France is known all over the world for its fine wines, yet how many times have you browsed a French wine menu and been utterly confused?
The good news is, a little inside knowledge can make a huge difference in helping you go from a mediocre to a great choice. To help you navigate the wine menus in our local Savoyard bars and restaurants, we caught up with Le Verre Gourmand wine consultant Pedro Bedding.
1) Start with what you love
There’s no need to step too far outside your comfort zone; start with the wine you regularly appreciate back home and go from there. If like most of us, you usually go by your favourite grape variety (Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay etc) you’re going to need to do a little homework, and this blog post is a great place to start! French wine is rarely labelled by the grape, so the trick is in understanding in which region or appellation (AOC/AOP) the grapes (you tend to enjoy) are grown in and used in wine production.
2) What grows together; goes together
Wine makers have been drinking and perfecting their wines to go with the local gastronomy for thousands of years, so when eating local try to drink local too. On a bigger scale, that’s why when eating in an Italian restaurant, it’s good to stick to Italian wines; the same can be said for Spanish and French cuisine, and on a more micro level for the smaller regions within.
What’s more, wine sellers and restaurants will have access to all the best wines of the region, but decent wines from afar will be more expensive for them to get their hands on. So in Savoyard restaurants, you should have the very best of the Savoie wines, but you won’t necessarily have the best of the Loire or Bordeaux wines.
3) Reach for the nibbles
It’s worth keeping in mind that unlike new world wines, which are very drinkable on their own, French wines were not created to be guzzled freely without food. Pedro advises holding back on judgement until you’ve tried your chosen tipple with a bite. A little nibble of cheese or charcuterie can cut right through the acidity of an Apremont, making it very easy to drink. Fortunately, our local wine bars tend to be very generous with their appetizers.
4) Feasting on a fondue? Avoid death by cheese with a zingy white
Apremont and Chignin are your classic local Savoyard whites. They are crisp and refreshing to cut through the fatty rich flavours of the Savoie. You don’t want a heavy wine with a heavy cheese dish; these wines are a more uplifting, less exhausting option to accompany your fondue.
5) Know your Châteauneuf-du-Pape alternatives
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is, of course, the most well-known appellation of the southern Rhone Valley, but according to Pedro, it’s usually marked up for tourists, and is often no better than the wines produced in the surrounding villages. A Vacqueyras, which is also made from Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah grapes, is a great muscular alternative and is likely to be much better value for money.
Another Southern Rhône Villages wine that packs a feisty punch but is relatively unknown, under-rated and under-priced is the Gigondas, which is usually a complex red with hints of black pepper and smokey flavours, depending on the proportion of Grenache grape. The more Grenache, the more prominent the smoky red fruit flavours and the more Syrah the more dark fruit and pepper flavours.
6) Snap up a good Shiraz
Shiraz is a popular choice and in France you have a few options. St. Joseph, which is 100% syrah (shiraz), is a spicy, powerful red in the 30 euros bracket and is the perfect accompaniment to your Cote du Boef.
Crozes-Hermitage is another good Syrah blend, usually cheaper and not quite as bold because it comes from the flat plains instead of the steep hillsides of St. Joseph.
Mondeuse is a sister grape to Syrah, but is not as heavy due to its colder climate and shorter growing season. It’s also a good choice with steak.
7) Ordering for the table? Don’t go for the Gamay
You’ll see Gamayeverywhere; it’s not to everyone’s taste and is usually a very light, thin wine. It is, however, a cheaper option, so up to you if you want to risk it but probably best avoided when ordering for a group.
8) Calling all Chardonnay drinkers
Chardonnay drinkers should look to Burgundy. Bourgogne Blanc wines are mellow, unoaked and easy to drink with mineral and apple notes. Chablisis dry, unoaked wine with zippy, lime mineral flavours. Côte de Beauneofferstypically oak-aged wines with rich, yellow apple and starfruit flavours with under notes of truffle, hazelnut and vanilla.
9) Look to the Loire for Sauvignon Blanc
Sancerre is the traditional choice for seafood and is also great with goat’s cheese, which is produced in the same region, making it a good match for vegetarian dishes. Pouilly Fume is another one of the Loire Valley’s most revered wines.Both wines have classic citrus flavours you’d expect from Sauvignon Blanc but the Pouilly Fume is recognisable due to it’s wonderfully flinty, mineral finish.
10) Not in the mood for wine? Order un demi
English beer drinkers are sometimes flummoxed by the French man’s love of ‘un demi’. This half a pint portion, is however, a great invention. The smaller portion helps keep your beer nice and cold. It’s perfect for a refreshing drink after a bit of spring skiing.
Follow Pedro on Instagram for more musings from the daily life of a wine seller.