Top 5 French Whites
France is the traditional home of chardonnay, the world's most popular wine grape, white or red. But Burgundy, the region that made chardonnay famous isn't exactly awash in value wines. There is at least one pair of reliable, value priced Burgundies on our list, but the rest are from southern France's Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions that produce the bulk of the country's value wines. This is another list that could easily be – and may be soon – a Top 10 list, but the requirement for consistency year in and year out is what eliminates many good French values. The variations from one growing season to the next tend to be more pronounced in France than in some wine-making regions, like California and Chile, for example. Thus, it takes great effort and care to produce good, inexpensive wines in virtually every vintage, as the producers below do.
For the third straight year (see here and here) this perennial value from the Languedoc region in southern France, Picpoul de Pinet from the Cave de Pomerols coop is our go-to summertime white (along with the $5 ‘chicken wine’ at #2). A wine that influential critic Robert Parker as called “a quintessential aperitif dry white," Picpoul de Pinet Cave de Pomerols scored a remarkably consistent 87 points, 88, 89 and 88 points from Parker’s Wine Advocate for the 2006 through 2009 vintages.
La Vieille Ferme is remarkably consistent from year to year. The 2010 hasn’t yet been reviewed by the major wine critics, but the past five vintages have all earned 86 points from Wine Spectator, and the scores from Wine Advocate for years 2003 through 2009 were: 86 points, 85, 86, 87, 86, 85, and 86 points for 2009. Not bad for a wine that typically sells for $7 to $8 a bottle and now can be had for less than $5.
Perrin Côtes du Rhône Reserve blanc is a typical Rhône blend of 50 percent grenache blanc (a different grape altogether than grenache), 30 percent viognier, and the rest equal parts roussanne and marsanne. “Fresh and breezy, with green plum and melon rind notes that stay focused through the light-bodied finish,” is how Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth described the 2009. Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker scored it 88 points, noting the wine “exhibits fresh aromas of quince, honeysuckle and citrus in its medium-bodied, nicely textured, dry, crisp personality.” Perrin Reserve is widely available throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia for $9 to $12.
4 Cave de Lugny Mâcon-Villages or Mâcon-Lugny “Les Charmes”
A French white that typically doesn’t fall into the value category is chardonnay from Burgundy. But one of southern Burgundy's largest and most modern cooperatives – comprised of over 250 wine-growing estates and 1,500 hectares of vines in the Mâcon region – Cave de Lugny produces a pair of whites that are consistently good and widely available for $12 to $15 or less (sometimes much less, like the sale at Pearson’s a few years back for $7.99 a bottle). The Cave de Lugny Macon-Villages is a blend chardonnay from different estates, while for a few dollars more the Mâcon-Lugny “Les Charmes” ($12.99 at Calvert Woodley and only $10.99 at Corridor Wine & Spirits) is made from grapes grown at a single vineyard on a plateau named “Les Charmes” in the commune of Lugny.
5 Domaine de Coussergues (various white varietals)
Most $10 white wines have a little added sweetness aimed at appealing to the American masses. But the whites from Domaine de Coussergues is one of the most reliable producers of inexpensive whites that have the fruit Americans like plus the crispness Washingtonians need for sipping in summer’s heat and humidity. The estate, founded in 1495 by a land grant from Charles VIII, is in the Languedoc region of southern France, one of the best sources of good, inexpensive wine. It grows a variety red and white wine grapes, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier, and makes a varietal (meaning single grape type is used or is dominant) of each. But the most widely available white around here is the chardonnay-viognier blend.