France is the most famous wine producing country and legendary regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne are held in high regard with good reason. But while they get global acclaim, other lesser known terroirs within the country’s borders are also producing wines of character and finesse and if you’re willing to deviate from the most popular appellations, you’ll be rewarded with their unique taste, amazing quality and often, remarkable value.
Here are four less famous wines from other wonderful French wine regions you will keep coming back to…
Compared to the ubiquitous light rosé of Provence, the red wines of Bandol are a different animal. In fact, red Bandol is a wine that is often described as almost ‘fauve’ (feral) in character.
The town of Bandol lies on the Côte d’Azur in Southeastern France, between gritty Marseille and the harbour town of Toulon. I was immediately charmed by the reds from the area; the complexity of flavour, the aromas of leather, black fruit, spices and violets, and the rich, earthy taste and strong tannic structure.
While the Mourvèdre grape has the reputation of being something of an untameable beast, it seems extremely well-behaved and well-adjusted in Bandol, where it must account for a minimum of 50% of the wine blend, even sometimes making up 100% of the wine’s composition.
Mourvèdre is a key player in the grape blends of the south of France and Spain; bringing power, backbone, and longevity. On its own it is a a rare and wild thing; Bandol is the area that has learned how to tame the beast into something beautiful, velvety, and powerful — a wine to be reckoned with. The soils and climate of Bandol are perfectly suited to this late-ripening variety, and it is only here that we will see a blend so dominated by this grape; producing wines that harmoniously balance power and elegance, and that often need a few years’ ageing to tame the tannins.
WINE TO TRY
Domaine Tempier Bandol 2012 Rouge
€39.95 – available at The Corkscrew
Lucien Peyraud, who ran Domaine Tempier from 1941 to 1982, was not called the ‘high priest of Mourvèdre’ for no reason.
This mainly Mourvèdre blend has a savage edge, softened by a creamy, toffee-like taste. Really well balanced, with fine acidity and an elegant but solid tannic structure. A cult classic.
Loire Valley Cabernet Franc is all about prettiness and freshness. In this cooler region, the grape is vinified alone and takes centre stage. Here, Cab Franc has a deeply rooted past which predates Bordeaux plantings of the grape by about 100 years. It is known locally as ‘Bouchet’, and enjoys the cooler climate; developing into wines that are brisk and delicately herbaceous, with aromas of bell pepper, crunchy red and dark fruit, and pencil shavings.
These wines respond well to being lightly chilled and brought on picnics in the beautiful Loire Valley countryside, which is dotted with chateaux, floral and buzzing cities, and great food. The beautiful Loire region suits the grape’s style; elegant and composed.
I’m always on a Loire look-out for Cabernet Franc wines from Chinon, St Nicolas de Bourgueil, and Saumur-Champigny, where Cab Franc is the hometown hero for once; delivering win after win, or rather wine after wine, of excellent quality. There is still great value is to be found in these wines, maybe because they are not as glitzy and shrouded in prestige as their counterparts down in Bordeaux. Loire Valley reds at their best offer complexity, a certain ping freshness, and a feminine quality.
WINE TO TRY
La Martinière St. Nicolas De Bourgueil 2015
€18.50 – Available at Mitchell & Son
A light and distinctly herbal expression of Cabernet Franc, with raspberry and redcurrant flavours on a silky palate.
A perfect summer wine.
South West France’s Madiran wines are made from the Tannat grape; a name which hints at its characteristics — it is tannic as hell, dark as night, chewy, and substantial. It is often described as an ultra-masculine grape; tough as nails in character, and often difficult to deal with.
In any case, it is a big wine, and at its best it is spicy and complex, with a strong tannic framework. In recent years, the wines of Madiran have improved enough to compete with the finest wines of France; smoother, more elegant wines are being made, that are all about power and blackness; black fruit, earth, licorice, black pepper, smoke, leather, and roasted meat.
WINE TO TRY
Château Bouscassé 2007
€21.65 – Available at Le Caveau Kilkenny
Soft, balanced palate of ripe blackberry, cherry and spice, with hints of licorice. Sturdy but elegant tannic structure and a long, dark fruited spicy finish.
This full-bodied wine displays the typical powerful structure, weight, and layered dark flavours of Madiran.
Some say that there is no substitution for Champagne, but if you are looking for a sparkling wine with Old World character without the Champagne price, a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace might be up your alley. ‘Crémant’ is what the French call their sparkling wines that are made using the traditional Champagne method, but are not made in the Champagne region.
The ‘traditional method’ means that the second fermentation (which gives the wine its fizz) must happen inside the bottle. It must then be aged for a minimum of 12 months on its lees, or dead yeast cells. This gives the wine its creamy texture and complexity.
WINE TO TRY
Pierre Henri Ginglinger Cremant
€24.95 – Available at The Wine Buff nationwide
This biodynamic Cremant displays a fine bead of bubbles.
It’s elegant, fresh, fruity and light.
It is slightly floral with apple and stone fruit flavours.
Naomi Ní Chatháin is a WSET-certified wine specialist from Co. Clare. She studied French and Philosophy in NUI Galway before pursuing a master’s degree in Wine Tourism (or ‘oenotourisme et projet culturel’) in Nimes.
Naomi loves French culture, and has lived in different parts of France over the years.
Her other passions include the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, the music of Bob Dylan, and road trips across America. Naomi is also a professional baker, and founder of NaomiBakes.com.
She is a firm believer in eating delicious, healthy cakes every day, and has a small subscription-based healthy cake kit delivery business.