Don't turn your nose up at vins de pays

The prospect of sifting out the best 100 from 600 French vins de pays initially had all the appeal of root canal treatment with no anaesthetic. As it turned out, the two-day tasting exercise showed just how vivid and varied French country wines can be. What a shame that the big retailers shun them in favour of the reliability of New World brands. Amid what's been aptly dubbed the "coca-colonisation" of wine, character too often comes in a poor second to bland consistency.

When France's myriad co-operatives were peddling oceans of plonk in the early 1970s, the concept of vin de pays was a way of highlighting quality. Creating regional definition and limiting production gave deserving producers from the wrong side of the appellation contrôlée tracks something to aspire to. Unlike the appellations, the 150 vins de pays are able to put the name of the grape on the label. And greater flexibility allows them to try out international varieties in regions where the appellation rules frown on them. It led to the development of a New World-style Trojan horse within France's wine-industry establishment.

In France a vin de pays may still be thought of as a workhorse, but putting chardonnay, sauvignon, merlot or syrah on the label pays dividends overseas. Vins de pays account for more than half of French wine exports, although only a third of all French wine production (that's 1.8 billion bottles). Vins de pays are easy to comprehend, often innovative and can offer good value, though they are not necessarily cheap and cheerful. Given a choice between appellation and vin de pays, a producer might plump for the latter to make a super-cuvée outside the appellation rules, as in the case of Domaine de Trévallon or Grange des Pères in the South of France.

Back in the top 100, the selection of white wines tended to be dominated by sauvignon and chardonnay, but there were encouraging signs of a broadening of style into the likes of viognier and experimental blends. From the go-ahead cooperative Les Vignerons des Trois Terroirs, the ripe and peachy 2002 L'Esprit du Midi Viognier, Vin de Pays d'Oc, £5.95, Great Western Wines, stood out from a crowd of increasingly interesting dry whites made from the viognier grape. From Meffre, the juicily crisp 2003 La Châsse du Pape Chardonnay Viognier, Vin de Pays d'Oc, £4.99, Waitrose, demonstrated the increasingly creative use of blends.

For sheer good value, the 2003 Marc Ducourneau Sélection Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne, £4.49 (two or more cost £3.99 each), at Majestic, confirmed the quality of this mouthwateringly crisp Gascon dry white from the Plaimont Cooperative. And, arriving this month, don't miss the 2003 Vermentino, Domaine St Hilaire, Vin de Pays des Coteaux de Bessilles, around £5.60, Christopher Piper Wines, Devon (01404 814139), a zingy, lemon-citrusy Mediterranean grape variety that performs so well in France's warm south.

It wasn't just the trophy winners that belied their relatively humble status. The entire top 100, to be unveiled later this month at the London International Wine & Spirits Fair, are a credit to France's burgeoning country wine movement. In particular they serve as a reminder that in a world increasingly dominated by bland, albeit reliable brands, it is refreshing to know that wine lovers can still find plenty of gems dotted around the vinous landscape as long as they're willing to make the effort.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones