And so our journey continues with a quick hop over the English Channel to a country who know a thing or two about wine. France has beautiful countryside, a history of gastronomic and vinous excellence and an insolent, maverick streak which I rather like. You know, when I’m not trying to get the ferry over to Calais. Of course they also have so many great examples of top quality wine knocking about that they’re getting two entries in this series. Back in the day all we had to taunt the French with on a beverage basis was Appletise (now called Appletiser because for some reason nobody could say it right).
Thanks to global warming and some bloody talented winemakers, we’re now ace at proper fizz and have beaten our Gallic cousins at their own game on several occasions but I’m putting that old Appletise advert on here anyway because I love it. Fortunately it includes about as many French stereotypes as you can muster in one handy little clip too, which saves me a job. Enjoy…
So here we go. I’m going to concentrate on a few key areas of Northern France which are responsible for some utterly fantastic wines namely Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire Valley. The wines from these regions are all very different in style but the ones I’ve picked are all brilliant too.
In keeping with the sparkling theme I’m going to kick off with Champagne. As we are not all bankers or in line for a whopping great inheritance, I’ve also thrown in a couple of sparklers from surrounding areas because these are usually far more affordable and in some cases better than several Champagnes but you’ll have to wait for part two of our French adventure for those…
Unlike the Itchy & Scratchy movie from The Simpsons, these Around the World… articles have more than 53% new footage so if you wonder why Bollinger, Lanson etc are not included here it’s because they’re given stellar billing in other Wine Rebel pieces. So get exploring thewinerebel.com or, for those who find more than 140 characters taxing, head to Twitter @thewinerebel Of course if I have duplicated my choices here it’s because they’re so brilliant they deserve it, I forgot I wrote about them already, I’m feeling lazy or all of the above.
Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top NV Champagne (Widely available including Oddbins for a bargain £20) – Buy Here
This was a huge favourite of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia who had train loads of it shipped over to him before a difference of opinion with the Bolsheviks put paid to all that. Having recently gone through a bottle with Mrs Rebel, I can see why it was such a hit.
Due to the 50% Pinot Noir in the blend, this is a big, fruit driven Champagne with a lively mousse of fine bubbles. The toasty and buttery notes from 35% Chardonnay and oak ageing are tempered by crisp lemon and blackcurrant leaf flavours of Pinots Noir and Meunier resulting in a wonderfully balanced Champagne.
We intended to serve this with garlic prawn crostini which I’m sure would have been excellent however it was so nice that the bottle was finished before the bread came out of the oven. A fitting recommendation I think, and at £20 it’s seriously good value for money too.
Pol Aime Champagne Brut Reserve (Tesco £12.99) – Buy Here
Relatively inexpensive Champagnes abound across supermarkets but many leave you feeling underwhelmed and wishing you’d picked up a bottle of Cava for half the price. Fortunately this is not one of those wines and is a real find.
The inimitable Olly Smith has also sung the praises of this fellow and I can see why. Being a Chardonnay dominated blend it has wonderful fresh lemon and orchard fruit flavours but also a biscuity edge and creamy finish which belies its price tag.
Due to the lack of sharpness cheap Champagne can provide this is an excellent aperitif but I’ve had it with lemon sole goujons and it was a revelation, cutting through the rich breadcrumbed fish and cleansing the palate for another bite. A winner all round.
And so to Alsace. My goodness wines from this neck of the woods are wonderful things. Full of juicy aromatic and/or limey fruit but with mouth-watering acidity to make them really moreish. But the best thing is that because they come housed in bottles reminiscent of cheap German plonk they’re insanely good value. Here are two of my favourites but if you like these you’ll probably like all the others too.
Calvet Alsace Pinot Blanc Reserve (widely available £9 but sometimes £6 in Asda) – Buy Here
Mmmm, I love this wine. Calvet make consistently decent wines from all over France but this is my favourite. It has a pleasing luminescent golden colour and smells like a punnet of freshly picked peaches. When you taste it those white stone fruits are there but there’s also a tinge of citrus in the background tempering the soft mouthfeel with vivacious acidity.
I’ve had this wine with a roast chicken dinner and it was a revelation. Due to its abundance of fruit and acidity it also works really well with sushi and practically any other mildly spiced oriental food. I urge you to dive in, you’ll never look back.
Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Alsace Gewurztraminer (Sainsbury’s – £8) – Buy Here
Here’s a wine full of lychees , rose petal and Turkish Delight flavours but don’t worry if that sounds too sweet because there’s that characteristic lick of citrus too. It all adds up to a decadent mouthful of wine and is utterly delicious on its own but I really think this comes into its own with food.
Yes, it’s Thai green curry o’clock and Gewurz’s time to shine. The heady fragrance, luxurious mouthfeel and hint of residual sweetness temper the heat of a Thai curry beautifully ad lift both food and wine to hitherto unscaled heights which for me is half the point. If not more. Discover Gewurz and let the sunshine in. Oh yes, Morrison’s do a great version of this too so get whichever one is on offer.
Down South now, to possibly the finest winemaking region on Earth: Burgundy. Home to some of the headiest, most coveted but ridiculously expensive Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays around but I’m going to introduce you to a couple which you don’t need to be a Russian Oligarch to enjoy.
Tesco Finest Chablis (Tesco – £9.99 but £7.99 at time of writing) – Buy Here
Chablis, one of the most iconic wines there is and probably almost as famous for being the Chardonnay people that don’t like Chardonnay enjoy (hello Mum). But that’s to do it a disservice. Here’s a clean, crisp and totally refreshing example of a classic Chablis with Granny Smith freshness and bite and a long, smooth citrus aftertaste.
I like this, on its own whilst sat in the back garden on a sunny day but it’s also a very versatile food wine and will match seafood canapes, chicken vol-au-vents (if you find yourself transported back to 1976) or simple smoked salmon admirably.
Cote de Beaune Villages Louis Jadot (Majestic £17.49 but £14.86 at time of writing) – Buy Here
Yes I know it’s not cheap but decent Burgundy never is. What you have here is a wine made from a selection of grapes from across the prestigious Cotes de Beaune area made by the consistently excellent Louis Jadot. If you bought a wine from a single Burgundy region such as Pommard (where some of these grapes are sourced) you’d probably be paying at least £25.
What you get here is a seamless Pinot blend with plenty of elegant forest fruits, impressive length of flavour and smoothness on the finish. If you can bear to wait that long, this will make an excellent choice for Christmas turkey, goose or the post-dinner cheese board. Open it up a good few hours before and decant to appreciate its full majesty.
Finally (for now) we move across to the Loire Valley where plenty of ace wines can be had at pretty decent prices.
Sincerite Sauvignon Blanc Vin de Pays de Loire (Avery’s £8.99 or £8.32 if you buy 6) – Buy Here
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is any old humble Vin de Pays as it punches well above its weight. Winemaker Joseph Mellot makes Sancerre in the same region for a lot more but for the difference in price this is astonishing value.
The classic lemon and grapefruit flavours are here with mouthwatering acidity and a stellar minerality typical of far more expensive wines. It’s dangerously easy drinking and perfect for sipping on warm summer evenings but pair this with any shellfish and you’ll have made an excellent choice too. Awesome.
Tesco Finest Chateau Palatio Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie (Tesco £6.99 but £5.49 at time of writing) – Buy Here
As this is my Dad’s favourite wine I had to pick it. Thankfully this one is a total bargain and again a brilliant match with shellfish, especially fresh oysters with a spritz of lemon and nothing else.
The grape may be pretty unheard of (Melon de Bourgogne anyone?) but it makes a fresh, crisp and citrus charged wine with the merest whiff of sea air in the background which can transport you to a rustic French seaside café at the pull of a cork. Get yourself a case of this whilst it’s still insanely good value and remind yourself why you loved it so much in the 80s or if you’re too young for that show Picoul de Pinet lovers where inexpensive, refreshing seafood wines began.
à votre santé!