Beating the French at their own game

By Richard Ehrlich, October 11, 2012

Are you sitting down? Good. Then you will not faint in horror when I tell you about someone who owned a house in south-western France and who took with her, every time she drove to stay there, cases of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Now, I’ve nothing against Kiwi sauvignon blanc. It’s just that I think you should drink the local vino when you’re going to a place where they make the stuff. And when you’re going to France — the greatest wine-producing nation — you have to be slightly bonkers not to drink locally.

France produces the best sparkling wine anywhere, champagne. In Burgundy it produces the greatest pinot noir and chardonnay, in Bordeaux most of the world-class cabernet-based blends, in the Rhône the best syrah. Its sweet wines, especially from Sauternes/Barsac and the Loire, have equals only in Germany and Austria. And lest we forget, sauvignon blanc from Sancerre is at least the equal of New Zealand’s.

Xenophobe, moi? Of course not. Some wines from the New World are classics in their way and not easily replaced by anything in France. One example is chenin blanc from South Africa. Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2011 (M&S, £7.99) comes from the hand of the country’s greatest master of it. Lively acidity, beguiling mixed-fruit flavours. Great aperitif, if you drink table wine that way.

Another is Torrontés from Argentina. This also came from France originally, but Argentina has made it its own, just as it has done with the French malbec. The Argentinian malbecs can be one-dimensional, but Tilimuqui Fairtrade Single Vineyard Torrontés 2011 (Waitrose, £7.19) is a subtle wine with the hallmark melon and peach flavours, with very delicate oak and a perfect acid/sweetness balance.

And finally — Leasingham Magnus Riesling 2009(Sainsbury’s, £8.99). Though originally from Germany, riesling has been grown in Alsace since the 15th century. South Australia’s Eden and Clare valleys produce truly classic versions, and this well-priced example has all the trademark notes of complex citrus, tropical notes, and spine-tingling acidity. A wonderful wine — try it, but not when you’re in France of course.

Last updated: 11:53am, October 12 2012