Following the success of Andrew Jefford's 2002 book The New France, the organisation that looks after French wine in the UK launched the Absolutely Cracking Wines from France tasting. Chosen this year by 41 journalists and 29 sommeliers, the selection has become an annual event. Six years ago, 62 wines were shown, compared to 176 this year, in the categories of: house wines under £10; hidden gems £10-16; and classics at £16-30+.
Because it's very much a personal selection rather than aimed specifically at consumers, each annual edition contains a fair share of the quirky and individual while also acting as a useful guide to what's hot and what's not, albeit among the opinion formers of wine. This year was no exception. In summary, muscadet, pays d'oc, languedoc and picpoul de pinet showed strongly in the value whites section. Alsace, beaujolais and loire put in a good performance among the hidden gems category. Rhône and burgundy outshone bordeaux among the classics.
In the value section, I was impressed by the crisp, refreshingly grapefuit-zesty quality of the 2013 Domaine de Ménard Côtes de Gascogne (£8.49-9.99, Averys, Noel Young), and enjoyed the bone-dry, seafood-friendly 2013 Domaine des Lauriers Picpoul de Pinet (£8.30-9.90, Tanners, Bottle Apostle), and bright, stonefruit-laden 2012 Domaine des Trinités Roussanne (£11.99, Cambridge Wine). Value reds under £10 included the bright and moreishly cherryish 2013 Château de Lacarelle, Beaujolais-Villages (£7.95, The Wine Society); a leafy, savoury claret in the Château St Germain (£8.25, Asda); and pepper-and-cinnamon-spicy Domaine de Montval Syrah (£9.99, Majestic).
Juxtaposed with a terroir-quirky savagnin-based Les Granges Paquenesses, 2011 Côtes du Jura (£20, Vinoteca), there was a fine, textbook 2010 Chablis Domaine de Prehy, Jean Marc-Brocard (£14.49, Marks & Spencer), and a zesty and yet nutty 2012 Irouléguy Herri Mina from Jean-Claude Berrouet (£14.25, Corney & Barrow). Two superb Loire chenin blancs, the concentrated, honey-flecked 2011 Litus Anjou, Eric Morgat (£30.35, Berry Bros), and quince and apple-rich 2009 Clos du Papillon, Domaine des Baumard, Savennières (£25, Majestic), vied for top white honours with the fresh, textured, beautifully balanced 2012 Clos Saint Landelin Grand Cru Vorbourg Riesling, Muré (£25.99, AG Wines).
Among the upper echelons of the reds, I enjoyed the moreish, seductively spicy 2009 Domaine du Chêne Blue, Ventoux (£15.99, Waitrose Cellar), and an elegantly raspberryish 2011 Les Jeunes Rois, Domaine Duroché red burgundy (£26.50, Four Walls Wine). You can access the full list (including my choices) with stockists and prices at uk.vins-france.com.
Something for the weekend
2014 The Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Riesling
Excellent value, if not exquisite, lime-scented, citrus-zesty, dry riesling with the trademark petrol-like undertone that can make good riesling even more interesting. £6.99, Aldi
2012 Laurent Miquel Vérité Viognier
With its veneer of smoky-spicy oak and peachy-ripe opulence plus balancing freshness, Laurent Miquel has done a fine job with this viognier from the Languedoc. £14.99, Majestic
2006 La Rioja Alta Viña Arana Reserva
This classic rioja blend is reaching its perfect peak of maturity; deliciously smooth-textured with a delicately gamey, charry-oak note. £22.49, WaitroseReuse content