First, let me start out by saying I am NOT a wine expert. This post is meant to share that as a decidedly NON-wine expert, I have found a few good wines that I am loving and a few reasons why, so I am sharing them in the hopes that you can take it and make it work for you in your (perhaps) non-expert wine drinking moments. (Julie and Henri, this excludes you if you are reading this since you both know more then I ever will).
I wanted to share this because I feel like I found a treasure trove by accident. It is the French wine section at our New Hampshire Liquor Stores.
Wherever you live, find a place that sells good wine, and head on over to the area marked ‘French’ or is broken down by French regions, like ours is. Once you are there, please note the prices.
They are not that bad! Right? Price points from $9.99 to $27.99. So this leads us to the first myth about French wines that I want to overturn.
Myth #1: French wines are expensive.
Ok, maybe some are, but I think the anxiety about them comes from the fact that some bottles are sold for a gazillion dollars because they are rare. For 99% percent of us, we will never be faced with the decision to open a $1,000 bottle of a 1957 Bordeaux.
But guess what? The 2014 Bordeaux is only $15.
French people drink wine everyday and still somehow manage to give half of their income to taxes (little joke there) and pay for their homes and food and clothes.They care ALOT about quality and the time-honored traditions of terroir and flavor and cultivation. And they have figured out economical ways to make them.
Myth #2: French Wines are complicated.
I thought they were. Until I realized you can just fall in love with a region – or even a town – and every bottle from there will be delicious. French people care so much about the soil grapes were grown in that they got very specific about it, and started naming their wines after each town or region it was grown in. But start small and just pick one region and try some to and see if you like it.
My current favorite is Médoc. I learned about it from the (much better) food blog Manger.
Two quick travel stories from this year that I will share with you about Médoc wines:
First, When my husband took me to the AMAZING restaurant Primo in Maine for my 40th birthday dinner, we looked at a menu by a James Beard awarding chef, and an equally impressive wine list. I was overwhelmed by everything, of course. When I looked down the list of wines, I saw one from Médoc that was the cheapest one on the menu (!) at around $36. We were willing to splurge, but I knew from shopping at my local wine store that all the Médoc wines were delicious, and I wanted to do justice to the amazing food we were about to eat. So we ordered it and it was Heaven. Such a relief at such a big moment to love the wine you chose.
Second, when we went out to eat with a huge group to a steak house in the Outer Banks with my husband’s college friends, I spotted a Médoc wine that was again the cheapest bottle on the list, I think it was $34 (hello dirt cheap for a steak house). I went to order it for our end of the table. The rest of the table followed suit and they ordered 3 bottles for everyone.
When it came, it was delicious. Sigh of relief and happy people all around.
Myth #3: All wines contain natural sugar.
When we traveled in France last summer, you might recall that I was reading a ton of food memoirs throughout our trip. I learned from Ruth Reichl’s book Comfort Me with Apples that Americans prefer sweet wine, so some wine makers dump extra sugar into the wine that sells in the US.
This little factoid is what made me turn to the French wines. I don’t believe in being a wine snob, or a food snob, but now that I taste a lot of the grocery store wines, all I can taste is the sugar.
Myth #4: A Sauvignon Blanc from France tastes the same as one from California.
Nope. The best thing my wine-savvy sister taught me is to take a wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon, and buy one from a few different places. Italy, France, California, New Zealand, South America. Then taste them to see where you like them grown the best. Throw a wine party and taste them to see which ones you (and your friends) like.
Turns out a Sauvignon Blanc grown in France has many names. There is the Pouilly-Fumé, which Julia Child wrote about in My Life in France (favorite food memoir of all time). She also demystified the Pouilly-Fusse, since it is the French name for Chardonnay. Along with the Pouilly-Fumé however there is the Sancerre.
I love it. Not all of them are created equal though – since we have returned from France I have tried all of them and this one is my favorite bottle, ringing in at $14.99 but is a whole lot of goodness for that price. I just brought over a bottle today for lunch with my mom and sister and we all loved it.
To learn more about the Sancerre check out this (far more knowledgeable) wine person.
I have to mention one other winemaker from Médoc that have truly made some special evenings with friends and other celebrations. It is the Michael Lynch winery, and their reds and their white Graves have been so outstanding.
To learn more (and memorize their labels my friend! If you see them you are in good hands), check out this website.
Favorite Wine Recipes
I really love cooking with wine. Here are some of my favorite recipes – try them on your next adventurous cooking night.
- Ina Garten’s Beef Bourguigon – Ina loves using Cote du Rhone in her cooking.
- Chicken Fricasse – this recipe has me over the moon. I love it so.
- Jacques Pepin’s Red Wine Beef Stew – favorite Christmas Eve dish ever.
- Red Wine Braised Short Ribs – I love these so. Honorable mention for Pale Ale Braised Short Ribs.
Ok, happy eating (and drinking!) friends.