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
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments