A window cleaner named Danny looked at the wine bottles lining my front hall and asked why there were so many of them. When I explained, we got to talking about wine. I asked what he liked drinking best, and he promptly reeled off an all-French list including Chablis, Sancerre, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape among other glories.
“French wine! It’s the best,” he said.
As I have said several times in this column, Danny and I agree on this. French wine is the best. But there are some things in the rest of the wine world that France just doesn’t do, or not in the same way. In honour of a few of them, I declare this week’s column a France-free zone.
Something France can’t do, number one: Sangiovese. This is the great grape variety of Tuscany, especially Chianti, and while its inimitable tart-cherry flavours have made good wine in the USA and the southern hemisphere, not a berry grows in France. To my knowledge, anyway. Piccini Sasso al Poggio 2008, a well-priced Sangiovese with 20 per cent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is a big, bold, elegant expression of the variety’s character (£12.99, Morrisons).
Something that France usually chooses not to do: bone-dry Sémillon. Sémillon is more often rendered sweet in Bordeaux, where it excels, or blended with Sauvignon Blanc in dry wine. On its own it has a lean, tingling acidity and wonderful citrus flavours that deepen and gain a honeyed quality with age. A fabulous example: Taste the Difference Hunter Valley Semillon 2006 (£9.99, Sainsbury’s).
And finally: Pinotage. This highly variable variety, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (formerly known in South Africa as Hermitage, hence the name), produces wild-eyed fanaticism and deep aversion in roughly equal measures. I am somewhere in the middle, disliking the huge, macho specimens that fans adore. But L’Avenir Pinotage 2012, which has been on offer at Sainsbury’s, is a well-balanced wine that glides rather than struts. It wouldn’t make me give up France forever, of course. But a short French break never hurt anyone.