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South of France wines offer value, flavor

1:51 PM, Sep. 24, 2013  |  Comments
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With wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy that rate 88/100 carrying triple-digit price tags, the last place you might think to look to for value in wine would be France.

Furthermore, since these northern climes are so well known to many of us, we often have a tendency to buy what we know and to buy the regional label instead of what is inside the bottle.

It is true that among the best values in wine out there are offerings from Spain, Argentina and Chile. However, France actually also belongs in the value category. You just have to know where to look.

Look south. Look along the Mediterranean coast to the Languedoc and Roussillon regions and their adjacent areas. That is where deep value resides. These are great everyday wines that often have bold fruit and great body.

Since these regions are not tightly constrained regarding grape variety and grape proportions as vintners are in high-priced Bordeaux and Burgundy, winemakers can choose the optimal blend of grapes. Wines from this part of France often include syrah, grenache and particularly carignan.

Today, the vast majority of wines made with the carignan (mazuelo) grape come from France, which is why the carignan designation has become preeminent in the marketplace.

Carignan is vigorous, productive and late maturing. It depends upon Mediterranean heat to reach optimal flavor - a reason it rarely appears in wines from northern regions. Carignan also tends to be blended with other grapes that hail from the same or adjacent regions, namely syrah, grenache (garnacha) and mouvedre (monastrell).

The blended wines are full bodied, fruit forward, and can be relatively coarse if the winemaker is not careful. The tannic or bitter elements can be tamed by judicious blending.

Try these wines to see if a "trip" to southern France is rewarded.

- Rob Stein, the Tennessean

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