For some unfathomable reason, French wine is not fashionable these days. There’s talk of a crise in the French wine industry, of wines from Spain, South America, Australia and even California outpacing the French for quality and value. Yet when it comes to affordable wines at good quality levels, I’ll put my money on the south of France anytime. I’ll admit I’m biased – my favorite grapes are Grenache and Syrah, the region’s mainstays. But these grapes make delicious wines at modest prices. Besides, when you consider they make more than 1 billion bottles a year in the Vin de Pays d'Oc, you gotta figure some of them will be good! And just to show that the French aren’t as hidebound to tradition as we accuse them of being, there are other wines coming from there that show good promise, too.
Case in point: Labouré-Roi 2003 Pinot Noir – Reserve, “Les Sangliers,” Vin de Pays de l’Aude ($10). This wine offers true Pinot Noir character at a bargain price. And French Pinot Noir character – not the jammy fruit of inexpensive New World models. This wine is stronger on the aromatics – black cherry, some meaty sauvage notes, and a tad lean on the palate. But there is good fruit and balance here, with food-friendly acidity. This is a darn sight better than most Bourgogne Rouge I’ve tasted at $15 and above.
More traditional: Jean-Luc Colombo 2003 Syrah “La Violette,” Vin de Pays d’Oc, ($11). The nose of this well-balanced and tightly structured Syrah lives up to its name, with hints of violets and lavender overlaying bright berry fruit. The tannins are not overpowering but will help this wine mellow over 2-3 years. Excellent value.
(Both wines are imported by Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, Florida.)