When buying a bottle of French wine, the first thing many of us look for are the words ‘Appellation Contrôlée’ (AC) on the label. And with good reason. The AC tells us which part of France the wine comes from and, frequently, what sort of wine to expect when the bottle is opened. However, contrary to the commonly held view, it doesn’t guarantee quality – only that the wine is typical of the AC claimed.
But, perhaps surprisingly, less than half of all French wine falls into the AC category. Another quarter is classified Indication Géographique Protegée (IGP), the new name for Vin de Pays (Country wines) – a source of many attractive, well-priced, easy-drinking bottles. Of the rest, some is distilled into brandies (or industrial alcohol!) leaving just 10% in the category which used to be known as Vin de Table (Table wine), which, since 2010, has been renamed Vin de France.
Under the Vins de Table label, you used to find nothing but the cheapest, most basic wines and discerning wine lovers sensibly avoided them. But, it seems, it’s not just the name that has changed with Vin de France. Looking through the catalogue of the highly respected Bristol-based wine merchant, Vine Trail, you’ll find a number of Vins de France – and at some lofty prices. So, what is going on?
There’s a small band of dedicated independent-minded producers who don’t choose to play by the rules. They are making high quality wines but prefer to experiment with styles that are rejected for the AC as they aren’t recognised as ‘typical’ by the vetting panel. But, these people are confident in their own ability and are happy that their wines are sold as Vins de France instead.
We opened one recently:
Jerome Balmet has his vineyard in Beaujolais and grows Gamay, the Beaujolais grape. But his wine is nothing like any Beaujolais I’ve ever tasted. Initially full of vibrant bitter cherry flavours, it develops fig and prune flavours in the glass and, by the end of the evening, had taken on a savoury, meaty character. Really distinctive and very enjoyable (Vine Trail, £16.36).
And, although you still need to treat some bottles in the Vin de France category with caution, wines such as this are a great recommendation and a fascinating way to try something different.