What’s in a name? The famous wines of France on the cheap…

Chablis is one of the most famous wines in the world – and it is the most widely available white Burgundy appellation in the UK. Most people who drink wine will have heard of Chablis and may well have tried one.

I have a theory about many of the really famous appellations of France – that they are often too famous for their own good. So famous and so expensive that the majority of people simply do not taste the real thing, without realising it most consumers drink examples that are made to a price.

St Emilion, Sancerre, Châteauneuf-du-pape, Chablis – everyone wants them. Every merchant, retailer, wholesaler and supermarket perceive a need to put them on the shelf at a price that people can afford – yet really to properly taste what these wines are all about they should not be cheap. In my opinion it just is not possible to get good examples of the great and famous appellations of France on retailers shelves for less than £12-£15. This is not snobbery, it is just that the cheaper versions lack the concentration, the elegance, the finesse and the balance that made these appellations famous in the first place.

I think these famous wines are hardly ever done justice by the examples that most people actually try. Which is very sad – perhaps there should be a scheme whereby everyone gets to taste a great example of Châteauneuf to show them what they are missing?

In truth most consumers would be better served by not buying the famous names all the time. Save the famous appellations for the occasions that you want to splash out and get something a bit special. For more everyday drinking, the same money as a very basic and dilute Châteauneuf could you a top notch and concentrated Vacqueyras – like the excellent Domaine Chantegut Vacqueyras from Oddbins.

Most theoretical lovers of Sancerre would find a top end wine from the neighbouring villages of Quincy or Menetou-Salon to give more pleasure at the same money as a cut price example from Sancerre itself – it will probably be less green and thin. A good estate bottled Sauvignon de Touraine could be a good bet at an excellent price too. Slightly different, but with enough in common with Sancerre in style, would be a Muscadet like the superb Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie Château L’Oiselinière de la Ramée from Chéreau-Carré.

You want an affordable St Emilion? Try a wine from the neighbouring appellation of Côtes de Castillon instead, or even stray just outside the Bordeaux region to nearby Bergerac and try the lovely Domaine des Eyssards 2007 from Waitrose – it’s made from the same grapes just down the road, is a fraction of the price and delivers a far more enjoyable glass of wine than most cheaper St Emilion.

As far as Chablis is concerned it is trickier to get a direct alternative. Everything that springs to mind is a little different. The area around Chablis produces some other excellent unoaked Chardonnays under the Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre appellation while the nearby village of St Bris makes wines with a similar weight, thrust and minerality from Sauvignon – try the wonderful Domaine Felix Sauvignon de St Bris from Boutinot.

Another possibility would be a Mâcon from the other end of Burgundy – try the delicious Mâcon Villages Blanc ‘Les Roches Blanches’ 2008 Louis Jadot at Majestic. This is slightly different, in that it is a little softer and riper than traditional Chablis, but it is still an unoaked Chardonnay from Burgundy showing good  minerality and acidity.

Buying names on labels rather than the wine in the bottle can often lead to real disappointment and a sense of let down unless you fork out for a good example of a particular classic wine.

That is why I am always urging my students to drink less, but better wine and to try things that are new to them. Wine is often at its most exciting when trying something new from somewhere totally unexpected.

Let me know your thoughts and happy drinking.

8 thoughts on “What’s in a name? The famous wines of France on the cheap…

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