Think French if you want to upgrade your vino

Published 9:28 am Friday, October 9, 2015

There are those who believe if you continue to drink wine, over a number of years you will eventually drink more French vino than others. Those folks just might be right.

There are many affordable choices in French wine, well-balanced wines which deliver great QPR — or quality-to-price ratio. The Old World style of wine making often offers more balance, less alcohol, and a smoother taste than found from many of the world’s other regions.

The French set the worldwide standard for great wine long before other countries planted a vine. The great French Rhone wines are some of the finest values and best drinking wines in the world. It’s not difficult to find an awesome Cotes du Rhone in a decent wine shop for $15.

The Languedoc, or Southern France, offers even more choices with wonderful red blends of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The wines offer an earthier characteristic or perhaps more rustic appeal than the silky Rhones. Languedoc wines also come with a mid-teen price point. Even though it’s a large producer, try the wines of Gerard Bertrand as an outstanding introduction to the Languedoc.

The French’s best known wine regions are Bordeaux and Burgundy. Getting into those wines at a reasonable price point has always been a major challenge. An experienced wine drinker can pour a student of wine a $15 wine and then a $50 wine and few may be able to tell the difference. The taste difference between those price points in Bordeaux and Burgundy is much wider than most other regions.

If wine drinkers want to drink, arguably, the world’s greatest wine it means drinking Bordeaux. There are two problems with drinking great Bordeaux wine. The first is the confusing labels and the French’s hard-headed policy of making those labels difficult for the rest of the world to understand. Just try to find the words Cabernet or Merlot on a bottle of Bordeaux. That isn’t going to happen.

The second problem is price. The top Chateau of France’s Left Bank Medoc wine region, can earn anywhere from $500-$1,500 per bottle. A more concrete example would be a winery of one of the five first growths classified in the 1800s — Chateau Margaux. Margaux’s varied offerings start at just over $500 a bottle up to $2400 a bottle for its best Grand Cru Bordeaux blend.

It has taken decades for French winemakers to address its consumer problem and still be profitable. The top Chateau will always be selling that expensive wine. But that leaves many properties fighting for a growingly smaller piece of the wine consumer dollar or Euro as the worldwide wine market expands.

The Cru Bourgeois was first drawn up in the 1930s and it has come and gone a few times since. The current version of Cru Bourgeois has grown and expanded by finding a niche with a value wine market for more serious wine drinkers.

The Cru Bourgeois du Medoc wines are produced in one of the eight prestigious regions on the Garonne River’s left bank — Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac, or Saint Estèphe. The difference with Cru Bourgeois du Medoc is that the average price point is $25.

The wines are made from the same grapes as the great examples from the Medoc region – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Most Cru Bourgeois are Cabernet-Merlot Blends.

The French got serious about the category in the last decade while market share continued to dip with the emergence of great wines from other growing regions outside France’s borders. At last count, nearly 200 different labels were distributed in the U.S. as Cru Bourgeois. So they’re out there folks, you just have to go looking.


Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, Indiana, writes about value wine every other week for more than 20 Midwestern newspapers. Reach him at