When I think summertime wine, my mind almost instantly directs itself to the South of France. Perhaps it is the warm climate, the hot stones, the orange sun and the smell of lavender and the Med. Or perhaps it is the warmth I can taste in these wines, the rich flavours of cooked black fruits and the spicy, peppery notes they display.
Southern France, particularly the Rhone region, Languedoc and Rousillon, is home to syrah, grenache and mourvedre, as well as a long list of other warm climate grapes. The specific grape found in each wine, however, depends on region from which the wine originated, although typically it will have a high percentage of the three main grapes mentioned above.
Southern France is a large and varied wine region that in fact consists of several specific appellations. From Rousillon on the western side hugging the foothills of the Pyrenees to Languedoc in the the centre, Rhone following the Rhone River valley heading north and the various apellations in Provence filling in the east, there is a lot of wine coming out of this part of the country.
The good news is there is a lot of value to be found in this part of France. The bad news is there is so much cheap wine coming out of this region that it takes a great deal of sifting to separate the gems from the rubbish.
One of the best Rhone wines to drink on a budget also comes from one of the biggest names in the area. E Guigal’s Côtes du Rhône is considered by many to be the benchmark upon which all other Côtes du Rhône wines are judged. Each year it seems to get better and better, and the 2009 vintage is probably the best yet.
Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2009 (£10.44, Waitrose Wine Direct) This is spicy, peppery and full of dark fruit flavours. The 2009 vintage is considered one of the best and people are snapping up this wine quickly because of its excellent value for money. This is made mostly from syrah but is also blended with grenache and mourvedre.
Mas Coutelou 7 Rue de la Pompe 2011 (£9.95, Roberson) Full of berry fruits and made from the syrah grape, this is a Languedoc wine that pairs nicely with a variety of foods. Low in alcohol compaired to many warm climate wines these days, it is refreshing and dry.
M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Bila Haut 2010 (£8.95, Slurp) The Rousillon region has garnered a lot of interest in recent years as producers in more established regions have begun looking for the next big thing. Rousillon has a rich wine history, but it has not been developed like Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone. Nevertheless, it has great land and plenty of sun, which are two ingredients of good wine. This is another wine that is dark in colour and full of dark fruit flavours thanks to the warm climate. Full of cherries and dark fruits, this is a spic wine that should go well with food and offer a lot more value than the £8.95 price tag.
Notre Dame de Cousignac Luberon 2011 (£5.95, Wine Society) Provence is famous for its rosés but some of its true hidden gems are red – and incredibly cheap. This wine comes from Carpentras, near the foot of the famous Mont Ventoux, and is made of the grenache and syrah grapes. This producer makes more expensive wines, but don’t bother, for this wine delivers mor than you would expect for less than £6. This is the sort of wine that will remind you of a hot day in Provence, the heat rising off the soil and the aromas of garrigue wafting through the air.