Vin Connections (April 2004)


Ah, France: The country that protected and nurtured wine-making through the Dark Ages still has something to make us grateful… this month, 20 great wines under $30 from the Rhône, Loire, Languedoc and Champagne regions.

France is the birthplace for many of the world’s best known red and white wines, though different countries and regions around the world interpret them differently. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are just a few examples.

Why? In a word, history. French wines have their roots in the Roman Empire, who planted vineyards as they crossed the continent. And before the French, the Greeks. The religious orders in France took care to protect the French grape vines during the Dark Ages; the records kept by them have helped the French continue to make wine perfected over centuries.

So over a thousand years later, we can enjoy the fruit of their labors…

  • This Month’s Reader Question:
    “What is the difference between Burgundy and Pinot Noir?”
  • This Month’s Wine Pick
    20 great wines from 4 great regions of France, at prices you’ll love!
  • This Month’s Quote:
    Alexis Lichine on wine tasting…


What’s in a name? You say tomato, I say…

“I’m used to Cabernet from California and Pinot Noir from Oregon. But I recently tried a Burgundy for the first time and loved it! My husband said no wonder, since it was Pinot Noir. OK. So, what IS the difference between Burgundy and Pinot Noir?”

—Deb Shimora, Calgary, Alberta CA

The biggest difference is based on the fact that in France, the name of the wine is where it’s from. Whether red or white, most French wines are named after the regions they originate from. This works primarily because each region specializes in the production of different types of wines and flavors.

So even though the type of grape is the same, (wine made from the Pinot Noir grape anywhere else in the world is NOT Burgundy) it can’t help but taste different – like any varietal, wine from a grape grown in one location will taste different from the same type of grape grown elsewhere.

Though there are ten wine producing regions in France, the major wine areas in France include: Burgundy (Pinot Noir, Gamay and Chardonnay), Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) the Loire Valley and Alsace (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris), the Rhône Valley (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Muscat), and Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay).

Over the last several years, the Languedoc region (we have some great wines from here below) has really increased in prominence as well, building a well-deserved reputation for really drinkable reds, often breaking the “place name” tradition by appearing on their own as varietals or blends of Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot.

A recent Wine PocketList search showed that – in general – the wines with higher ratings tended also to be those with higher prices. But, we found that more than one A- wine (white and red) was represented in the “bargain” category of under $10. And while not many of these highly rated wines are widely available (over 20,000 cases imported), when you do find them they are worth the effort.

So in this issue of VinConnections, tap into the rich history of French wine, and enjoy a plethora of great vino, priced right and ready to be enjoyed.

[Do you have a wine-related question you’d like to ask? If so, contact us and you may see it answered in an upcoming issue!]


20 Under $15: Proof that great wine doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg!

The Rhône: Solid, reliable reds…

1999 Crozes-Hermitage, Syrah/Shiraz, Alain Graillot
Rhône, France
IE: A+$19, Grade A+
2000 Sablet Reserve De Maude, Syrah/Shiraz, Dom. De Piaugier
Rhône, France
IE: A-$24, Grade A-
2002 Côtes du Ventoux, Other Reds, Dom. Le Grand Vallat
Rhône, France
IE: B+$15, Grade B+
2001 Cairanne, Côtes du Rhône, Other Reds Feraud-Brunel
Rhône, France
IE: B+$15, Grade B+
2001 Sablet, Other Reds, Dom. De Piaugier
Rhône, France
IE: B+$14, Grade B+

The Loire: Heaven for white wine lovers

2002 La Montee des Lumeaux, Pouilly-Fuissé,
Other Whites, Philippe Raimbault
Loire, France
IE: A-$17, Grade A-
2002, Other Whites, Marc Ollivier
Loire, France
IE: A$10, Grade A-
2002 Vouvray, Other Whites, Benoit Gautier
Loire, France
IE: A-$12, Grade A-
2001 Cuvee Terroir Chinon, Other Reds, Charles Joguet
Loire, France
IE: B+$15, Grade B+
2002 Reiully Les Varennes, Sauvignon/Fumé Blanc,
Domaine Pascal Desroches
Loire, France
IE: B+$15, Grade B+

Languedoc: France’s home of fantastic wine bargains

2001 Fitou, Basket Pressed, Carignan/Grenache/Syrah, Maria Fita
Languedoc, France
IE: A$30, Grade A
2000 Corbieres Grande Reserve, Corbières, Other Reds,
Chateau La Boutignane
Languedoc, France
IE: A$18, Grade A
2000 Saint-Chinian, Other Reds, Ch. Bousquette
Languedoc, France
IE: B+, A-$15, Grade A-
2000 Corbieres, Other Reds, Chateau Cascadais
Languedoc, France
IE: B+$11, Grade B+
2002 Vin de Pays D’Hauterive, Other Reds, Dom. Saint-Jaume
Languedoc, France
IE: B+$11, Grade B+

Champagne: The name says it all…

NV Brut, Sparkling, Raymond Henriot
Champagne, France

IE: A+

$21, Grade A-
NV Brut Champagne French Label, Sparkling, Duval-Leroy
Champagne, France
IE: A$30, Grade A
NV Brut; L.P., Sparkling, Laurent Perrier
Champagne, France

IE: A-, A-
$30, Grade A-
NV Brut (L-211-274-01), Sparkling, A.R. Lenoble
Champagne, France
IE: A-$26, Grade A-
NV Brut, Sparkling, Nicolas Feuillatte
Champagne, France
IE: B+$25, Grade B+

Wine Quote

Drinking is the best way to find out what you like the best…

“When it comes to wine, I tell people to throw away the vintage charts and invest in a corkscrew. The best way to learn about wine is the drinking.”

—Alexis Lichine.


Understanding our System

Grade: [A-]
Our grades represent a composite score developed using our proprietary system to blend wine quality and scoring information.

Vintage: 1999
This describes both the year of the actual grape harvest as well as the year the wine was made.

Price: $12
The prices quoted in the WPL are the “suggested retail prices” quoted by the wineries and the distributors. Though these are close to what you’d pay at the winery, you’ll often find discounts of 20% and more off these prices at retail.

Individual Evaluations: IE: A, A-, B+
This represents the number of individual reviews and ratings on which the composite grade is based, primarily representing individual reviews in top wine periodicals converted to our scale, and ratings by our tasting panel.

Wine PocketList Exclusive Categories: WPL: BBC, W, S, B
These are four exclusive WPL categories, and many wines rated by the PocketList will fall into one of these special designations.

[W] Widely Available:
These wines typically have bottling of 20,000 cases or more, making them widely available in most regions of the U.S.

[BBC] Top Buy-by-the-Case:
Based on multiple, outstanding reviews and a solid history, these are wines you can purchase by the case to grow your cellar with confidence today, and into the future!

[B] Bargain Wines:
Top-rated wines for $10 or less. Most of these can go head to head with a typical $30 bottle sporting a fancy label . . . and beat it hands down.

[S] Splurge Wines:
For most of us, spending more than $20 on a bottle of wine isn’t something we do lightly. These are wines that, while more expensive, are well worth the price.

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