The following is a guest post by Jason Cohen who blogs at Convicted for Grape. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading Jason's blog with his entertaining writing style and his emphasis on lesser known grapes so I asked Jason to introduce us to a few under-appreciated varietals that consistently produce good value. Enjoy the post and be sure to follow him on twitter@GrapeConviction. Thanks Jason!
With all the stories floating around lately about record-breaking bottles of Sauternes and Chinese investors driving up the cost of Bordeaux, it's easy to assume there's no value to be found in France (value being defined here as good wine at a reasonable price). Of course, this quickly leads to the conclusion that any wine one can afford from the country will be no more than liquid garbage, bottled only to mock our puny American palates.
And indeed for the uninformed consumer, this may be true more often than not. So no, the idea that French wine is expensive isn't even really a misconception. But it is a slightly amiss conception, which I will now take the liberty of correcting for you by means of two examples, Muscadet and Beaujolais. Why two? Two reasons: first, the double exception helps to prove my point; and much more importantly, the best examples always rhyme.
Now, the first thing to remember about Muscadet and Beaujolais is that they aren't grapes, but regions.
The Muscadet appellation is located in the Loire Valley, and its wines – crisp, refreshing whites intended to be drunk young – are produced exclusively from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. It’s also worth noting (with a nod to my gracious host) that I’ve yet to see a single one selling for $20 or more, making Muscadet one of the most consistent options for value wine in my repertoire.
Beaujolais is technically part of Burgundy, though sometimes gets recognition as a distinctive entity, depending on who’s writing. I actually prefer to acknowledge Beaujolais as a sub-region of Burgundy: a veritable bastion of value amidst an onslaught of pricey Pinot. The wines of Beaujolais are (almost) all red, and produced from the Gamay grape. Beaujolais varies a bit more than Muscadet in terms of price, with certain “Cru” Beaujolais commanding $30 or so a bottle; but let’s face it, that’s still a pretty good deal when you’re talking about the finest expressions of a French region (for reference, a bottle of some top Burgundies will run you well into the thousands). Besides, I’ve personally never had a Beaujolais over $15, making it the ideal red counterpart to Muscadet.
Speaking of Muscadet, let’s start with Muscadet! After all, you know what they say: “A Muscadet a day keeps the doctor away,” an adage I’ve personally found to be true for two reasons. For one, Muscadet is often characterized by apple notes, harkening back to the original saying; but even more importantly, if you should say the phrase “a Muscadet a day” in front of a doctor, he’ll be too busy laughing at you to do anything else, the phrase being so undeniably hilarious in its phonetic redundancy.
The latest one to cross my palate’s path was the Domaine St. Martin Muscadet Sevre-Am-Main Sur Lie 2009, with “Domaine St. Martin” referring to the winery, “Muscadet” referring to Muscadet, “Sevre-Am-Main” referring to the subregion within Muscadet, and “Sur Lie” to a process of aging that can impart an aroma or taste usually described as “yeasty,” which for whatever reason I tend to interpret as cheesy. What “2009” means is anyone’s guess.
On the eyes, this wine was very pale and mostly clear, with only a hint of straw coloring. The nose presented intense apple aromas, with a hint of that cheesiness I just mentioned – closest to provolone, I’d say. As the wine breathed, a bit of white peach was evident as well. The palate, however, featured lemon as the star attraction, followed by quinine (that stuff in tonic water). Light-bodied and brimming with citrus, the wine did verge a bit toward the tart end of the spectrum.
Still though, did I mention it cost me $9? And in the spirit of this whole guest post thing, I’m going to take a stab at using the Reverse Wine Snob Rating System, sort of!
So! On my own oh-so-arbitrary scale, this wine would score 8.5 thumbs up. But part of that scorewould, whether I wanted to admit it or not, take into account the fact that it hadn’t cost me very much, and seeing as Jon’s taste ratings only use whole numbers anyway, I’m going to curve that down to an 8. As for the value rating, it scores an 8 as well, having fallen between $8 and $9.99.
Taste Rating: 8
Cost Rating: 8
Overall Rating: Wait for it…8
See a listing of local retailers selling this wine here.
But now for the Beaujolais, which I’m actually finishing up as I write this very section – you know, for inspiration, or something.
The Gamay of the day is the Jean Marc Burgaud Chateau de Thulon Beaujolais Villages 2008, which cost me $15. Price-wise, Beaujolais Villages wines fall in between the top tier Cru Beaujolais I mentioned before (which tend not even to have the word “Beaujolais” on their labels) and the more generic base-level wines (which tend only to have the word “Beaujolais” on their labels).
This one poured an unusually light and clear red, a sign that the wine had aged – and indeed, I was concerned that this one, a mere three years old, had nonetheless passed its peak, as most of the Beaujolais I’d encountered as of late were from the 2009 or 2010 vintages. Thankfully, I was totally wrong, as intense aromas of caramelized cherry rose from the glass, soon joined by raspberries and, after some time, dried blackcurrants.
On the palate, the impression I got was more of the redcurrant persuasion, but the best part was definitely the finish, which reminded me of rocks – not that I make a habit of eating rocks, but there’s minerality for you! Light-bodied but intensely fruity, with great acidity (but not as overpowering as in the Muscadet), this wine was a definite winner. Or, is, I should say, since I’m still drinking it.
At $15, this gets a piffling 5 on the value scale, but earns a solid 9 on taste. Which means…
Taste Rating: 9
Value Rating: 5
Overall Rating: …8
See a listing of local retailers selling this wine here.
Well how about that. A 9 and 8.5 on the Convicted for Grape scale both clock in at 8 under the Reverse Wine Snob paradigm. Just goes to show you, folks: you learn something new every day. And today I learned that Jon has put a lot more thought into his rating system than I have mine.