With value for money being the most important thing for me when it comes down to purchasing wine, there’s one thing I’ve learned recently: cheap French wine from well-known regions is usually too good to be true and whilst you might be lucky with a Bordeaux, Loire or even Champagne wine, Burgundy simply can’t be done cheaply.
You’ll find Chablis at £8 and you’ll certainly find wines from Côtes de Beaune, de Nuits and d’Or priced at under £20 too. But, for the love of your wallet and tastebubs its best if you don’t.
Recently, in order to really get a feel for this region, I’ve been trying a wine or two from several of the miniscule AOCs Burgundy has to offer. Being the kind of man whose last few days in the month are difficult, I have to watch the other label about the wine, the one that finds itself on the dusty shelf below the bottle with large black numbers on it.
That’s obviously a shame that I can’t really experience this region in depth but maybe one day better times will come and I’ll be cracking open something decent from Montrachet, Pommard or Mersault. I'll be sure to let you know!
However Pinot Noir is a grape that I like a little bit of regularly and, if you read my latest entry about this wonderful grape over at Outline Magazine, you’ll notice that I’ve been taking a look at some German Pinot Noir.
I have a strange conclusion to make: all of the Pinot Noir I tried from Germany around the £15 asking price was a great deal better than that of Burgundy. Haha, I see the real wine world now turning away and saying ‘the kid doesn’t know what he’s talking about’. To those people I say, stop being so locked in tradition! Why shouldn’t German Pinots be as good as those from Burgundy for that price?
Okay, there are some fantastic Burgundies out there but they’re not realistically priced – the Germans have found a hole in the market there: great Pinot, properly priced and they’ve done it well.
I'll admit that some of the Northern Pinot Noirs in Germany do make difficult drinking – As much as I love Ortenau, I tend to find the wines there so engrossed in the local soil that, whilst it works with the whites, the reds have an acquired taste – one that I like but most people find it hard to get used to.
Let's drive down the A5 a bit, past Strasbourg and Freiburg into the Kaiserstuhl or the Markgräflerland though – hundreds of wineries each producing several Pinot Noirs and most of them fantastic. What’s more is that you can actually afford them. For what you’d pay for a similar quality Burgundy, you might get a case of wine for in Baden.
I’m not criticising Burgundy. I’m well aware that the French vintners are able to charge so much for their wines thanks to demand so they do. I’m just trying to find alternatives. New Zealand wine isn’t always affordable in Europe but German wine is.
I don’t think the Chinese businessman in his Beijing office is ever going to swap his Romanée-Conti for a bottle of Blankenhorn Spätburgunder but you don’t have to spend £20 on nearly undrinkable Burgundy if you invest your money in the German wine world.
White is, of course, a different matter although my personal taste buds favour Mosel Riesling over Burgundy Chardonnay and even here, the German produce is also greatly cheaper than the French stuff.
So no, I’m not saying the Germans are better at Pinot Noir – I really don’t think that, the French are probably miles bahead. The Germans are better though in the most important part of the industry for people like me: the pricing.
Check out the article over at Outline for some recommendations. One that didn’t make the page is Markus Schneider’s M Spätburgunder from Pfalz – priced at a tenner, its great and reflects the soil just as much as most Burgundy does.
But while I’m at it, I’d appreciate some tips on Burgundy – are there any good wines priced between £10-20? I’m not a cheapskate, but it takes me nearly three hours to earn £20…perhaps you can see where I’m coming from?
There exists a wonderful phrase in the German language ‘wenn schon, denn schon’ – roughly ‘if you’re going to do it, do it properly’. I find this can be implied to wine and food better than anywhere else and I sometimes avoid buying cheap, average wine every day so that I can drink something a little better every other day.
Whereas we’re all aware of large-brand superfluous Champagne, this way of life fits in well here too. If you’re going to celebrate something properly, ditch the Moët and go for something from a smaller producer or even a vintage wine.
However, I find this phrase much more appropriate when it comes down to the world’s favourite red wine region: the Bordelaise.
I first got into Bordeaux with poor generic cuvees and when a friend of mine said that real Bordeaux started at 25-30€ a pop, I rejected this and carried on in my consumption of bland wines named after non-existent Châteaux. Thankfully, I decided to go down the route of appellation-specific Bordelaise wines a few years ago and will never go back – Bordeaux AOC is, and I’m sorry for saying it, a complete waste of time and usually money as well.
If you’re interested in buying something for a quiet night in and want to spend around 8-10€, stick with Italy, Spain, the new-world or the less complicated wines of the Southern French coast. Bordeaux AOC priced at 8-10€ is usually hideously overpriced and you’ll find yourself drinking generic wine with very little unique character. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one with a bit more Cabernet than Merlot and Cabernet in its cheaper formats is usually a little better. This advice includes wines like Mouton Cadet, which is always a safe (if not dull) purchase.
Although, come to think of it, I’m not even suggesting that you have to spend much more. Recently a string of St. Émilion Grand Crus have been available for well under the 10€ barrier and whilst none of these of world-moving wines, you at least get something authentic for your money. You’ll find some definite St. Émilion characteristics and a crafted taste to the wine even if it isn’t close to some of the more expensive produce that most of us will never be able to afford.
I’ve also seen Haut-Médoc wines priced at around 6€. Again, don’t expect perfection but, after half an hour in the decanter, you’ll find that these wines contain the driving factors behind the popularity of such wines. A really lucky purchase from Médoc or Haut-Médoc might find you enjoying a wine with some real Cabernet structure, some tobacco and leather notes – something that usually first appears in wines priced at 20€. I recently bought six bottles of a fairly well-known Haut-Médoc for 30€ and, whilst it definitely wasn’t the best wine I’ve enjoyed in the last few weeks, for a fiver a bottle: Chateau Larose Trintaudon (08) is a fantastic wine for the price, full of authentic Left-bank aroma, albeit a bit unrefined but nonetheless a real Bordeaux.
There are hundreds of Médoc and Haut-Médoc wines out there priced between six and ten euros and nearly all of them are considerably better than the Bordeaux AOC wines priced at a similar level.
It doesn’t even have to be Médoc though. If you’re more of a Merlot person, I’ve already mentioned St. Émilion. However there are other alternatives. Premier Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac and even Côtes de Blaye offer decent wines that are affordable and considerably better than those carrying the Bordeaux AOC declaration.
When it comes down to white Bordeaux or rosé Bordeaux, I tend to find that the Bordeaux Blanc AOC or Bordeaux Rosé AOC classifications rarely command high asking prices and therefore don't need to be avoided. The best white is however also smaller appellation-specific and sometimes I don’t understand the use of Bordeaux Blanc AOC when nearly all of the white grapes making dry wine are grown in Entre-Deux-Mers anyway – so are most of the red ones for Bordeaux AOC too though.
I don’t see the attraction in buying Bordeaux AOC wine, there really isn’t one. I can understand that an inexperienced consumer might not know the difference and the labels of the mass-produced wines are often a little more attractive (lots of colour and gold print). If you’ve read this and you're a casual consumer, now you know. Either buy similarly-priced smaller AOC wines or spend more and buy more expensive specific AOC wines – Bordeaux AOC doesn’t represent good value and isn't a fair representation of the region it comes from.
What do you think?
Although it hasn’t been the main intention of the challenge, I’ve been staining my lips red on a regular basis throughout 2011. In late 2010 I decided that, although I knew a fair bit about Bordeaux, I know literally nothing about most of the individual appellations dotted all over the region. Of course, I’d heard of Pauillac, Margaux and Pomerol but the amount of funny Euro notes in my wallet rarely allowed me to reach up so high in the wine rack, often having to settle for something much cheaper and much lower down.
But I started to put a bit of money aside and started, in January of 2011, to experiment with some of Bordeaux’s 57 appellations. I substituted a few of the generic ones because I’ve been drinking such wines for years: Bordeaux Blanc, Bordeaux AOC, Bordeaux Rosé and Bordeaux Superior AOC are to name but a few.
The Left Bank
I started with Médoc and Haut-Médoc as it seemed a price category that was almost immediately affordable and enjoyed a few decent wines along the way. Although the word Médoc seems to grace hundreds of bottles in my local shops, I soon found a few wines that I could safely come back to. Château des Granges d’Or 2005 was a decent surprise and at less than 12€ a bottle, quite good value as well. I also discovered a supermarket Médoc AOC wine: Château la Pirouette which, albeit not excellent, was a seriously drinkable claret for just over a fiver – I have since enjoyed many more evenings with said wine. 2011 saw me drinking several wines from Haut-Médoc although, to be honest, my general feeling towards this appellation is one of moderate quality wines for quite a high price. One exception was a lovely Château du Camensac 2002 that I enjoyed – a great wine and at less than 20€, quite a good buy!
But the smaller appellations of Médoc were the ones that interested me most. In October I enjoyed an excellent (but unfinished) Moulis-en-Médoc 2005 claret with lashings of structured Cabernet and deep closed senses of tobacco and coffee which would’ve opened had I left the bottle in the rack for a few more years.
Pauillac was the most expensive appellation I covered in 2011. I drank two separate wines from there: one good, one not so good but I have also invested in several bottles for the future. My first experience with The Appellation was a modest but delicious Château Pédesclaux 2002. I immediately loved it and was quick to declare Pauillac as my favourite Bordeaux appellation. In December 2011 however, I had a fairly poor experience from a little known Château called Bellegrave. It’s 2003 was not unpleasant but seemed to carry all of the notes about aged Bordeaux I like to be covered up with red fruit and Cabernet: too much vanilla, too much oak – not enough spice and not enough tart red fruits, no cassis. At more than 20€ a bottle, I was a tad annoyed and hope that the rest of the wines in my rack offer a bit more jazz.
Pauillac served as my favourite appellation of Bordeaux for less than a month. I tried my luck and bought a 14 year old St. Estèphe from a supermarket that had only been only for one year. The 1997 Lafon-Rochet was at its turning point and only after an insanely long amount of time in the decanter, did it open up and stop smelling strange. The wine was however immense and it opened my eyes to the potential of storing wine for a long time. Its Cabernet skeleton was much more robust that that of the Pauillac wine I’d tried and its red fruit was a lot fresher. Late in 2011 saw me trying a young but affordable St. Estèphe from a supermarket: Château Commanderie 2006 which was a very enjoyable experience and one that I hope to repeat sometime soon (a second bottle is in my possession). It offered most of the experience of the more expensive wine (Lafon-Rochet) but with half of the guilt – it costs less than 15€ a bottle.
Margaux let me down though in 2011. I’d heard a great deal about how great its wine were but after trying two, I wasn’t much impressed. The wines seemed like buffed-up Haut-Médoc wines with doubly buffed-up price tags. I plan to experiment with a bit more Margaux in 2012.
2012 will also see me wander into Graves and get started with Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes and Barsac. I’ll also be finishing off Médoc with, aside from a few more bottles of Margaux and Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Listrac.
Over the Gironde
Most of the bigger appellations of the right bank are still to come in 2012, I’ve still not tasted Pomerol, nor have I enjoyed anything from Fronsac, Bourg or Lalande-de-Pomerol.
In 2011, I enjoyed a lot of Saint-Émilion. Many supermarkets in Germany have increased their range and, whilst I know that the proper stuff isn’t affordable to people like me, was impressed by the mid-range wines. All of them were priced between 6-12€ and all of them were pleasantly drinkable.
Côtes-de-Blaye was a big surprise though. Whilst living in Münster, a wine store next door recommended I take a bottle of Merlot from old vines, which I did and enjoyed immensely. I’ll be looking at trying some more wines from here in the coming year alongside the neighbouring appellation of Bourg as well.
South of Bordeaux
In 2011 I enjoyed many a Premier-Côtes-de-Bordeaux wine. A young but excellent Croix-Mouton 2009 opened my eyes to this small and barely-respected Entre-deux-Mers appellation and this quality was reflected in another wine I’ve enjoyed on a regular basis that sources its grapes only from 1er Côtes and neighbouring Cadillac. Château Grimont retails at just over 5€ in a nearby supermarket and it serves as one of my house wines.
Entre-deux-Mers white was briefly hit upon by me in 2011 with a simple 2010 bottle opened and enjoyed with a seafood dinner. In 2012 I hope to experiment with Bordeaux’s dry white wines a little more.
As above mentioned, I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge of Bordeaux even further in 2012. Hopefully, in a year’s time I’ll be able to complete my guide to Bordeaux wines and, if I’m lucky, summer 2012 might even see my visit the region. I’ll keep you up to date.
Ever wondered what Champagne is really all about? Over-expensive Fizz with multi-million Euro advertisement schemes ensuring the next month of strong sales figures – this is the impression of many. But really, Champagne is just like any other wine producing region. With exception of the big houses: VCP, Moët and other names, the region is full of small, family-run, traditional wine-producing neighbours.
You won’t see Scarlett Johansson generously pouring a decent amount of their Champagne onto her hands and into the ground below her, nor will you find Formula 1 drivers wasting a magnum’s worth showering each other after finishing in the top three. They also don’t invest thousands of Euros into cool, clean-yet and bright-yellow coolers, instead they invest the money they earn into their lifestyles and producing great fizz at an affordable price, without great advertising.
I’ve found a great source of such Champagne, the real stuff – where Andy Warhol isn’t pictured on the brands’ advertising because, quite simply, they don’t have any advertising. Their websites aren’t a flash-based jungle with diamonds and funky longue music. Instead they’re individual efforts, straight out of 1and1's template archive, sometimes without even a domain name (a bit like this one then).
Champagne Warehouse is a UK-based online-shop that champions the sale of real Champagne from real makers. They don’t bother with the big-brand stuff, instead they sell Champagne from producers that most haven’t heard of but they they also ensure that they only sell quality fizz.
This isn’t limited to just Champagne, they also offer a nice range of Cava and Prosecco from people who are more bothered about creating good wine than they are good advertising and their price range extends from fully-affordable Prosecco at under a tenner a bottle to some great Vintage Champagne at no more than £34.99 a bottle – £35 for Vintage Champagne!!
Check out their website by clicking here. I may have been guilty of recommending big-brand Champagne before but I’m also a fan of the little people, the ones whose entire concentration is directing in the attention of creating good wine for a good price. Champagne Warehouse stock many such wines. Perhaps instead of Veuve Clicquot for Christmas this year, you could try something from their great range of Forget-Chemin and Ellner wines.