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Five underrated French wines

Nov 02, 2023

France makes some of the world's best wines, as well as some of the most over-rated. But you can you still nab a bargain if you shop wisely

If you’ve just come back from a holiday in France, you may well be basking in the glow of all things French, particularly the wine you bought for a couple of euros down at the local cooperative. And even if you haven't, the chances are that you still regard French wine as the best, especially if that was where you started your wine-drinking journey. (Gah? Did I just write that? Everything is a journey these days. Let's try again: "Especially if, like me, the first wines you ever drank were French.")

Brexit certainly doesn't seem to have stopped us, either. From Lidl, which has just launched its latest French Wine Tour, to The Wine Society, where French wine accounts for 60% of sales, French wine has a special place in our hearts.

Does it deserve it, though? Certainly France can justifiably claim to make some of the greatest wines in the world, but it's also responsible for some of the most mediocre, and many wines that trade on their reputation. Among those I would include many of the big name classics from Burgundy and Bordeaux, especially saint-émilion, sancerre and the big champagne brands, for which you’re undoubtedly paying for the name; similarly, Provence rosé can command at least £2 or £3 a bottle more than the neighbouring Languedoc just because of where it's produced.

There's also a lot of French wine that could frankly have come from anywhere. You might like Lidl's rich, plummy Val de Salis Reserve Malbec 2021 (£6.99, 13.5%), but it could equally well have been made in Argentina. Maybe that doesn't matter, but I have to say I like a wine with a sense of place.

On the credit side, there are so many different and varied wine-producing regions in France – from the much under-rated Alsace in the north-east to Roussillon down in the south – that you could drink from France alone and never get bored. And there are often cheaper alternatives to the big names – beaujolais or the attractive mâcon in today's pick, rather than burgundy, say, or bergerac instead of bordeaux. That said, there's a lot of really good-value bordeaux of all colours, as well as the overpriced stuff. Try the totally distinctive clairet in today's pick, a deep-coloured rosé from which claret takes its name. The southern Rhône and Languedoc also offer consistently good value, despite the challenge of their ever-increasing summer temperatures.

It remains the case, though, that restaurants trade on the fact that French wines are held in such high esteem, so if you want to drink chablis or champagne, it's definitely better to do so at home.

Collin-Bourisset Mâcon Rouge 2020 £6.99 Lidl, 13%. Fresh, crunchy gamay that tastes of crushed mulberries. Great value for a burgundy.

Château Thieuley Bordeaux Clairet 2021 £9.95 The Wine Society, 13%. A seductively deep-coloured rosé to ease your way into autumn. Perfect for a late summer barbecue.

Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2020 £10.99 Waitrose, and on offer at £8.99 from Monday in bigger branches and online, 12.9%. Elegant, smooth, creamy alternative to white burgundy. Would be terrific with scallops.

Château Bel Air 2020 £8.99 Majestic (or £7.99 on "mix-six"), 14.5%. Attractive, bordeaux-like red from neighbouring Bergerac at a very un-bordeaux-like price. Ideal for a Sunday roast.

Domaine des Trinités L’Etranger 2020 £14.95 Lea & Sandeman (or £13.95 by the mixed case), £14.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants, 13%. Lipsmackingly delicious Languedoc red made from 120-year-old vines. I’m thinking steak frîtes.

For more by Fiona Beckett, go to

Collin-Bourisset Mâcon Rouge 2020 Château Thieuley Bordeaux Clairet 2021 Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2020 Château Bel Air 2020 Domaine des Trinités L’Etranger 2020