Just in time for summer picnics, cookouts or quiet evenings on the porch, three very drinkable French whites for under $10.
First, let me admit that white wines are pretty much my year-round go-to wine. While I do enjoy a nice big red with steak or a roast or duck, my first choice for settling in for the evening with a glass of wine is generally an oaky Chardonnay. When warm weather arrives, I’m happy that I can indulge my preference without worrying about raising an eyebrow when I order. Here are three affordable French whites, perfect for summer.
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine. Muscadets are the predominant wine produced in the Loire Valley on the central western coast of France. Sèvre et Maine is a special Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) applied to the region around the Sèvre and Maine rivers, tributaries of the Loire River that converge just southeast of the city of Nantes. The best Muscadets are crisp and dry. According to Wikipedia, in the late 20th century, ambitious wine producers in the region “experimented with new winemaking techniques aimed at bringing out more flavor and complexity in the wine.”
When choosing a Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, one thing to look for on the label is “sur lie.” This means the wine has been aged for some time on deposits of lees, spent yeast, instead of transferring it to other containers and leaving this sediment behind. Muscadets, Chardonnays and Champagnes are often aged “sur lie,” giving them a yeasty aroma and taste and adding freshness and creaminess to the wine.
Bottles of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine are generally modest in cost, ranging from the $8 to $15. The 2012 Reserve des Cleons in the photo is from Trader Joe’s, about $7.
Costières de Nîmes. While all Muscadets are white, most of these wines are red. Costières de Nîmes is an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) for wines produced between the ancient city of Nîmes and the western Rhône River delta. Whites account for less than 5 percent of the wines produced there and must, according to AOC regulations, be a blend of at least two grapes. By the very nature of blends, the whites from the region vary greatly in taste profiles. But they are generally well balanced with hints of fruit and citrus.
We tend to avoid blends, but when we sampled the Victor 2012 Costières de Nîmes shown above at a tasting, we were immediately smitten. We could see it pairing with chicken or fish or a salad. And with the screw cap, we could see it slipping nicely into a picnic basket. We picked up this bottle at Binny’s in Chicago for just a penny under $10.
Chardonnays. Yes, they are the most popular white wine in America, and Chardonnay grapes are grown in just about every wine-producing country. But just as an old piece of vinyl proclaimed that “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong,” there’s a reason people like Chardonnay so much. And while excellent, affordable Chardonnays are being produced everywhere—most notably in California—France’s Burgundy region is the varietal’s motherland. So I was intrigued when I learned that Révélation Chardonnay is produced in France by winemakers trained in the new world style.
In the world of Chardonnays, there’s an ongoing battle between oak-aged and stainless steel-aged fans. While I tend to prefer oaky, I also enjoy non-oaked, especially in summer. Révélation Chardonnay is oak-aged, but you don’t get a big hit of that. It’s a lighter, more delicate Chardonnay, with a crisp, dry, mildly fruit-forward taste. Just right for warm weather and, at about $6 a bottle at Trader Joe’s, it’s a steal.