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A world apart

By Henry Little, Trainee Manager, Majestic Wine Belgravia

There is a whole world of wine within France. From the sultry Syrahs of the Rhône to piercing Alsatian Rieslings, from the foggy, frosty north to the baked earth of the south, the full spectrum of climatic and geographical conditions is on offer.

What’s more, the French have been producing wine for a quite humbling length of time. In Burgundy there are records of Pinot Noir vines being grown some 800 years ago. Now campaigning to become a World Heritage site, this complex region produces some of the most elegant red wines in the world. Inheritance laws and other obscurities mean that finding good producers like Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf is the key to getting the best wines.

Jadot’s Beaune 1er Cru offers a lovely pale purple hue, with notes of crushed red fruits and orchard blossom overlacing earthy richness, while Duboeuf’s Fleurie Flower Label shows how much more Gamay has up its sleeve than most Beaujolais sceptics would credit.

Burgundy also produces fantastic whites, including of course Chablis. With its steely acidity and bone-dry minerality, people are often surprised to discover that Chablis is made from Chardonnay grapes. But the area is actually closer to Champagne than Burgundy and it shows. Domaine Servin’s 2010 Chablis displays all the right green-apple and citrus notes, making it a wonderful match for oysters. Try tasting this alongside a New World Chardonnay to see how origin really does affect taste.

Beaune 1er Cru Rouge 2007/08, Louis Jadot
£19.99 or £16.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Fleurie Flower Label 2010, Georges Duboeuf
£10.99 or £8.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Chablis 2010, Domaine Servin
£11.99 or £10.99 when you buy 2 bottles

If it’s more crisp, zingy whites you’re after, head east to the Vosges Mountains, or west to the fairytale Châteaux of the Loire. From Alsace, renowned producer Trimbach’s 2009 Riesling is a whoosh of lime-led citrus flavours with restrained Riesling tones. It’s completely dry in the regional style and a million miles away from the sweeter styles of Germany. From Sancerre, Roger Neveu’s ‘Clos des Bouffants’ 2010 shows off the lean, mouthwatering elegance for which the region’s Sauvignon Blancs are famous.

Heading south from the Loire on the west coast, the châteaux of Bordeaux have recently become more famous for fairytale pricing than anything else. Nevertheless, there are some fantastic wines to be had. Many of the Cru Bourgeois properties (some of those that missed out on, or perhaps escaped, the 1855 classification) still deliver great-value everyday claret. Bessan-Ségur is one such example, offering ripe cassis fruit flavours and defined Cabernet structure for early drinking.

Trimbach Riesling 2009
£10.99

Sancerre ‘Clos des Bouffants’ 2010, Domaine Roger Neveu
£12.99 or £11.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Château Bessan-Ségur 2008,Cru Bourgeois, Médoc New!
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles

If you’re looking for something particularly indulgent – a fireside wine for a dark and chilly evening – I doubt there’s anything more suitable than a rich, brambly Côtes du Rhône. Perrin’s 2009/10 Reserve is drinking very well now. This Syrah-dominated blend will perhaps be lovelier still in a few years’ time, but don’t feel too guilty about drinking it young. I don’t expect much of my hibernatory store to survive.

Much of the emphasis so far here has been on the terroirs and history behind French wines. But the success of New World varietal labelling has shown that it’s often the grape not the place that’s key – and France is responding. The most dynamic, innovative region is certainly the south, where looser regulations permit more experimentation. As a result, a host of good-value, expressive wines can be found in regions such as the Pays d’Oc. Here, producers Paul Mas and Marquis de Pennautier have produced two great varietal wines: the Estate Cabernet ‘La Forge Vineyard’ and the 2010 Viognier.

The success of French wine is built on the pursuit of perfection and years, decades, centuries of experimentation. The classics listed here are all representatives of that heritage; quality expressions of place and craft. However, fierce competition means the pressure to maintain, improve and even do a bit more experimenting has never been higher. Good news!

Côtes du Rhône Réserve Rouge 2009/10, Perrin et Fils
£9.99 £9.49 or £7.59 when you buy 2 bottles

Paul Mas Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ‘La Forge Vineyard’ 2009/10, PGI Pays d’Oc
£8.99 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Marquis de Pennautier Viognier 2010, PGI Pays d’Oc
£7.99 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles