Now more than ever, the top-tier wine-growing regions are being looked at with ever-increasing scrutiny and skepticism. Blame it on increasing prices of the wines and shipping costs and the overall falling value of the dollar. There is, however, another factor these days that seems to be overlooked when it comes to how wine professionals and wine drinkers in general are viewing an established or highly regarded growing area: boredom.
"Bordeaux is a stagnant wine region that gouges its prices to the point that only the financial top 2 percent can purchase anything decent and brag to each other about it," explains one participant in the wine business, who requested anonymity. "I guess that's a niche?"
The French wine industry is ruled by an appellation system that governs everything from yield allowance to what grapes can be grown where. Most people might blame this old hard-line system as the reason behind Bordeaux's lack of excitement or, for that matter, quality-to-price ratio. But how can we when the Rhône Valley, Loire Valley, and Provence are producing some of the most outstanding wines in France — if not the world? Besides, greed more than anything is the driving factor behind the stratospheric prices that some Bordeaux and Burgundy wines are asking. At that level, it isn't a wine as much as a trophy.
"People less familiar with French wines might only know Burgundy and Bordeaux, so they may think all French wines are expensive, but it's not true," says Ashley Hall of Kermit Lynch Imports. "There are amazing values in the Loire Valley or try grenache blends from the Languedoc."
Quality aside, wine drinkers are finding it next to impossible to find good, inexpensive wines from France.
"It's true that with the ever-weakening dollar, it's more and more difficult to find high-quality French wines under $10. But I'd say that in the $12 to $25 range, the quality is still superior to comparably priced wines from elsewhere in the world," Hall says. "Typically in France, you will find winemakers whose families have been farming grapes in that region for many generations. These aren't folks who just jumped on the wine bandwagon when it got to be seen as glamorous."
Obviously, the wine producers Hall is referring to are more concerned with the health of their vines, the ecosystem, and the quality of the grapes than the bottom line.
"I would say that every region in France is producing great wine. Standards have never been higher," Hall explains. "It's an interesting combination of technological progress in the winery — which, in the case of refrigeration, for instance, can be key to keeping wine clean and stable — and traditional farming. There is a very positive trend of making wine naturally and growing grapes with minimal use of chemicals. It's better for the soil, and it also makes more interesting wines. Each region has its champions."
With the wealth of grape types and styles available throughout all of France, why confine yourself to only the ones you know? Wine is meant to be explored, tasted, and adored. Of course, you might not like them all, but it is unrealistic to expect to. It would seem that France is being discovered by new wine drinkers and rediscovered by longtime wine drinkers.
"I'd say grenache-based blends are really taking off," Hall says. It's hard to pigeonhole these wines, but this is a classic blend that is used all over the south of France and has been for centuries. Also, rosé has finally broken through its incorrect association with white Zinfandel. People finally are getting that dry rosé is a gorgeous, refreshing, and amazing food-friendly wine."
Wine is meant to be drunk. It is meant to be shared with friends and family over a great meal or simply by yourself on the porch. It isn't about auction prices. People who are concerned with that might as well be collecting stamps. Wine is a living thing that brings joy and pleasure. It isn't an investment. Leave that to the stock market.
Clos la Coutale 2006, Cahors, $18.99
Domaine Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc 2005, Alsace, $19.99
Chateau St. Martin de la Garrigue Picpoul de Pinet 2007, Languedoc, $20.99
Olivier Savary Chablis 2006,
Domaine de Fontsainte Rosé Gris de Gris 2006, Corbières, $17.99