Wine O’Clock - Tasting the French connection

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I attended a tasting of French wines earlier this week. Once upon-a-time that would have been about as remarkable as the sun coming up given French wines dominance in the UK.

Over the last decade or so, however, they have lost their mantle as the UK’s favourite wine nation to Australia and countries such as Italy, Chile and New Zealand are all eyeing the number two spot.

Personally, I don’t tend to drink that much French wine outside of Champagne and other celebratory bottles, but this tasting reminded me that when it comes to value and excellence, the French can still be the nation to beat…

Though I don’t drink that much French wine there is one I’ve always got time for, the Wine Society’s White Burgundy (The Wine Society £9.95).

Medium-bodied, loaded with apples, citrus and with just a touch creaminess to the end.

It’s stupidly good value for money and knocks spots off most branded white burgundies that cost twice the money.

Sauvignon Blanc is a grape which I have run the full emotional gamut with, love to indifference to loathing. These days I find most of the New World examples overly sweet and most of the Old-World ones so tedious I’d sooner have a cup of tea.

There is an exception to every rule and this cheerful exception is the Haut Poitou Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Pierre Sauvion (Majestic £8.49).

Bone dry, but with lovely fresh grapefruit, melon and gooseberry fruit, this is a Loire Sauvignon that shows all the lovely complexity this grape can deliver if skilfully made.

France is famed for its reds, and for me there are two regions that still combine brilliance and value.

While Bordeaux (massively over-priced) and Burgundy (massively over-priced and overly complicated) lead the reputational field, for me it’s the Rhône and the Midi that deliver the goods.

In terms of the Rhône one just needs to try something like the M. Chapoutier Côte Du Rhône Villages (Tesco £8.70).

Chapoutier are one of the great names of French wine and this offers generous amounts of stewed black fruits, raspberries and touch of black pepper – perfect for a Sunday roast.

As for the Midi, that vast sprawl of land close to the Mediterranean, all manner of delights abound, but re-tasting the Saint Auriol Corbierres (Waitrose £6.99) with its smoky blend of black berries, herbs and touches of damson, really reminded me of what a lot of wine you can get for not that much money.

Well I hope I’ve suggested something diverting for you there.

It being Lent I’m stuck on tasting till Sunday, but I have a funny feeling M. Chapoutier will be partnering my Sunday lunch this week.