By Australian standards, good French wine is undeniably expensive. While we consider the “best” Australian brands like Penfolds Grange to be ridiculously expensive (at prices approaching $800 a bottle for the current release), many French producers would consider the ask of our winemakers to be “entry level”. After all, the Premier Grand Cru French Wines can fetch well over $10,000 a bottle the moment they leave the cellar.
An extreme example of French luxury pricing, is the Domaine De La Romanee-Conti Roman-Conti Grand Cru, Cote De Nuits which sells at around US $15,000 a bottle. And it’s not just their reds which attract premium pricing. Some white varietals, like the Domaine Leflaive Montrachet Grand Cru, Cote De Beaune also achieves around US $5,000 to $6,000 a bottle. It is expensive stuff!
So how do we find French wines that are pleasant to the palate but won’t upset the wallet? Well firstly, I would suggest we avoid the well-established appellations which have well-recognised brands and strong demand for their wares. We can also forget about trying to find “inexpensive” First or Second Growth Bordeaux wines. And don’t waste your time checking the prices of any “Grand Cru” bottles as the term is a stamp of luxury that inevitably inflates the price point and often (at least in my view) without a commensurate increase in quality.
Having spent a bit of time in Rhone Valley recently, I was initially attracted to the well-known appellations and almost overlooked the Gigondas wines which hail from a little village of the same name. The French wine industry administrators (the “AOC”), have recognised the area by granting Gigondas its own designation in 1971 but despite the passage of almost 50 years, it is a region that has not yet seeming carved its’ niche in the market.
The Rhone Valley is home to the widely acclaimed, and very expensive Chateauneuf du Pape Blends that we so often find on local restaurant wine lists as an alternative to the Australian “GSM” (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre) Blends. In French wine circles, the style is often regarded as the “big brother” to Gigondas’, but when it comes to value, my experience suggests that the Gigondas is a far better option.
Domaine Du Grand Montmirail 2014 Gigondas
A good example is the Domaine Du Grand Montmirail 2014 Gigondas that I happened upon in a Serre Chevalier bottle shop at only around €12 Euros. It is far more powerful than a typical Chateauneuf du Pape blend and oozes ripe dark raspberries and plums both on the nose and on the palate before lingering spices and white peppers announce their presence and embrace the finale. The real attraction of this Gigondas’ gem is the balance of fruit and power and the velvety mouthfeel that is supported and not dominated by subtle tannins.
The Gigondas appellation is a blended style dominated by Grenache, but with Shiraz as its support act and in at least my humble opinion, offers value that is rarely found in quality French red wines.