French wines were my first love ever since my explorations in the summer of 1968 and in the following years when I owned Esquin Wine Merchants. Sadly, the great wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux have become costly, ones reserved for extra special occasions. But there are still fine values to be had from France. Here are my recommendations from recent tastings.
Maconnais and Beaujolais
Southern Burgundy is a good source of fine, affordable wines. The whites of the Maconnais (the birthplace of Chardonnay is in the town of the same name) and the Gamay reds of the Beaujolais offer a lot for their modest prices. The "Villages" wines make nice everyday wines, and the "Crus" of Beaujolais (Fleurie, Morgon, Moulin à Vent and others) are fine wines and great values.
2015 Louis Jadot Macon Villages, Chardonnay ($12.99 at Safeway) - Medium greenish gold colored, this wine possesses fresh aromas of apple, peach, citrus, apple blossoms and acacia flowers. The flavors are pure and natural, unencumbered by oak, and accompanied by notes of peach stone, grape skin and Maconnais slate, followed by a crisp, lemon zest accented finish. 18/20 points.
2015 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé ($22.39 at Safeway) - Pouilly-Fuissé is the most prestigious appellation of the Maconnais. This one was partially barrel fermented and aged six months in French oak. It shows a brilliant gold color and lovely aromas of pear, peach and citrus, with scents of pear blossoms, white flowers and white incense. The flavors, as well, are appealing, with vivid Chardonnay flavors that are accented by peach stone, pear skin and slate minerals. The back picks up poire and pêche liqueurs and light oak on the way to a crisp, faintly honeyed finish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages ($10.99 at Safeway) - This Gamay offers a purplish ruby color and attractive aromas of strawberry, cherry, plum, rosebuds, anise and light spice. The flavors are bright and juicy, with red fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cola, and dusty earth. The chewy textured back picks up pressed berries, toasted nuts and fraise liqueur, followed by a ripe soft tannin finish. 18/20 points.
2015 Jean-Ernst Descombes Morgon ($19.99 from wine.com) - The late Jean Descombes' Morgons were among my favorites. The winery is now run by his daughter, Nicole. This vintage presents attractive aromas of raspberry, cherries and currants, with scents of roses, mulberry and lavender. The flavors are pleasingly ample, yet robust, with notes of licorice, cocoa and minerals. The back picks up pressed berries kirsch and framboise liqueurs, followed by a moderate tannin finish that is lifted by bright fruit acids. A Georges Duboeuf selection. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Domaine des Rosiers Moulin à Vent ($19.99 - wine.com) - Deep purplish colored, this wine emits enticing aromas of wild blackberries, huckleberries and currants, with scents of crushed red roses, sweet tobacco, violets and spiced incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with deep, robust fruits that are imbued with red licorice, cocoa, French roast and granitic minerals. The saturation continues on the back with sensations of pressed berries, creme de cassis and graphite, followed by a pleasing sweetish ripe tannin finish. A Duboeuf selection. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Domaine des Quatre Vents Fleurie ($23.99 - wine.com) - Fleurie ("flowery") is one of Beaujolais' most charming wines. This one offers a ruby-crimson color and seductive aromas of fraises de bois, wild cherries, red currants, rose petals, bayberry and violets. The medium bodied flavors, as well, are alluring, with layers of supple yet intense (old vines) red fruits that are imbued with red licorice, cocoa powder and granitic minerals. The back reveals sensations of gently pressed fruits, cerise and cassis liqueurs, a touch of nougat, and a dusting of ground charcoal, followed by a lengthy silky tannin finish. This delivers a lot of elegance for the price. A Duboeuf selection. 19/20 points.
2015 Domaine Diochon Moulin à Vent, Cuvée Vieilles Vignes ($23.99 - wine.com) - This is really serious Beaujolais. It exhibits a purplish ruby color and enticing aromas of blackberries, cherries and currants with scents of red roses, mulberries and violets. The robust flavors, as well, are appealing, with notes of licorice, cocoa and minerals. The back picks up kirsch and creme de cassis liqueurs, followed by a pleasingly juicy finish and soft tannins, lifted by bright fruit acidity. Enjoyable now, but will benefit from 1-5 more years aging. A Kermit Lynch selection. 19/20 points.
The Côtes du Rhône
The Rhone Valley is another source of fine values. The most prestigious appellations such as Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Chateauneuf du Pape have gotten pricey, upwards of $50 a bottle, but the regional and Villages bottling are quite affordable.
2016 Château de Campuget Costières de Nimes Rosé ($9.99 at Safeway) - This is a surprisingly good Rosé (70% Syrah, 43% Grenache) for the price. From the region west of Avignon, it offers a light pink-copper color and attractive aromas of strawberry, pomegradnate and tangerine with scents of cherry blossoms, summer flowers and spiced white incense. The flavors are somewhat restrained, yet well defined, with notes of grape skin, pomegranate seeds and orange peel, followed by a refreshing, dry finish. 18/20 points.
2015 M. Chapoutier "Belleruche" Côtes du Rhone ($10.99 at Safeway) - This 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah combination offers a purplish ruby color and engaging aromas of raspberry, blueberry and currant with scents of rosebuds, lavender and dried herbs. The medium bodied flavors are supple, yet vigorous, with cocoa and earth undertones and a rich, fruity, savory finish. 17.5+/20 points.
2014 Clos de Caveau "fruit sauvage" Vacqueyras ($29.99 at Esquin) - Vacqueyras can be called the "poor man's Chateauneuf du Pape." The dominant grape is Grenache with some Syrah and/or Mourvédere. This organically grown one is 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, and shows a deep ruby color and a rich, smoky nose of raspberry, plum and black currant, with scents of rosebuds, mulberry, pipe tobacco, lavender and spiced incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with thick, generous red and black fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cocoa, French roast and Dentelles de Montmriral minerals. The chewy textured back picks up roasted berries and nuts and touches of leather and dried currants, followed by savory moderate tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2013 Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vaqueyras ($31.99 at Esquin) - This "Blood of the Rocks" tastes like it is predominately Grenache with some Mourvédre and Syrah. It shows a deep ruby color and intriguing aromas of wild fruits - blackberry, plum and black currants - with scents of rosebuds and garrigue (lavender and herbs) and smoldering incense. The flavors are thick and fleshy, with notes of licorice, dark cocoa, roasted coffee beans and minerals. The back picks up macerated berries, roasted nuts and charcoal, followed by a ripe, chewy tannin finish. A Kermit Lynch selection. 18.5/20 points.