French wine on a budget!
After nearly two weeks exploring France’s stunning wine regions it’s time to shun the fancy pants (aka expensive) areas and focus on the tracks less travelled. I’m talking the hot dry south-eastern parts of France and everything this area has to offer.
If you’re looking for a cheaper French drop (who isn’t?!?) stick to wines from this part of France, particularly from the regions of Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence (for your cheapest French wines) and the Rhône Valley (for quality wines at reasonable prices).
Let’s start with Languedoc-Roussillon in the south east of France (or Languedoc and Roussillon – it’s two regions rolled into one that are sometimes referred to separately and sometimes together). This area spans the Mediterranean coastline, from the Pyrenees, on the Roussillon side, to Provence, on the Languedoc side. It’s a huge area of land and the biggest wine-producing region in the world!
Languedoc-Roussillon has some of the oldest vines in France (you can find out why that’s a good thing here) and grows quite the variety of grapes in a very hot dry climate. Carignan is the most widely planted grape, then you have Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah/Shiraz (same, same), Mourvedre, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier and plenty of local varieties. In this region the grape varieties are almost always blended to create delicious concoctions! Thanks to long hot summers in Languedoc-Roussillon the grapes ripen quick and the resulting wines are rich, full bodied and high in alcohol.
If Languedoc-Roussillon produces so much wine then why haven’t you heard of it? Because it produces a lot of pretty ordinary, low quality wines that are over produced in mass and are not worth mentioning (keep reading, things get better).
There are around 30 Appellations (if you don’t know what this means read my blog post here) in the region, which is less than one quarter of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine production. Given the huge size of Languedoc-Roussillon 30 odd Appellations is very few compared to other much smaller areas like Bordeaux (which has 60 odd Appellations) and Burgundy (which has 100 Appellations). Most of the wines from Languedoc-Roussillon are marked Vin de Pays which is a classification a lot less stringent than the Appellation classification and a lot less delicious.
Now the good news… in the Appellations areas of Languedoc-Roussillon you can get yourself some incredible drops that are cheaper than chips!!! Not even kidding! They’re obviously going to be a little more expensive that chips when you’re buying them in Australia cause we pay shipping and a heafy import tax (damn it) but they’re still going to trump the price of Burgundy and Bordeaux!!!!
Stick to wines from the Appellations of Corbières, Faugères, Minervois, Saint-Chinian and Limoux (for some delish sparkling wines outside of Champagne) and you’ve got yourself a winner!!!!!
Above Languedoc-Roussillon, at its north eastern corner, is the Rhône Valley. This area is more famous than Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence because it has more Appellations and produces wine of a higher quality (which is always more expensive mind you). But do not fear, you can get yourself a reasonably priced drop from the Rhône Valley because it’s off the tourist map and is a far lesser known region that your super popular Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne.
The Rhône Valley can be divided into two regions – Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône. Northern Rhône has dramatic seasonal changes with harsh winters and warm summers so you need some tough grapes here. It’s best known for Shiraz grapes (or Syrah, they’re the same thing), which can handle the conditions, and produces some absolute rippers! You should keep an eye out for wines from these Appellations -Côte-Rôtie, Crozes Hermitage and Hermitage. Southern Rhône is best known for Grenache with the best drops coming from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Southern Rhône has the opposite climate to Northern Rhône with long growing seasons and little seasonal change. The winters are mild, the summers are hot and drought can be a problem too so only the sturdiest grapes that can handle the heat will survive. You’ll find that the wines are almost always a blend of Grenache and some other grapes like Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and/or Cinsault.
Hot tip! Most Rhône wines are sold under the Appellation Côtes du Rhône or Côtes du Rhône-Villages. That’s because no matter where you are in the Rhône Valley (even if you’re in another Appellation) you can put this Appellation on your wine. It’s not a bad place to start if you’re new to Rhône Valley wines.
Below the Rhône Valley, in the far south eastern corner of France (almost at the Cote d’Azur or French Riviera to us Aussies) is the gorgeous region of Provence which is best know for its Rosé wines that account for over half of all the wines produced in this region.
As an aside – Rosé wine is pink because when the grapes are crushed, the skin, which contains the red colour, is left in contact with the juice for only a very short period of time (around one to three days) whereas with red wine the skin remains in contact with the juice for much longer.
Back to Provence – It has a classic Mediterranean climate with the sea at its southern boarder so the winters are mild and the summers are very warm. The main grape grown in Provence is Mourvèdre which is often blended with Grenache and Cinsault to produce Rosé.
Provence has eight major wine regions all with Appellation credentials – the Côtes de Provence is the largest followed by Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. Also look out for Les Baux-de-Provence, Coteaux Varois en Provence, Coteaux de Pierrevert, Bandol, Cassis, Bellet and Palette.
So now it’s time to head to your local bottle shop and get yourself a wine from south-eastern France! Stick to the lessons you have learnt here and you won’t be disappointed or feeling guilty about the price of your French wine!