Whilst I’ll agree that most of my blog posts are about German white wine, the wines I go weak at the knees for are French and red. I've been in love with Bordeaux for as long as I can remember and would trade my blood for equal measures of claret.
Unfortunately though, thanks to rather unrealistic pricing recently, I just can’t afford half-decent French red any more.
I was never one to spend more than a tenner on weekday wine (possibly double that at weekends) but there used to be a whole host of French reds available for this price which were certainly more than drinkable. These days, this isn't so easy and you can forget Bordeaux and Burgundy altogether.
I’m not the first to moan about French wine prices and, yes: I'm well aware of where the price hike comes from. Whereas the wineries will try to push the blame onto their poor harvests, bad weather conditions and economic situation, the truth is that the emerging nations, with their growing middle and upper classes, are snapping up the wine (at any cost) that we used to get ‘on-the-cheap’ here in Europe. China, Brazil and India are the biggest culprits but you can’t blame them for it really. It’s the Châteaux of Bordeaux, the Domaines of Burgundy and the like who chose to increase prices. The alternative is increasing production to satisfy growing demand but anyone who has followed the last few Mouton Cadet vintages knows what happens when you decide to take that route.
So what do I do when I fancy a decent French red? I buy Italian wine.
Whilst I’ll agree that Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Barbera d’Asti and Nero d’Avola aren’t stunning replicas of Pauillac, Côtes de Beaune and Châteauneuf du Pape but one region hits the spot for fans of French wine: Tuscany.
Again, Chianti is about as French as I am and Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano don’t exactly wave the Tricolour from the top of the Tour Eiffel but there are some Tuscan wines that really make France’s wine prices look very silly indeed.
Of course I’m talking about the 'generic' Tuscan country wines or, as the wine world calls them, Supertuscans.
Back in the middle of last century a few winemakers got a bit sick of having to adhere strictly to old-fashioned (and harshly enforced) wine laws and started doing something very non-Italian: importing varietals from that place West of the border: La France. Sangiovese was popular and yet it’s international appeal was rather limited. Chianti (in any one of it’s various outfits) was known for being cheap wine and even though the wines of Montepulciano and Montalcino were sought-after, the appeal was rather small-scale compared to the Barolo of Piedmont and the Claret of the Bordelaise. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and several other vines found themselves all-of-a-sudden bathing in the Italian sun in what is arguably the most beautiful part of the world and they rewarded their growers with big, red, juicy, French-style wines.
The local wine boards punished such growers by labelling their wines as vino da tavola (vin de table or table wine)…hardly appealing to the consumer. Amazingly though Supertuscan wine grew and grew. Thanks to the high quality it had and the hard work of some very pioneering winemakers, much of it was promoted to Toscana IGT (the next rang of the Italian wine law ladder) – similar to vin de pays (country wine). Some have even achieved DOC status (Bolgheri for example). The Supertuscans have long-since replaced the DOC and DOCG wines at the forefront of Tuscan wine and are fantastic, French-influenced drops of red much more realistically priced than anything to emerge from the banks of the Gironde, Garonne and Dordogne despite being just as good. In stark contrast to the wines of the New World, the Tuscans made using French varietals still maintain a unique sense of personality - this is usually done by blending in that most Tuscan of grape varietals: the saucy, chocolately, juicy and delicious Sangiovese.
This blog entry is all about prices and, whilst I'd seriously suggest spending a night in (or out) with Sassicaia, Solaia, Ornellaia, Luce, Tignanello or the like, sometimes their little brothers will have to do.
Five affordable and fantastic Supertuscans
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