Great Values for the Cellar 3

Classic French wines you can afford to collect

 


Well, we really got a lot of feedback from you Francophiles out there after last week’s Italo-centric email. Okay! UNCLE. I relent! This week, I’ll take a look at some of the greatest deals on the planet for age-worthy wines from France, and as a double bonus, next week’s email will be a special split featuring wines from France, as well as a few other spots that might be familiar to you. France is such a hugely complex country when it comes to wine, it can be especially difficult to navigate. One of the greatest wine regions, Burgundy, for example, is not only complex, but also prone to the fickle fortunes that grapes, winemaker, and Mother Nature dole out each year. OK, so that’s my cop-out way of saying: Don’t look for Burgundy here. Besides, most of the wines of Burgundy, while great, can hardly be classified as values. But that certainly doesn’t mean we can’t find something from France to recommend.

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Don't miss the first installment of Starting a Cellar on a Budget, or our round-up of 12 Great Values in Cabernet. While you're there, check out tips for Fixing 7 Common Wine Emergencies and Pairing Red Wine with Fish.
While Beaujolais is part of Burgundy (kinda, sorta), the wines are different, yet similar. Using Gamay instead of Pinot Noir, the wines of Beaujolais start out life fruitier and softer than Burgundy, but as they age, the best do take on the wondrous combination of silky textures, sweet fruit, and autumnal earthy accents that linger on the finish. One great thing about Beaujolais is that, unlike most wines you’re gonna be cellaring, Beaujolais doesn’t shut down. By that I mean they are drinkable throughout their lifespan.

While most people think Beaujolais are meant to be drunk young, and truth be told many are built for early consumption – Nouveau can sometimes barely make it to the new year some 2 months after release – but the best old vine examples can easily improve for a decade or more. My favorite for the cellar has been the Clos de la Roilette from Coudert. It’s a bit more muscular than many, with a great core of earthy fruit.

Two to Try

Pierre Chermette Vissoux

Charly Thevenet Regnie Grain & Granite


Bordeaux is the big daddy of the wine-collecting world. There are great wines made at many price points but the first growths and super seconds have really skyrocketed in price over the past few year, in no small part due to the eternal cheerleading of much of the critical media who seem to love rolling out the “Vintage of the Decade” banner at least every other year!

But seriously, Bordeaux does produce some of the finest age-worthy wines on the planet, and many values abound.  The problem of course is in sifting through all those chateaux to find the winners. Now, what one person calls a value might be a bit of a stretch for someone else, but Bordeaux is a bit different than most of the world’s wine regions. Bordeaux really is more of a commodity, so great vintages might be priced at twice or three times what other vintages come in at. That makes it a bit hard to offer a blanket recommendation, but for my money there is no better value than Margaux’s Chateaux Boyd-Cantenac.

Two to Try

Chateau Poujeaux

Chateau Lafon Rochet


Here’s a tip: Don’t over look the so-called “lesser” vintages. Often these wines just need more time to show what they’ve got, and while they generally don’t attain the same depth and complexity as the greatest wines, they came damn close at a fraction of the price. 1999, 2002, 2004, and to a lesser extent, 2001 are the value vintages on the market today.

My Secret Selection: Champagne! I really prefer aged Champagne to the fresh stuff that gets put out for sale each holiday season. The complex flavors and soft texture of aged Champagne just feels like money, which is why it usually costs an arm and a leg. How do I get around that, you ask? It’s actually pretty easy: Just lay down a bit of good non-vintage stuff each year and in no time, otherwise known as 5 years, you’ll have a stash of rich, round, mature Champagne to plunder every time you need to celebrate with some Barry White! My pick? Louis Roederer Brut. Did you every wonder where all that Cristal comes from?

Calling all Francophiles

Clos de la Roilette
A muscular Beaujolais from Coudert with a great core of earthy fruit.

Chateau Boyd-Cantenac

A top-notch value in Bordeaux, the big daddy of the wine-collecting world.


Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Snooth User: hhotdog
    Hand of Snooth
    78705 465

    i keep taking shots at the frenchies greg. haven't had much luck at it yet. i love the suggestions and will look out for these in your article. gotta say i look forward to each new article in the e-mails!! great work as always!

    May 11, 2010 at 1:31 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 217,192

    Thank you very much, it is appreciated!

    You gotta keep plugging away!

    It's tough work but someone has to do it.

    The best way to really learn about a region is to get a group of friends together and buy 8-10 examples of a wine. It's so easy to say that you don't like this or that, I'm certainly guilty of that, but there always seems to be at least one example of something that rings my bell.

    May 11, 2010 at 2:01 PM


  • Snooth User: Blake1962
    416977 44

    Greg, I am the same as hhotdog. I just haven't found it as easy to find a french wine I like consistently.

    May 11, 2010 at 2:15 PM


  • I find that many of my drinking buddies have difficulty with the less friut forward style of Burgundy and Bordeaux. I have been drinking French for 40 yrs, they were brought up on CA. We tend to differ on style. Not a right or wrong thing just different. Of course I have the better palate, lol.

    May 11, 2010 at 2:43 PM


  • Snooth User: mrmwines
    415340 7

    So, are you saying that wine drinking neophytes in general tend to prefer the American wines over the Old World wines? I tend to think so but I really wanted an expert opinion....

    I'm also not too fond of many French wines - I like Vouvray (but my husband says it smells like a sock) ;-)

    May 11, 2010 at 3:25 PM


  • Snooth User: fitchstr
    423870 1

    Good article. France is very difficult to explore for wine. Glad Beaujolais was first. A good place to start exploring. Part of wine that makes it fun is exploring the area via book, internet or getting there. Much more perspective if you have an idea of what to expect.

    Cheers

    May 11, 2010 at 4:08 PM


  • What no Languedoc?!
    Richard
    Discover plenty on http://www.winewriting.com

    May 11, 2010 at 4:51 PM


  • I was surprised to read so many responses that say that they have a hard time with french wine. Having grown up in France and having spent quite a bit of time there, I will admit to being partial to french (and German) wines. If you want to start learning about french wine, start where the french do, with a Cote-du-Rhone (it's the wine you'll get most often when you order a "rouge" [Red wine], at a cafe). In my opinion, most like a merlot.

    May 11, 2010 at 5:21 PM


  • I stumbled upon a Domaine Caillot 1999 Bourgogne and found the most unbelievable white wine I had ever tasted (to my taste, that is). I then went on this extreme hunt to find it again. Found a 2002 online and bought it (a first for me). Not the same...looking for the creamiest, buttery texture I found in the '99. I've now been to the best wine store in Las Vegas, and the two that were recommended were not even close...Oh, and, I am French and have always loved French wines above all others! Any advice on finding a remarkable white bourdeaux?

    May 11, 2010 at 5:31 PM


  • Snooth User: hugh27
    Hand of Snooth
    253137 65

    Good article but I feel you missed the best- The Rhone Valley in my opinion has the most user friendly and enjoyable wines at very good price points- At the top end Chateauneuf, Hermitage, Cote Rotie and just a touch down the list- Vacqueyras, Gigondas and now the new appelations (Villages) such as Plan de Dieu or Seguret- even at tax inflated prices range from the CDP at about $50.00 to the new villages around 12 bucks- while Bordeaux is great- the Cabernet blends carry too much tannin to drink young, whereas the Grenache/Syrah (plus 10 others) blends are enjoyable fruity, long lasting and can be enjoyed at once- mind you the Midi with Rousillon, Minervois, and Corbieres is not shabby either- but stter clear of "Branded" or big budget producers
    Give some a try
    Hugh

    May 11, 2010 at 5:58 PM


  • Snooth User: hugh27
    Hand of Snooth
    253137 65

    Good article but I feel you missed the best- The Rhone Valley in my opinion has the most user friendly and enjoyable wines at very good price points- At the top end Chateauneuf, Hermitage, Cote Rotie and just a touch down the list- Vacqueyras, Gigondas and now the new appelations (Villages) such as Plan de Dieu or Seguret- even at tax inflated prices range from the CDP at about $50.00 to the new villages around 12 bucks- while Bordeaux is great- the Cabernet blends carry too much tannin to drink young, whereas the Grenache/Syrah (plus 10 others) blends are enjoyable fruity, long lasting and can be enjoyed at once- mind you the Midi with Rousillon, Minervois, and Corbieres is not shabby either- but steer clear of "Branded" or big budget producers
    Give some a try
    Hugh

    May 11, 2010 at 5:58 PM


  • Agree with hugh27. Southern Rhone has fantastic values and wines that can cellar for 4-5 years and more. Also, the Languedoc region has tremendously improved production.

    Some notable winemakers of value wines off the top of my head: Brunel, Chavez, Delas. There are many more.

    May 11, 2010 at 8:44 PM


  • Snooth User: sue c
    224099 1

    I am so confused by those of you claiming to struggle with finding enjoyable french wines. Seriously, folks, there are none easier and more enjoyable to drink. Thank you Hugh27 for mentioning two of my faves - anything Chateauneuf and Gigondas - absolutely try Le Gravillas 2006 - about $40. Also, for a fantastic wine on a budget, try Cotes du Rhone Villages - Signarges Vieilles Vignes 2007 - $18, but tastes like $50. Don't know much about cellars and how these keep, but drinking them is highly recommended. Brilliant! - sue

    May 11, 2010 at 10:05 PM


  • Snooth User: Greg Roberts
    Hand of Snooth
    100798 227

    Beaujolais is a great recommendation and great time to try them as the 2009 vintage is prob the best in a generation.

    May 12, 2010 at 6:16 AM


  • Snooth User: Greg Roberts
    Hand of Snooth
    100798 227

    Beaujolais is a great recommendation and great time to try them as the 2009 vintage is prob the best in a generation.

    May 12, 2010 at 6:16 AM


  • Snooth User: Greg Roberts
    Hand of Snooth
    100798 227

    Beaujolais is a great recommendation and great time to try them as the 2009 vintage is prob the best in a generation.

    May 12, 2010 at 6:17 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 217,192

    The Rhone Valley, or more specifically Syrah, Granche, and Rhone blends will be coming up for sure! They are great suggestions and solid values, from around the globe!

    New world and old world styles are definitely converging in most places so the results of a tasting, particularly a blind tasting, can be quite surprising. It's worth trying to put together one every so often to dispel or confirm your perceived prejudices, and introduce you to wines that live outside them!

    And Vouvray may very well smell like an old sock!

    May 12, 2010 at 6:42 AM


  • Snooth User: hugh27
    Hand of Snooth
    253137 65

    Following my earlier comments on the Rhone here are a few really great Values- Selles Promenade des Princes Plan de Dieu-$15.00, Lavau Cairanne $13.95-Bastide St Vincent Vacqueyras, $18.95, Grand Tinel and Chanssaud Chateauneuf -about $35.00, Philippe Belle Crozes Hermitage $19.95- these are all in Canadian Dollars from the LCBO with markups so in the States should be lower- another area to look for is Cotes de Roussillon & Villages- Domaine Fontinel, also Mas Amiel

    Viva French wine
    Hugh

    May 12, 2010 at 9:43 AM


  • Snooth User: Whiffer
    157728 9

    Like Hugh27, Chris-Brockmeyer and Gregory-Dal Piaz, I don't understand why you wasted any time talking about Burgundy and ignored the Rhone Valley. I realize everyone has different tastes, but the best values I have found from anywhere have been from the Rhone Valley. The 2007s I bought this year for around $20 I plan to drink in 5 years or more. As for Bordeaux, in the last month I have ordered 2009s for $16 and $20 that have the potential of 94 to 95 ratings from Wine Spectator. I look forward to finding out whether they live up to that in 5-10 years.

    May 12, 2010 at 9:48 AM


  • Snooth User: jllakin60
    435285 1

    Here's a frenchie we found and enjoy. I believe it runs about $10 a bottle. Dom Balaquere Ventoux, Red Rhone Valley Wine. 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. A very mellow wine, with blackberry and pepper aromas. We buy this buy the case, good everyday wine.

    May 12, 2010 at 10:08 AM


  • You would have to look far and wide to find a person more generally francophile than myself — which is why I feel justified in sometimes raging at the dear frog-eaters for their less prepossessing features. But seriously...well, perhaps not overly so...years ago, in a nice restaurant outside Oxford I studied the wine list and read something to the effect that the relative paucity of Burgundies on offer was owing to the fact that "in Burgundy they have turned from making wine to making money". I fear that this is still the case and even more so. I have tasted not a few Burgundies (not the most expensive, of course, otherwise I should now be writing from a debtors' prison or some sort of sponging house) that were distinctly 'wersh': an old Scottish word — weak, feeble, characterless. A highly-flavoured dish of game, or a smelly cheese, will go down just as well with a really good Barbera, a Dolcetto, a Nebbiolo, a Gattinara — at one fifth of the price of even not the most wonderful nectars from the Golden Slope.
    Pricewise, the Rhone Valley vintners now appear, alas, to be following their Burgundy colleagues.
    But I take hope from fellow-readers' suggestions.
    And, otherwise, no aspersions on Burgundy. They have the wherewithal to asperge themselves most luxuriously, bless them!

    May 12, 2010 at 11:37 AM


  • You would have to look far and wide to find a person more generally francophile than myself — which is why I feel justified in sometimes raging at the dear frog-eaters for their less prepossessing features. But seriously...well, perhaps not overly so...years ago, in a nice restaurant outside Oxford I studied the wine list and read something to the effect that the relative paucity of Burgundies on offer was owing to the fact that "in Burgundy they have turned from making wine to making money". I fear that this is still the case and even more so. I have tasted not a few Burgundies (not the most expensive, of course, otherwise I should now be writing from a debtors' prison or some sort of sponging house) that were distinctly 'wersh': an old Scottish word — weak, feeble, characterless. A highly-flavoured dish of game, or a smelly cheese, will go down just as well with a really good Barbera, a Dolcetto, a Nebbiolo, a Gattinara — at one fifth of the price of even not the most wonderful nectars from the Golden Slope.
    Pricewise, the Rhone Valley vintners now appear, alas, to be following their Burgundy colleagues.
    But I take hope from fellow-readers' suggestions.
    And, otherwise, no aspersions on Burgundy. They have the wherewithal to asperge themselves most luxuriously, bless them!

    May 12, 2010 at 11:40 AM


  • You would have to look far and wide to find a person more generally francophile than myself — which is why I feel justified in sometimes raging at the dear frog-eaters for their less prepossessing features. But seriously...well, perhaps not overly so...years ago, in a nice restaurant outside Oxford I studied the wine list and read something to the effect that the relative paucity of Burgundies on offer was owing to the fact that "in Burgundy they have turned from making wine to making money". I fear that this is still the case and even more so. I have tasted not a few Burgundies (not the most expensive, of course, otherwise I should now be writing from a debtors' prison or some sort of sponging house) that were distinctly 'wersh': an old Scottish word — weak, feeble, characterless. A highly-flavoured dish of game, or a smelly cheese, will go down just as well with a really good Barbera, a Dolcetto, a Nebbiolo, a Gattinara — at one fifth of the price of even not the most wonderful nectars from the Golden Slope.
    Pricewise, the Rhone Valley vintners now appear, alas, to be following their Burgundy colleagues.
    But I take hope from fellow-readers' suggestions.
    And, otherwise, no aspersions on Burgundy. They have the wherewithal to asperge themselves most luxuriously, bless them!

    May 12, 2010 at 11:40 AM


  • Snooth User: Diderot
    104965 104

    I have learned I prefer French wine because it is more subtle, yet can still stand up to game, barbecued meats and any kind of cheese. I believe French wine is easier on the system as well. At 56, I am no longer as eager to be worked over by an in-your-face domestic Syrah as I was at 26. Come 3:00 a.m., I would rather be blissfully sleeping than restlessly lamenting. The French have been making wine for centuries and it shows.

    Other posts have referred to the Rhone as offering a vast range of prices and styles - wines you can quaff with gusto today or cellar for years. I could not agree more. Excellent Cote du Roussillon Villages, Cairanne, Minervois, Vacqueyras, and many Cotes du Rhone are accessible and not particularly expensive (many are available at $12 - $30). A really good Gigondas can be had for $28-40 and it will make a nice dinner hugely enjoyable and festive. On the other hand, you can spend more for a great Hermitage or Cote-Rotie to set aside for later.

    Bordeaux and Beaujolais are well-organized and thus easier for beginners to learn. I started with Beaujolais and Bordeaux 30 years ago and am still learning.

    In Bordeaux, the 1855 classification offers some basic parameters for reds. There are five major grape varieties, which are easy to learn; four of them have gone on to win renown on their own. Names of sub-regions (like Pauilliac, Margaux, St.-Julien, Graves, etc.) are distinctive and easy to remember. Moreover, the grapes are grown and the wines are made and bottled at the same chateau.

    Burgundy, by contrast, with all its nomenclature, growers and negociants, is simply bewildering to the uninitiated. In Beaujolais, however, a sub-region of Burgundy, 10 small communities that make great wines are easy to memorize. This is not unimportant since you may never see the word "Beaujolais" on the labels of some of the best wines of the region.

    Nothing beats a slightly cooled Moulin-a-Vent, Brouilly, or Morgon on a vibrant October afternoon, served with a baguette, some mild cheese, and fruit. And nothing lends elegance to a special dinner like the ineffable, insinuating bouquet and exquisite balance, structure and flavors of a superb Bordeaux. Just let it breathe: many people I know agree that the leftover Bordeaux tasted even better the next day.

    After France, I think Spain produces some of the greatest deals on enjoyable wines. Again, Spanish wines are often subtler and easier to take, and there are excellent resources available for getting acquainted with the Spanish appellations and wine styles.

    May 12, 2010 at 11:43 AM


  • The person thaqt wanted very good white bordeaux should expect aged semillon that is excellent with fish, older vintages of graves blanc or pessac leognan would hit the mark. Alas they are expensive. Other extreme perhaps of newest vintages from the regions whites eg entre deux mers 2009, young and fresh.

    Re American taste buds, would recommend the Cotes du Rhone, Ventoux, Languedoc-Roussillon, Cotes-Catalanes as having the stronger varieities and hotter sun - thicker skinned more alcoholic styles, but also as quite reliable regions. Some of their wines are winning great kudos after years of stripping out the bulk-production vines and sons replacing their fathers

    Alsace also a very reliable area for whites that stand up to spicing, chinese food etc.

    Re Beaujolais it needs a chill in the fridge, warmer weather, and look for the terms Beaujolais Villages, or the actual village eg Fleurie, Julienas, Chenas, Brouilly, Morgon, Cote De Brouilly, Regnie, Saint Amour, Chiroubles etc.
    And about 15 bucks in price I suspect (£10 to £12 here in UK)

    May 13, 2010 at 4:50 AM


  • Snooth User: hhotdog
    Hand of Snooth
    78705 465

    wow...things really got going here!! since taking the bordeaux course last yaer i still have hope for the frenchies. too many people i talk to have had there success there. thanks for all the suggestions. they will help me in my quest. have heard a lot of good things about the values in the rhone. i tend to enjoy red blends and have been let down by too many boreaux wines. love chards....not a big fan of sauv. blancs when it comes to whites. i do enjoy reislings from germany and alscace has been good for a few as well. the search goes on. hate when i get a disappointing bottle that i spent too much $ on from france...but the search is always a great ride!! i keep riding!!

    May 17, 2010 at 10:26 AM


  • Snooth User: ckscates
    482747 0

    I like the right bank, merlot-dominated Bordeaux best. My palate just doesn't like the earthy tones of the cab side. I know, I know. I should try the hundreds of dollars of Haut Brion, Lafite, etc. (yaaawwwn) to taste the example of pure structure, complexity, blah, blah, blah. I like my Bordeaux more fruit forward and Superior, St Emilion, etc. deliver. Burgundy? I would drink all of that region if I could! French wine is good, no doubt. Chateauneuf du Pape is outstanding for a lot less than Bordeaux, and Languedoc is producing some killer deals.

    May 26, 2010 at 8:41 PM


  • Snooth User: damnh
    347607 1

    The wines from Margaux are my favorites -I bought a case of Chateau Margaux when I got married in 1982 and still have 3 bottles left. And my cellar has lots and lots of great French wines which I like more than most winemaking areas of the world. I have found that the best way to get great ones that you can afford is to buy Bordeaux futures in good vintage years. A friend and I each select two different two or three star wines when the vintage starts to be touted as a good one. When the wines are finally released, we each get to cellar 1/2 case of four different wines. 15 or 20 years later you can drink fabulous wines that are selling for hundreds of dollars per bottle. I still have a couple of bottles of 1982's left. They are absolutely incredible. Another amazing bottle I have left is a bottle of 1963 Taylor-Fladgate vintage port. It still has the pricetag on in from when I bought it in 1985 for $22. I bought two bottles and drank one several years ago while it snowed outside. It was incredible and had a couple more years in it. So I'm going to finish the next one on its 50th birthday in 2013. Just watch tasting notes on a regular basis so you don't end up with a $500 bottle of vinegar, or by killing a baby before it can fully mature.

    Jul 02, 2010 at 10:26 AM


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