The United States’ greatest obstacle to becoming what Jefferson called ‘a wine-drinking nation’ may well be its vintners’ indifference to keenly-priced wines. North American winemakers display plenty of ambition to rival the first-growths of Bordeaux or the top producers of high-appellation Côte d’Or Burgundies, but very little to challenge France’s numerous artisanal producers of delicious, characterful and inexpensive table wines. Of course, France boasts its share of bland, industrial and heavily-processed wine too; but there are plenty of vignerons who fly in the face of that trend: these are three of my favourites.
Daniel Bouland – Corcelette, Beaujolais
Bouland’s wines may not be as fashionable as the likes of Foillard, Lapierre and Dutraive, but for me they are every bit as compelling—and rather more dependably microbiologically stable. Bouland works with old vines, organically cultivated and low-yielding, in prime lieu-dits within the crus of Morgon, Fleurie and Chiroubles. Vinification and élevage is traditional, eschewing chaptalisation, not to mention more insidious cellar tricks. His hard work issues in sappy, concentrated wines, full of character and seriously cellar-worthy: the 2011s, for example, are beginning to be youthfully approachable but will cruise along for another decade or two with ease. I admire these bottlings for the clarity with which they express their respective terroirs and drink them regularly, the Cuvée Corcelette from old vines in Morgon being my favourite.
Domaine Labet — Rotalier, Jura
Julien Labet worked at the Domaine Ramonet in Chassagne-Montrachet, and it shows. To my palate, this estate produces some of the best Chardonnay in the Jura (good bottles of Emmanuel Huillon’s white wax Chardonnay being their only rival, along with the best cuvées from Ganevat and Tissot). In fact, the wines can be very reminiscent of Ramonet; perhaps in part because they employ used barrels from that storied address. There are Savagnins, oxidative Chardonnays and a variety of reds, but my favourite wine is the topped-up Chardonnay cuvée La Bardette. Produced from vines planted in 1945 in shallow blue clay soils overlaying Bathonian limestone, the wine has the density, minerality and cut of a top-flight white Burgundy—though there is a certain electricity and wildness to it that mark it out as a Jura wine. Amazing value.
Domaine François Chidaine — Montlouis, Loire
François Chidaine’s eponymous domaine began in Montlouis and now includes parcels across the river in more-prestigious Vouvray. Chidaine produces some of France’s greatest Chenin Blanc, brimming with flinty energy, texture and flavour. Viticulture is biodynamic, vinification traditional and quality high. That the wines of Montlouis are normally a bit more nervy than those of Vouvray is not necessarily a disadvantage in these days of climate change, though François’ holdings in the great, if formerly rather moribund, Clos Baudoin on the other bank of the river are not to be sneezed at. I only wish economics permitted longer time sur lattes for his sparkling Montlouis, as the extra lees-contact would really kick that already admirable wine up a notch.