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Bang for the Buck?

Finding Value in the wine world is very akin to playing Whack-a-Mole…and right now, the Mole is sticking his head out of certain French terroirs.

France is the ceremonial home of premium wine. Indeed, many, many of the world’s greatest wines—and all of the uber-expensive wines—hail from this oh-so-lovely country. Of course, France has always produced more modestly-priced, ‘value’ wines as well. Though many of these value wines were pretty good, many of them were, shall we say, less than exciting; and since the allure of French wine was so great, even the crummy wines sold well.

Enter the New World. From the 80’s onward, the rise of good (really good) options from places like America, Chile, Argentina, Australia & New Zealand grew exponentially…not to mention Spain reawakening after almost 40 years of repression—vinous and otherwise—under Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Now consumers around the world that wanted to spend $10 for a weekday wine could get a somewhat rich, luscious, friendly wine from Australia rather than a thin, weedy wine from Bordeaux (for example). As the decades marched on, and the world compressed, all of these other countries took their share of the pie. The threat from these other counties ebbed and flowed a bit based on exchange rates and other considerations, but the French lost share which most everyone thought would never return. However…

As these newer wine-producing countries upped their games, they also upped their prices: the really good Chilean Merlots that we’re $9.99 in the 90’s, inched up to $12.99, then $15.99, now probably closer to $21.99 for the same quality, based on some searching we did in our old catalogues. Geek does not need to remind our readers where the prices of California wines have reached. Sure, prices continually seem to go up, but clearly not always equally.

At the same time, the quality of some of the wines from some of the more modest appellations went up. In some cases, way up. In the sunny Languedoc in particular—long the ‘breadbasket’ of wine production for France—a few savvy, quality-minded producers (most notably Gérard Bertrand) started elevating their games and offering some extremely delicious wines at value prices. Working with a palette of workhorse grapes that can make notable, crowd-pleasing wines in a range of styles (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre to name a few). In addition to the benign environment, it’s worth noting that the internationally renowned University of Montpellier—with a best of class viticulture program— is in the heart of the Languedoc…surely that influences the local practices for the better.

In addition to making straightforward, pleasing, value wines, note that they also produce some extraordinary wines in this area now. Of course, all great producers want to push the limits of quality, and if a vintner in the south of France thinks they can make wines that rival the best in the world, good on him or her. We just hope they don’t forget what got them on our tables in the first place…VALUE!

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