Wine: French toast

AC stands for Appellation Contrôlée, but the letters also do nicely for Absolutely Cracking, the name of the annual French wine tasting launched by Andrew Jefford in 2003. It was such a success, wine journalists are now invited each year to choose three French wines in the under-£6, £6-£10 and over-£10 categories
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It's a bit like asking film critics to choose three of their favourite films. Some will spit with venom, others swallow with relish. So it was that this year's tasting came up with a pick'*'mix of absolutely cracking, relatively cracking and not-very-cracking-at-all.

Presumably to show that France is fighting back against the New World, an innovation was the inclusion of France's 10 bestsellers in the UK. Led by J P Chenet's 2006 Sauvignon de Touraine, whose sales volume of 1.25m cases apparently outsells all other French wines, it was a useful exercise in showing how far France has got to go. It wasn't until I got to the fifth-bestselling brand, the well-made, peachy La Chasse du Pape Chardonnay-Viognier, £4.99, Asda, Co-op, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, that I started to see the point of the French brand. But its 246,000 cases are a drop in the ocean compared to Jacob's Creek. I thought seventh in the list, the crisp, appley-dry 2006 La Terre, £3.99, Tesco, deserved its sales of 229,000 cases. But French wines haven't got where they are today by being branded. Just the opposite; the real interest lies in their diversity and so it is with the Absolutely Cracking selection.

The cream of the under-£6 crop was a nettley Pouilly-Fumé lookalike in Jacky "The Jackhammer" Marteau's 2006 Touraine Sauvignon, £5.99, Marks & Spencer, and a zingy 2006 Domaine des Eyssards Sauvignon Semillon, Bergerac, £5.99, Waitrose. You don't have to spend much more for extra character – there's the toasty, new-wave dry white Bordeaux, Les Pierrières Blanc, Château de Beaumont les Pierrières, £6.95, Lea & Sandeman shops (020-7244 0522), or the creamy, mini-Graves-style 2005 Clos d'Yvigne, Cuvée Nicholas, Bergerac, £8.49, or buy two = £6.79, Majestic, and smoky Roussillon dry white, the 2005 Domaine Gayda, L'Archet, Macabeo, £7.99-£9.25, Worth Brothers (01543 262 051), Noel Young (01223 844 744), Hailsham Cellars (01323 846 238).

Stylish reds were fewer and farther between this year, although what Henry Marionnet manages with the gamay grape in the Loire for his 2005 Touraine, Premiere Vendange, £8.75, Artisan Wines (01244 851 557), beats most Beaujolais, and the 2005 Chinon Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Perrière, RSJ (020-7928 4554), £9.50, was another success. You needed to breach the £10 barrier to find the quality of wines such as Michel Chapoutier's spicy-rich 2005 Crozes Hermitage Les Meysonniers, around £11.50, Oddbins, Avery's of Bristol (08451 283 797), Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300), The Wine Society, or the fragrant fruitiness of Nicolas Potel's 2003 Savigny-les-Beaune, £12.95, Wine Society.

Back in the white wines, a rose-petal-scented 2004 Rolly Gassmann Alsace Gewurztraminer, £10, Raeburn Fine Wines, Edinburgh (0131 343 1159) stood out for its lychee richness and fresh acidity. At the higher end, if you're in serious pre-Christmas mode already, you could be persuaded by the stylish 2005 Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru Les Chenevottes, £30.84, Goedhuis & Co (020-7793 7900) with its creamy fruit, limey acidity and nutty oak, or the jasmine-scented, apricot richness of the 2005 Condrieu, Côte Chatillon, from Domaine Mouton, £29.95, Berry Bros. All enough, really, to give AC a good name.

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