I’ve always been baffled by the French attitude to wine. Either they drink too much or too little. When I was a student, a long time ago, I spent some months travelling around the country, including a few weeks at the house of a friend of a friend of my father. Every day my host drank an entire litre bottle of red — probably Algerian — with his lunch and another litre bottle with dinner. I would have been insensible, round the clock. But if you were in a restaurant, people would assume that a single bottle was ample for three or four diners, possibly preceded by a small scotch. If you were lucky.
And these days the French are drinking less and less wine. In the past 30 years, consumption has more than halved to barely more than one bottle a head per week. In part this is because they are consuming less but better wine. It is good news for us, since with a shrinking domestic market, the French are having to fight much harder in the incredibly competitive world trade. For that reason, prices — except for ludicrously expensive grands crus — are fairly stable while quality continues to improve. As this offer from Yapp Bros reminds us. Jason Yapp has dropped a generous £1 from every bottle.
Take the 2011 white from the Dme Millet (1). Gascony used to be the home of workaday wines from workaday grapes, in this case Colombard and Ugni Blanc. But improved technology now means that they are creating fully flavoured, lively, citrus-scented yet rich wines, all at very reasonable prices. This is a great homecoming pick-me-up, but also terrific for enjoying with food or at a party. Reduced to £7.75.
Muscadet can be gruesome. Excited hosts sometimes tell you they bought umpteen cases at a hypermarket just over the Channel and it worked out at £2.67 a bottle! That’s what it’s usually worth. But a really fine Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, like this 2011 Chéreau (2) (with a sportive cartoon by Quentin Blake on the label) is much better than that. It has a complexity of flavour and a depth that comes from spending time sur lie, on its lees. Gorgeous with smoked salmon, oysters, or any seafood, but powerful enough to stand on its own. Down to £8.25.
Sancerre is the best known white wine from the Loire, but there are other Sauvignon Blancs which are, in my opinion, just as good. Such as Quincy. This 2011 from Jerôme de la Chaise (3) is very much in the French style, being crisp, dry and just the right side of austere. A ballet dancer of a wine, poised, cool, sophisticated. Reduced to £11.50.
Now the reds. The Minervois Tradition 2011 (4) is light, but packed with lovely aromas and herbal flavours. It’s made from three south of France grapes and, to use an old cliché, it is sunshine in a bottle — which I suspect we need right now. Drink this and you will be sitting under a flower-decked pergola as the sun beats down. The price has been lowered to £8.75.
My quest for high-class red Bordeaux at less than high prices continues, and this one is a beauty. Many of the less expensive wines have a sad, dusty taste, as if the wine had at some point given up the will to live. But this Chateau d’Abzac 2009 (5) is bright, lively, packed with flavour, and with the cedary, leather and tobacco undertones which claret lovers look for. It is not Lafite, but then it costs only £9.95.
Finally a generic-looking label concealing a remarkable wine. This is simply Rhodaniennes Syrah from the Dme Georges Vernay 2011 (6) but it is a very fine Rhône wine, a Côte Rôtie in all but name. With its rich mingling of flavours, it is up there with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, though at a fraction of the price: £12.95.
Delivery as ever is free, and there is a sample case containing two of each wine.
Prices include VAT and delivery on the British mainland. Payment should be made either by cheque with the order, payable to the wine merchant, or by debit or credit card, details of which may be telephoned or faxed. This offer, which is subject to availability, closes on 5 February 2013.
Click here to take advantage of this offer (subject to closing date)