Wine: Export strength
Saturday 15 March 2008
Is it because France's wine producers are trying to have their cake and eat it that their wine seems to be trying to pull in several different directions at once? On the one hand figures show that France is shifting shedloads of wine with exports in excess of €9bn (about £7bn), or the equivalent of sales of 180 Airbus aircraft. Excellent news for France. But on the other hand, the euro's frightening power, in line with the pound and the dollar, not forgetting the Chinese yuan, spells trouble for its efforts to increase its exports.
Champagne is one of its greatest continuing success stories with more than 338 million bottles of champagne sold worldwide in 2007. Small wonder with champagnes of the calibre of Selfridges Premier Cru Champagne, £22.99, a seductive fizz from the house of Médot's Philippe Guidot and Thierry Lombard, whose copper tinges betray a base of toasty aromas. The biggest growth area in fizz – bringing the value of all French sparkling wines to €593m – came not from champagne, though, but from Crémant de Bourgogne, and with raspberryish elegance from Blason de Bourgogne's Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé, £8.99, Waitrose, burgundy's fizz is a handy alternative to champagne.
Thanks to a boost from good recent vintages in 2005 and 2006, Burgundy saw its sales up by more than 20 per cent. There's another reason: a big improvement in red and white burgundy appellations once considered dull as ditchwater. Mâcon's many village chardonnays are on the up with wines like Christophe Cordier's intense 2006 Mâcon Fuissé Vieilles Vignes, £10.99, or buy two = £9.99, Majestic. Aloxe Corton in reds can be good value too, like the succulently raspberryish 2005 Aloxe-Corton, £18.99, Majestic. Bordeaux more than held its ground last year, but it's hugely schizophrenic with both bog-standard basic Bordeaux selling at Aldi in France for at €1.30 (£1) a bottle and also high-quality wines worthy of the château names like cherryish blackcurranty 2001 Château Domeyne, St Estephe, £14.99, Marks & Spencer.
Also on an upward curve last year were Côtes de Provence, Côtes du Ventoux and Vins de Pays, the latter thanks to wines of the quality of the aromatic, smooth and richly blackcurranty 2006 Domaine Saint Rose, Le Soleil du Sud, Cabernet Syrah, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue, £9.99, buy two = £7.99, Majestic. Beaujolais is up too, hopefully because drinkers are moving from nouveau to the real thing, such as Paul Beaudet's cherryish 2006 Saint Amour 'Aux Anges', £7.99, buy two = £6.99, Majestic, and Jean Foillard's traditional, almost burgundian, Morgon, Côte du Py, £12.99, Les Caves de Pyrène, Guildford (01483 538820).
Despite fine alternatives to Sancerre, such as the juicily herbaceous 2005 Le Clos du Pressoir, Menetou Salon, Joseph Mellot, £10.25, Corney & Barrow, London (020-7221 5122), the Loire Valley slid back. Côtes du Rhône too, which is hard to understand with fine Châteauneuf-du-Pape of the quality of the approachably modern Domaine de la Charbonnière, £17.95, Great Western Wine, Bath (01225 322810) or bright, spicy 2005 Domaine de Ferrand, £18.95, The Vine Trail, Bristol (0117-921 1770). Alsace and the Languedoc-Roussillon are also static, despite rustic wines such as the 2005 Chapoutier, Côtes du Roussillon, Bila Haut, around £7, Noel Young, Cambridge (01223 844744), Wimbledon Wine Cellars (020-8540 9979), Corney & Barrow. Will EU reforms allowing simpler grape variety and vintage on the label – due 1 August – help underperforming regions buck the trend? French fingers will be crossed.
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