Britons love New World wines but across the Channel, something stirs. France is fighting back, writes Jonathan Ray
France is fighting back. It's true that in Britain we continue to drink more Australian wine than French, but our chums across the Channel do seem to have risen to the challenge from the New World - and from elsewhere in the Old - by producing some hugely enjoyable and very interesting stuff of late.
Yes, prices in Bordeaux and Champagne continue to rise, with modestly-priced examples in either region hard to come by, but elsewhere in France fascinating and rewarding wines are easily found.
Alsace remains a particular favourite of mine, with tasty, aromatic, food-friendly whites of a style and charm that you simply won't find anywhere else.
The Rhône Valley is hard to beat for reds of real character and value, while Languedoc-Roussillon and the more obscure appellations of the Loire, southwest France and Provence are home to some delightfully quirky and individual wines, made both from the classic varieties as well as from rediscovered and revitalised local ones.
THE TOP 10 French Wines
1) 2006 Bourgogne Chardonnay 13% vol (£7.99; Marks & Spencer)
Made by the Nicolas Potel stable from hand-picked grapes grown in and around the village of Meursault, this is an absolute belter of a white burgundy. With its soft supple fruit, well-judged use of French oak and juicy finish it could pass for something far grander. Match it with creamy fish dishes or chicken and mushroom pie.
2) 2005 Château Barreyres, Haut-Médoc, Cru Bourgeois 13% vol (£8.99; Sainsbury's)
As we all know, 2005 was a cracking year for red bordeaux and the big names were bought up long ago en primeur or remain prohibitively expensive. But for well under a tenner, Château Barreyres is superb value.
With ripe, smooth blackcurrant and black cherry fruit and structured tannins, it is drinking beautifully now and will continue to improve. Ideal for the Sunday roast.
3) 2006 Bourgogne Pinot Noir 13% vol (£7.99; Marks & Spencer)
Made from 50-year-old vines, this is the red equivalent of the chardonnay above and is similarly great value. 2006 was a marvellous year for grape ripeness and there's no shortage of spicy, jammy fruit on the palate with silky soft tannins and hints of vanilla. The classic match for boeuf bourguignon, it can also partner grilled tuna steak, bangers and mash or simple salads.
4) 2007 DomaineJosmeyer Alsace Pinot Blanc "Mise du Printemps" 13% vol (£10.95-£11.95; Taurus Wines 01483 548484, Haynes Hanson & Clark 020 7584 7927, Booths 01772 693800)
A lovely wine from Josmeyer's biodynamic vineyards in Wintzenheim that's fresh and lively, with scrumptious honeyed pears on the palate and a long, dry finish. I can't remember tasting a finer example of Alsace Pinot Blanc. Delicious with onion tart or baked sea bass.
5) 2005 Château Mont-Redon, Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 13.5% vol (£85.18 per dozen; Justerini& Brooks 020 7484 6400)
Established in 1344, Château Mont-Redon is one of the oldest wine-producing estates in France and the largest single property in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The estate's soft, spicy Côtes-du-Rhône, blended from Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, is the best I've had in many a year. Great value and perfect for early summer barbecues.
6) 2006 Château Puysserguier, Saint Chinian Blanc 13% vol (£8.99-£9.49; Bacchanalia 01223 576292, Corkscrew Wines 01228 543033, Hoults 01484 510700, Martinez Wines 01943 603241)
This white Saint Chinian from a Languedoc cooperative is something of a rarity and utterly delicious. A blend of Vermentino, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne - part oak-fermented and part steel-fermented - it is soft and buttery with hints of acacia flower, honey and spice. Try it with butternut squash risotto or pumpkin ravioli.
7) 2007 CôtéTariquet, Côtes de Gascogne 11.5% vol (£6.25-£6.50; The Wine Society 01438 737700, Advintage Wines 020 8286 0089)
I love the wines of Domaine de Tariquet - France's largest independent vineyard - and this is one of my favourites. A very un-French blend of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it is deliciously fruity, with a dry to off-dry finish and makes for classy quaffing wine.
8) Laurent Perrier NV Brut Ultra Champagne 13% vol (£36; Selfridges 0800 123400, Harvey Nichols 020 7235 5000, Harrods 020 7730 1234)
Made from 55 per cent chardonnay and 45 per cent pinot noir, this wonderfully invigorating champagne has had no sugar added at any stage and is as dry as they come. A worthy successor to Laurent Perrier's fabled "grand vin sans sucre" of years ago, it makes a guilt-free, low calorie, aperitif.
9) 2005 Château Roques Mauriac "Classic" Bordeaux Rosé 12.5% vol (£5.49 as part of mixed case; Bordeaux Undiscovered 0800 876 6958, www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk)
This blend of 60 per cent merlot and 40 per cent cabernet franc from the Entre-Deux-Mers in Bordeaux is a beguiling rosy pink with elusive hints of wild strawberries on the nose.
Light and undemanding rather than full-bodied and characterful, it is crisp, dry and very refreshing when served chilled, either as an aperitif or with simple starters of smoked salmon or parma ham.
10) 2005 Irouléguy, DomaineIlarria,"CuvéeBixinto" 12.5% vol (£16.50; Yapp Bros 01747 860423)
PeioEspil is one of only half a dozen independent winemakers in Irouléguy at the foot of the Pyrenees and his feisty red is a delight. Made from 100 per cent organic tannat (famous for its antioxidant powers) and a splash of cabernet sauvignon, it's practically a health drink. Decant and serve with barbecued leg of lamb.