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Published: Tuesday, 11/7/2000

Bargains are flowing from southern France

Knowledgeable wine customers are becoming fans of California Coastals because the base price factor, land, sells for only a fraction of what it costs, when available, in Napa and Sonoma, and yet is capable of producing excellent fruit; the happy result is best buys lining every road in western Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties.

But don't miss the same development that is taking place in southern France. As prices of the best bordeaux are rising only slightly faster than the best napas, astute, well capitalized producers are recalling the history of bordeaux prices and famous names and categories, which became famous partly because their makers were sitting quai-side on what was a major world port in the 1850s. Many wines made south of Bordeaux and in Burgundy, highly esteemed by contemporary connoisseurs, weren't nearly so successful in attracting the world's notice because they lacked easy access to world markets.

Thanks to modern transportation, winemakers on the French Mediterranean coast no longer suffer this disadvantage, and are finding their way back to the making of good and ultimately fine wines of grapes grown on relatively inexpensive soil; again, a host of best buys. So far, the regional name to look for is Pays d'Oc (pay-ee-dauck).

Two recent samples from B & G are excellent examples of what this means. One is a rose of cabernet sauvignon, a varietal sometimes made in California, which suffers from the disdain brought upon serious roses by sweet, wimpy blushes and pinks. Serious roses? One need only taste the classic of the type, a Tavel or Lirac from the mouth of the Rhone River, to discover a crisp, full bodied flavor that can hold its own with almost any menu. The '99 B & G is 100 per cent cabernet, and as in these parts it sells for perhaps a dollar more than the importer-suggested $7 retail price, it's Sunday-dinner affordable.

The other sample is the '99 B & G Pays d'Oc chardonnay; it is much better than I had expected, rich, the aroma redolent of a bountiful harvest, tasting of orchard fruits but typically restrained, thanks to steel rather than oak maturing. This, too, sells for around $8.

And who else has moved into the Pays d'Oc in a big way? Actually, for 15 years now you might have seen the name of Georges Duboeuf on a collection of varietals: cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, syrah, viognier, merlot, chardonnay. Of course, Duboeuf's best known wines, his collection of beaujolais, are still the standard setters.

Robert Kirtland is The Blade's wine critic.

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