Trying to make sense of any particular country’s wine industry in 900 words or less is a fool’s errand. Sure, New Zealand is known for highly expressive sauvignon blanc, but there are many other moving pieces that make it quite difficult to expect the exact same few aspects of those wines to deliver the same typical styles every time.
If such a task is proving to be impossible for a country and wine industry like New Zealand’s, imagine the breadth of said task for France. The key is to submit. To enjoy your studies in consumption, a sip at a time.
Northern France presents a few interesting styles of wine that have never hit fever pitch here in the States. Patrick Cappiello, founder of Forty Ounce Wines, may be able to move the needle a bit.
A bit of a misnomer, the Forty Ounce Muscadet is not 40 ounces, but rather 1 liter, or 33.8 ounces. That’s OK. At $16 retail, this is a must-have sharable bottle for fans of dry white wine.
The name Muscadet can understandably be confusing, as it sounds very similar to Muscat, a family of wine grapes which quite often makes reasonably sweet wines from around the world (often called Moscato outside of France). Make no mistake, Muscadet is dry.
This crisp, tart-fruited, lighter wine hails from near the city of Nantes, in Western Loire Valley, France. About 15 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the lands of the Pays Nantais produce an enormous amount of Muscadet wines, made from the melon de bourgogne grape.
The goal with this packaging is clearly multifaceted: One to remind people to not always take (especially inexpensive) wine too seriously. But to, well, clearly land in your Instagram feed.
A short drive east of Nantes and you’ll bump up against the Loire river again, just a touch higher in elevation. Hugging this storied waterway is Savennieres, a sleepy village known for chenin blanc. There are a few big names of wine here, and arguably of the two most important is Domaine des Baumards.
For a special occasion, check out their Clos du Papillon bottling.
The current vintage is 2013 and costs roughly $45. It’s a single vineyard expression of chenin not to be missed: honeyed, rich, floral and elegant. While Baumard’s entry-level bottle at about $25 can seem somewhat aggressive, Clos du Papillon is all Audrey Hepburn: grace and composure.
Headed to the Northeast corner of the country, you’ll find the sunniest region of France: Alsace. A unique region with a somewhat tragic history through the world wars, Alsace is driven by white wine production, often at a great deal.
Sure, there are wines like Trimbach’s Clos Saint Hune, legendary bottles which may cost up to $300. Importantly, there are also seemingly oceans of respectable riesling, gewurztraminer, pinot gris, and muscat available for less than $25.
Bott Freres is one of those producers. Their 2014 gewurztraminer isn’t subtle, but hits all the right notes for gewurztraminer lovers at a great price ($19). This is not a full-on sweet wine. It has some residual sugar, no doubt. The lower acid in this wine effectively lays bare all of those typical gewurztraminer notes that we can expect: Excessively perfumed floral notes, yellow apple and bosc pear. If you’re looking for a bottle to go with your General Tso takeout, this is it.
Heading south to Rhone, the red wines get most of the glamour, spearheaded by top level production of the grenache, syrah and mourvedre grapes. But once again, when we’re talking value, there are ample opportunities to pick up some deals.
The trouble in Rhone begins with the fact that the common white grapes are virtually unknown to our market, and putting them on the front label would assuredly be a detriment to sales. This is a shame because if you’re keen on full-flavored white wines, but want to skip out on oakey chardonnay, these wines are a good start.
The 2015 Delas Freres Cotes-du-Rhone blanc is only $17, and checks a lot of boxes: ripe fruit, freshness, balance, great price. It’s made from grenache blanc, clairette, viognier and bourboulenc. The good news is you don’t have to know or care what the grapes are to enjoy this wine.
You can spend 10 hours a week for years studying France and not come close to getting a total comprehension. And that’s OK.
There’s so much more joy in the world of wine when you give up caring about learning for the sake of learning, and instead just stop for a minute and enjoy some bottles with your loved ones.
These bottles are great opportunities to do so, as the weather slowly creeps from lion to lamb.
Justin King is an Advanced Sommelier and owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktails-focused restaurant in DeWitt. He was named 2017 Best New Sommelier by Wine & Spirits Magazine. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.