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Winemaker's Journal — Inexpensive French wine worth a try

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winemaker's journal

If you've been curious about the wines of France — that country a continent and an ocean away that has a few more centuries of wine history than does Washington — you might want to check out the wine selection at Wenatchee's Grocery Outlet this month.

GO has nearly a dozen young wines from France on its shelves right now. Most are priced between $5 and $10. There's little doubt that you can find nicer selections of French wines at The Wine Thief, Costco and a few other local liquor stores, but the outlet is an affordable place to explore a little before you move up to better, more expensive vintages.

Nearly all of the wines at GO are young dry reds from the Bordeaux and Langueduc regions of France. I've tried a few of them and enjoyed them all. They've ranged from quite okay to very good, especially for their bargain prices. Vintages are from 2010 to 2012.

French wines seem a lot like French people. You might like them or not, but they're always interesting, rarely dull.

French wines are usually labeled by wine growing region, rather than grape variety. Wines from Bordeaux, along France's central Atlantic coast are usually blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Small amounts of petit verdot and malbec are sometimes added for body. Great Bordeaux will sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle. Don't expect to find that in a $10 bottle of wine. Then again, price does not always equate to taste. A young, inexpensive  Bordeaux will usually be lighter than it older, more expensive cousin from a highly rated vineyard, but it can still be very enjoyable.

The Langueduc-Roussillon — located is France's rocky southern region and extending to the Mediterranean Sea — produces more wine than anywhere else in the country. Much of it is labeled "Vin de Pays" or "Vin de Table," which translate loosely as country wine and table wine. Wines so labeled are almost always less expensive and of lesser quality than wines labeled "Appellation Controlée" or "Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure."

Don't overlook a bargain priced Vin de Pays, however. Larger California and Washington wineries have bottled them under their own label on years when their own crops have come up short. France wants to make sure that its grape growers and wine drinkers are well taken care of with good wine at reasonable prices.

I have a special love for the wines of the Corbiéres and Minervois areas of Langueduc. I spent about a month in southern France 20 years ago. My partner and I stayed half that time in the tiny village of Soubez, thanks to friends who owned a house there. The ancient stone village winding up to a chateau was surrounded by vineyard. The robust local wines were made from grapes with exotic names like mouvedré, carignan, cinsault, syrah and grenache. Delicious wines could be purchased for $2 or $3 a bottle.

Most of those grapes I had never heard of at the time. Now, they're being planted in Washington, a state that is begining to rival France as one of the world's best wine grape growing regions.

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