France produces the world’s most iconic and expensive wines. Yet in addition to the renowned wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux, there’s an ocean of good, affordably-priced wine exported from France. From the Rhône Valley – home of the exquisite but pricey wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – come red blends from grapes grown worldwide, most notably grenache and syrah, among others. In addition, vintners in the vast neighboring region of Languedoc-Roussillon – source of one-third of France’s wine production – have been refocusing on quality over quantity, producing a wide variety of delicious reds (and whites) at affordable prices. Like Spain, southern France is home to so many great red wine values that this list will eventually have to expand into a Top 10. But for now, here are your five best bets in the French aisle or shelf of your local wine merchant.
Top 5 French Reds
From the Rhône Valley – home of the exquisite but pricey wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – come red blends from grapes grown worldwide, most notably grenache (known as garnacha in Spain), syrah (called shiraz in Australia) and mourvèdre (monastrell in Spain, mataró in Portugal). In addition, vintners in the vast neighboring winemaking region of Languedoc-Roussillon – source of one-third of France’s wine production – have been refocusing on quality over quantity. And in recent years they’ve been producing a wide variety of delicious reds (and whites) at deliciously affordable prices.
Like Spain, southern France is home to so many great red wine values that this list will eventually have to expand into a Top 10. But for now, here are your five best bets in the French aisle or shelf of your local wine merchant.
1 Perrin et Fils Côtes du Rhône (several bottlings <$10)
France’s Perrin family – makers of the iconic and costly Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape and other luxurious Rhône Valley wines – also produces countless great value wines, red and white, under the label Perrin et Fils. At least three of its inexpensive Côtes du Rhône wines earn high marks from the critics year in and year out, yet typically sell for just $8 to $12 a bottle. The most widely available is Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone (see “A red and white contender for best $8 wine ever”), typically a blend of about 60 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah and 20 percent mourvedre. But you can occasionally find the organically grown, grenache-dominated Perrin Côtes du Rhône Nature and the step-up Perrin Côtes du Rhône Villages for just a few dollars more.
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Castelmaure Col des Vents Corbières is produced by a cooperative in a smaller sub-region of the Languedoc-Roussillon called Corbières. And like most Languedoc reds, it’s made from a blend of grapes widely used in the Rhone Valley, most famously grenache and syrah. Yet Corbières is known for featuring the carignan grape, which typically takes a backseat to the more prestigious grape varieties (varietals, in winespeak) in the Rhône. A blend of 50 percent carignan, 35 percent grenache and 15 syrah, the 2009 Col des Vents is “A rich, blackberry-inflected red,” according to Ray Isle of Food & Wine magazine, who included it in his most recent recommendations from Languedoc-Roussillion. More importantly, Col des Vents has been stellar in virtually every vintage, as noted by the DC Budget Wine Examiner in this one column, that quotes critical acclaim for the 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintage. And it’s not just the professional critics who like it. The average scores for the community tasting notes on cellartracker.com range from 86 points to nearly 90 points for every vintage between 2003 and 2008.
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The least expensive of the Perrin et Fils red wines isn’t labeled a Côtes du Rhône, but Côtes du Ventoux, a small wine-growing area in the southeastern corner of the Rhône Valley that borders Provence. Defying basic wine-labeling conventions – which dictate that the more specific the place of origin named on the label, the more expensive the wine – La Vieille Ferme sells for about $7 or $8 a bottle and is frequently on sale in the area for as little as $5 (See “A $5 Rhone wine you can serve with pride” and “Could ‘chicken wine’ be best $5 white ever?”) Yet it is every bit as consistently pleasing as the rest of the Perrin family value portfolio. It’s also widely available in a double-size, 1.5-liter magnum bottle for $13 to $14, or a 3L box for about $24, making it a great party wine.
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From an estate in the Costières de Nimes wine-making district that straddles the Rhône Valley and Languedoc, Mas de Guiot Vin de Pays du Gard is the epitome of a bistro red. The 60-40 blend of percent syrah and grenache is consistently good and widely available throughout the Washington area, often for less than $10 a bottle. A “prestige cuvee” that’s a blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah is equally as reliable and typically sells for $11 to $13 a bottle. The 2010 vintage of the grenache-syrah blend (oddly, grenache gets top billing on the label though it’s the minority partner in the blend) boasts “loads of fruit, mostly black currants and cherries, intermixed with licorice, a hint of camphor, and some subtle smoky and earthy notes,” according to influential wine critic Robert Parker. “This excellent estate, owned by the Cornut family, has long been a reliable source for high-quality wines and values.”
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5 Château de Ségriès Cotes du Rhône
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