Despite everything, France is still the home of glorious wine
Marius by Michel Chapoutier Vermentino, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2019 (£8.99, Hay Wines). The French drinks industry hasn’t been having an easy time of it in the past year. Well, join the club, you may well say. But quite apart from the effects of the pandemic, France’s vignerons have had to deal with being caught in a Europe-US trade war over subsidies in the aerospace industry. The US – the largest export market for French wines and spirits – slapped tariffs of 25% on French wines. By the end of 2020, France had lost €2bn worth of wine and spirit exports (just shy of 13%) compared to 2019. If, like me, you’d like to do your bit to help rebalance this particular deficit chez vous, you could do worse than start with this sprightly, grapefuity-citrussy dry white from Rhône expert Michel Chapoutier’s Languedoc project. Marius by Michel Chapoutier Vermentino, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2019 (from £8.99, bcfw.co.uk; thewinereserve.co.uk; haywines.co.uk; flagshipwines.co.uk).
Château Greysac, Médoc, Bordeaux, France 2015 (£12.50, Justerini). In a year of economic strife, it won’t come as a surprise that the two French regions most strongly associated with luxury and the high-life have been among those who’ve seen their sales suffer the most. Champagne had a particularly bad year in 2020, with exports declining 20% in value, while Bordeaux lost 13.9%. As a product whose fortunes have always been tightly linked to the fortunes of the global economic mood, champagne will no doubt bounce back when (not if, no, no, not if) all that pent up party energy is released as an immunised world opens up this summer. Bordeaux, meanwhile, will, as ever, be hoping for positive coverage of its latest vintage, 2020, which is being shown to the world’s merchants and press over the next month. Attention at those moments is usually hogged by the region’s few dozen top châteaux. But for an affordable dose of mature Bordelais luxury from a well-regarded recent vintage, Château Greysac’s succulent red is right on the money right now.
Domaine des Côtes de la Roche, Saint-Amour, Beaujolais, France 2018 (£11.50, The Wine Society). Headlines about the decline and fall of French wine have been a sporadic feature of my 20-odd years writing about wine. But for all that the country has struggled to put up viable competitors for the big brands of the New World, the past two decades have actually been something of a golden age of quality across the country. Only Italy provides anything close to France’s sheer diversity of distinct regional traditions: today you can find superb wine, made by dedicated, talented vignerons, pretty much everywhere in France’s enormous vineyard. Examples abound, but Beaujolais is a microcosm of how French wine has changed for the better in the late 20th and 21st century. A region that had become tied to a model of over-produced, substandard wines to a captive market, is now filled with interesting bottles that hit a real sweet spot in the £10 to £20 bracket, such as Domaine des Côtes de la Roche’s vividly dark cherry-berried fresh red.