Affordable French Wines

Values from the southwest


Last week, I started a rundown of cellarable wine. I hate the term “collectible” -- they’re not freaking stamps, and you don’t collect cheese or salumi, so why wine? Anyway, I built a framework for a more indepth look at French wines for the cellar. Some of these wines dip down into the $20 range, but most are, of course, more expensive. Why “of course," you ask? Well, these are wines designed to improve in the cellar. Some grape varieties are naturally predisposed towards longevity, while others tend to require a bit more care and coaxing to arrive ship-shape at some distant finish line.

Funny thing is that the wines that tend to naturally demand some time to express their innate character -- thinking of Mourvèdre and Syrah, for example -- also tend to be somewhat less expensive than other wines where winemaking tends to have a more profound impact on any particular wine’s longevity. That makes for some good buying opportunities for people willing, and able, to wait while their wines mature.

Fact is, almost no one cellars wine. Something north of 90% of all wine purchased in the USA is consumed within 24 hours of purchase, and this number fast approaches 100% if the period is extended to two weeks from purchase to consumption. So, if you’re looking for instant gratification and don’t want to spend a ton of money, where should you look? Let’s take a look.


France is full of value wines, and in many cases the values come from some of the same regions as the greatest wines in the country!

I think it’s safe to say that no region in France is better known than Bordeaux, so it might be surprising to many that Bordeaux is also a great region for values, but it’s true. Not only Bordeaux, but a huge chunk of France to the south and west of Bordeaux offers some amazing, character-filled wines!

Bordeaux is the land of Cabernet- and Merlot-based blends. As a general rule you’ll find more Cabernet Sauvignon in the Left Bank wines and more Merlot in those from the Right Bank. Some superb wines are coming from what have generally been referred to as the satellite appellations. Regions like Fronsac, Côtes de Blaye, and Côtes de Bourg have always produced interesting wines but today’s producers are finding ways to produce more refined and better balanced wines than ever.


Duras is a region that could be Bordeaux, if it weren’t for an arbitrary line delimiting France’s departments. Here, just east of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot tend to dominate the wines, though with a good dose of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, known locally as Côt. While fairly simple, most wines of Duras are meant to be consumed early in their life and are ready to please on release. The climate here is somewhat warmer and drier than that found in Bordeaux, and the wines reflect this climate with their supple texture. Duras is also a producer of rosé, dry and sweet white wines.


Buzet, like Duras, is an appellation that lies to the east of Bordeaux and while the climate here is, for all intents and purposes, identical to that found in Duras, the wines differ to a certain extent in that Merlot tends to be more prevalent in Buzet, and therefore the wines tend to be fairly rich and opulent. There are both rosé and white wines made in Buzet, but they are rare, accounting for only some 15% or so of production.


Further to south of Bordeaux, one finds the region of Gaillac, where the grape blends begin to change from the standard Bordeaux blends. Here one finds a bit of Fer, Syrah, and Duras (the grape, not the region) creeping into the vineyards. There are also white wines produced here as well a bit of dessert wine and sparkling wine. Perhaps most interesting is the Gaillac Primeur, a red wine modeled after Beaujolais Nouveau, right down to the use of Gamay and the release date!


Continuing further down south, and moving into Fer Servadou country, Fer is unlike Cabernet or Merlot, being lighter-bodied, softer, fruitier, and yet retaining a certain rustic astringency that makes it fun to drink and easy to pair with food. In addition to Fer, which makes up some 80% of any Marcillac, one finds little plots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Jurançon Noir in the region. This standard blend also produces some very attractive rosé wines from Marcillac.


In contrast to the fruity wines of Marcillac, the wines from Cahors tend to be quite rich, and robust. Cahors is the home of Malbec (known locally as Côt Noir), though most people today are more familiar with examples that come from Argentina. Cahors vines tend to produce wines that are more tannic and rougher, especially when the 30% that is not Malbec is Tannat, though Merlot is more a common blending grape as the softness tends to temper the Malbec’s roughness a bit. These are great winter wines, full of character and rich enough to stand up to assertively flavored foods.

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  • To English followers, your statistics about the rapidity of consumption are frankly shocking. On a fundamental level, that must mean that you always buy wine by the bottle, rather than the case ( since no-one, even us, could polish off a case that quickly). Perhaps if you developed the habit of buying by the case your consumption would be slowed and cellaring would become a habit?

    Feb 15, 2011 at 6:01 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 233,913

    It's always been the case here. To a certain extent it's a good thing. Not many people have the proper conditions for storing wine so going to the store, and letting them store the wine for you, seems like a reasonable thing to do.

    And yes, people generally buy by the bottle. I'm not certain but I believe that this was part of the move towards allowing people to buy Bordeaux futures by the bottle as well.

    i certainly remember the days when Bordeaux futures were sold exclusively in case lots, then 6 btls lots, but now virtually everyone allows for individual bottle purchases. With $1500 bottles of 2009 Lafite I can sort of understand it, but at its core I think this reflects the habits of the US wine buying public.

    I generally buy in 4s, 6s or 12s these days. A full cellar will teach one moderation!

    Feb 15, 2011 at 6:20 PM

  • Snooth User: wallatom
    771174 25

    I got acquainted with readily drinkable wines while stationed overseas in Germany. Then I began to learn the concept of cellaring wines while in San Francisco. Now I have my own real climate controlled cellar in Walla Walla. I cellar most of my wine particularly reds and am learning the concepts of which wines to lay down and which may not last more than a few years. Most American wine drinkers are too impatient to appreciate aging wines. We buy and drink labels and don't take the time to really understand and appreciate the wine except the small minority of wine "connoisseurs".

    Feb 16, 2011 at 1:05 AM

  • The South-West has been France's best kept wine secret for years. All is revealed in my book "South West France the Wines and Winemakers (University of California Press 2009) available from Amazon .

    Feb 16, 2011 at 4:27 AM

  • Really pleased to see two familiar labels that guarantee a good wine in your Cahors section. UK and French readers can usually find one or both in the Nicolas chain.

    On a more general level, I find Madirans and Bandols tannic dry and the Mrs thinks them unloveable yet with good French cooking and a sunny evening when on holiday, wow. They cut through fatty duckskin or pigeion or gooseliver like seals change in movement when dropped into water. Also they go well (what doesnt) with rare to medium rare steaks... And the aging softens them as you say.
    There are a lot more young sons and daughters who have grubbed up the old "bulk buy" wines of the Languedoc Roussillon region and replaced them with extremely fine reds. The region, like Catalunya in Spain, now has a lot of highly individual, generally high alcohol, complex reds.

    Feb 16, 2011 at 6:29 AM

  • In my opinian all the wine country producers have very good price/quality wines, in the region of 15 to 30 € a botle. The main question abour the selection has to do with the originality, and in that respect the Iberian wines (Portugal and Spain) are the moist original wines you can find due to the blends and the local grapes used.

    Feb 16, 2011 at 5:00 PM

  • Snooth User: Stephen Harvey
    Hand of Snooth
    220753 1,287


    Your purchase stats for the US are pretty similar to Australia and from my memory most of the world.

    The other factor to take into account is that something llike 85% of all wine purchased by volume is less than USD10, AUD10, EUR8, GBP6 per bottle, so I think that helps explain the time to consume factor as well

    Feb 21, 2011 at 2:12 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 233,913

    Absolutely, we play in the stratosphere of the world of wine.

    Feb 21, 2011 at 12:48 PM

  • Snooth User: dean wine
    341941 6

    Looking for Nuites st george Les Damodes

    Jun 05, 2011 at 11:51 PM

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