Bargain
Picpoul de Pinet Les Flamants 2016 12.5%, €10
Light, crisp, refreshing dry white with moreish green-apple fruits. From SuperValu