Somewhere in Provence
Summer is I think a time of the year you're more likely to drop your guard on your purchase rules regarding wines : you stay far from home without good caviste at easy reach, you have other spending priorities and will fall easily into buying cheap vinous booze (namely rosé, or white) that can stand being had in the hot evenings and with which you know you'll not be restricted on the volume side. And there's also the factor like, nobody looks, let's try this crap for lunch...
In short, summer is a season you may be less regarding for the quality of the wine on your table, even if now and then you manage to get a bottle of worthy, real wine. This story which I typically make every other summer is about that contradiction and the challenge when buying cheap wine in supermarkets and discount stores.
Here is a wine which I picked in the wine aisle of the Leader Price chain, I thought it was from Alsace, its price tag was 4.12 € and I thought it might be better than a rosé in the same price bracket. I was right, except that the sylvaner was German (Rheinhessen), if bottled in Alsace. The mouthfeel was pleasant here, there was almost a tickling on the tongue like when it has very little so2, and whatever the way it was made it went down easily in the particular conditions of these late-afternoon apéritifs which are I'm sure the norm in the region in summer. Never forget the context, it's crazy how bland wines can come up pretty good when you have them in good company. This wine makes 11,5 % in alcohol which is a very good point, that may have been the reason why I chose it in the first place, beyond its price.
As much as possible I shunned reds for easy booze because when it's hot (even in the cooler evening) there's nothing worse than a bad Provence red to ruin your party, but this bottle was in the kitchen and man, we had to open something that day...
This red was to be a nice, unexpected surprise after all. This cuvée du Laoucien 2011 is a red made by La Roquière, the Coopérative of Laroquebrussanne where I used to go buy bulk wine and where the consultant enologist is supposed to be quite good (he is the winemaker of La Rose des Vents). The wine had a smooth, palpable mouth with very soft tannins, and the fact is, it cost only 5.6 € from what I remember after visiting again the coop's shop the following day. I'll try this wine again.
Always keep an eye on coops, they're under pressure and some of them are moving up, yielding good results for the money, especially for their upper cuvées.
I took note of the prices for the bulk wines (without trying them this time) in case you really look for the really basic stuff : AOC red : 2.5 €/Liter - AOC rosé : 2.5 €/l - Vin de Pays red : 1.8 €/l - VdP rosé : 1.8 €/l - VdP white 1.8 €/l.
This was an apéritif at the neighbors place, they had popped up this sparkling, we had on our side brought some homemade tapenadealternative to more expensive sparklings, but few people know it existed under its . The Blanquette de Limoux is a cheap
ancestral method long time before Champagne was even "invented", as it was already consumed back in 1531 in southern France. They obviously found the bottle at the local Casino supermarket, the wine is bottled under the chain's brand (Cuvée des Sommeliers) and it is probably supplied by a local coop or négoce over there in Limoux. Whatever the origin, if I was to buy a cheap bubbly I'd find safer to buy such a Blanquette de Limoux than a cheap Champagne, which would anyway cost twice that in a supermarket and would I think be more laced with more chemical residues. The other alternative when you target 5 or 6 € for a bubbly in France is look for a honest grower (if conventional) in regions like Touraine, B. and I for example stock at André Fouassier, we like his lightly-oxidative sparkling which at 5 € is a real bargain. This of course goes along with buying natural sparklings but they cost more like 10-12 €.
The Limoux wine has a pale color, the bubbles are thin which is not usual for a cheap bubbly. There's a pleasant (light) sugary side i the mouth with a bitterness that balances it very well. Honeyish aromas in the mouth, a rather pleasant bubbly for the price.
The wine got a silver medal at the Concours Général in 2014, meaning it's probably a 2013. I'd not stock this in my cellar but for this casual evening apéritif in Provence it made the job for 6,15 €. Sorry for having checked the price the following days, that's what I use to do when friends open a bottle for us....
My mother has bought this bottle in an organic food shop of the region, we usually never buy wine in these shops because they may be made from organic grapes, I suspect many of them are not natural wines and are still corrected, beginning with using lab yeast. Plus, if B. shops there regularly, I really don't feel at ease in these organic chains full of aging, self-righteous do-gooders who think they'll survive our modern ills by shopping "pure" products. That may be contradictory with my passion for real wines but that's my contrarian side, and if I had waited for this retailing sector to teach me about real wine I'd still be ignorant on the matter.
Whatever, here was the wine and let's have a look at it. The back label, without surprise, has the usual pointless blah-blah that you find on conventional wines, "Ces vins reflêtent l'harmonie entre le savoir faire de l'homme et l'expression du terroir. Ce vin Rosé à la couleur claire issu d'un assemblage de Grenache et Merlot au nez de fruits rouges, vous séduira par sa fraîcheur et sa finesse. Il accompagnera salades, plats épicés, grillades. Another detail that may repel someone looking for a real product and isn't into consumerist, commercial narrative.
From what I remember the Grenache-majority (with Merlo) wine was obviously a southern wine with alcohol feel and some extraction, not perfectly balanced but what I liked here is that the wine has no added sulfites, something they probably doubled with a tight filtering to avoid issues (I think it's a big-volume cuvée here). No sulfites is really a plus, you know (and you feel it) that you can indulge into having a few glasses without side effects. And it's retail price (6.95 €) is after second thoughts not that high for a sulfur-free wine made from organic grapes.
Well, you know this one now, I've put it in this story although it's not a cheap rosé, and it really stands out compared to what you find in the supermarkets. While I often bought cheap booze for the fun of it and just to try, we had occasionally a few worthy bottles during this Provence stay, which help remember that if you choose well, for just a few euros you get something really better. I don't mean you just have to pay more to get better wine, the supermarkets are full of crap costing from 10 to 20 €, but with a good intel on your sourcing you can pay reasonable prices for good wine.
What to say again about this rosé ? I'll reproduce my notes from the story about the domaine, the Bergerie d'Aquino. It's made from Syrah and a bit of Grenache. Rosé in Provence is often made with 20 % or 30 % of Syrah but here it's 80 % which explains the majestic mouth feel and the beautiful structure. Very nice balance and good length in the mouth. And it doesn't cost that much actually, 8,4 € at the winery. We paid a bit more, around 9.8 € at the Maison des Vins in La Celle.
Now this was intended to be a cheap rosé, at just below 3 €... I found that at Leclerc where a happy consumerist crowd was happy filling carts, we passed them with the express-line for less than 10 items. I didn't look for the cheapest rosé, to be precise, there are bottles that costs as little as 1,45 € but my quest what about this 3 € to 5 € bracket, all these Provence domaines anyway have big yields I suspect and some of these cheap rosés may fare better than the ones at say, 7 €.
Back to this Corsica rosé, sorry for the islanders but this is probably the worse of this serie. I know Corsica has quite a few good wines although I'm not well versed on the subject, but they are also known to be pricey, and here I chose a really cheap one.
B. and I tried to find things to say about the wine but "nothing" is the only word we could find for this watery wine. Plus I kind of felt my brain froze after a full glass of this... This is what booze is made for, isn't it ?
Coteaux d'Aix AOC 2014, Marius Peyol
Now for this lunch Elise had cooked a beautiful Couronne de thon [tuna crown], a summer dish which seems extremely easy to prepare from what she explained and is so good when it's hot outside as it is a cold dish. To check as easy it is, just check the linked recipe (in French), and it's not only because of the color of canned tuna (looks fitting like planned but it's not) but it can pair beautifully with rosé. I'll ask her again for her own recipe, which may have a few differences with the one of Marmiton. This website is still considered very good for recipes [recettes] in general.
I was curious to taste a Coteaux d'Aix AOC costing between 3 and 4 €, and the 11,5 % alcohol spotted on the back label helped me grab the bottle, it it's not that good at least it will not knock you out... Screw cap, the only one here. Color : purple shades. Some onctuous feel in the mouth but in terms of aromas it's less thrilling. I felt some cardboard notes in the mouth and B. found the same type of aromas in the nose. Otherwise, besides the poor aromatic quality, can be downed casually without noticeable side effect if the context makes a diversion.
Vin de Pays de la Mediterranée, no vintage
Frankly I have no recollection of how this one tasted, but as far as I remember there is no wine here among these cheap picks that was bad to a point that you'd drain the bottle in the sink (here we would have just poured it on the ground). And this is a character of many of these summer rosé wines that every one downs in large volumes, you just have no idea how they tasted, one thing for sure is that the wine was cold enough, you had you 12,5 % of alcohol to do the job, but don't ask too much for that price, as long as your're not sick afterwards.
If I credit the tasting notes on this page for having a vague connection to reality, this might have been a relatively good pick. But tasting notes are often excessively laudatory for something that is often not very exciting. This said, Chateau des Bertrands is a real domaine, not a coop or a négoce, it sits on a 200-hectare property in the middle of a protected zone, with 84 hectares of vineyards.
It's too bad I haven't taken notes but these are moments, be it apéritifs or meals when you just relax and you don't pay too much attention to the wine, you know you're not heavenly delighted but the rest of the picture compensates largely. And remember, I paid 2.75 € for this one, and I found it in a Casino supermarket.
This was the usual try of the summer in Provence : the basic rosé vin de Pays of the domaine du Loou,
an organic domaine working a few hundred meters from Jean-Christophe comor in La Roquebrussanne (Var). We wouldn't say it's into natural wine but its wines are fairly honest for the region.
The wine had a gentle general feel, this is the little wine you trust for no particular reason, it was balanced for a change, and went down easily.
A modest vin de pays, this rosé is made with cinsault, grenache and carignan.
For 2,99 €, one of the best picks, and it's organic.
I found the bottle in a Casino supermarket.
Cité de Carcassonne IGP 2014, the wine was probably made by a coop in the vicinity of Carcassonne in the Languedoc. They sell it for 2.59 € in Belgium which means that considering the transportation costs the wholesale price is cheaper than water in Carcassonne.
We had this in the evening, it was not the worse wine of the serie, it let itself drink if you see what I mean, not very aromatic but without the side effects that you might expect from a very cheap wine. Overall disappointing anyway, I understand that some in Languedoc are still pursuing the dream of conquering markets with plonk at super-low prices. I'm afraid all these subsidies they got to uproot countless old parcels across the region had the result to prop up this type of wine.
Vin de Pays du Var (probably a 2013, no vintage printed)
When I saw the name of the village Correns on the fine print of the label, I knew I could hold something interesting. Correns is a village in the backcountry of the Var département where 100 % of the agriculture is organic. here was a 3.50 € rosé which was made in Correns, let's try that, maybe among disappointing wines in this price bracket you do find small gems.
I was right, this was a good pick, the wine had a certain vividness that I liked and it was a pleasurable drink, if not exceptional, and you'd refill your glass without asking. I'm not even sure it's organic on the vineyard side, even less that it's vinified on its wild yeast, but my guess is that this particular wine was among the most respectfully made among the cheap wine I reviewed in this story. I even might have stocked a few bottles of this, maybe another time.
The wine got a bronze medal (isn't that cute ?) at the Paris agriculture fair or something like that. And the label states the intriguing words "vendanges traditionnelles" which seems to imply that the fruit is hand picked. I think that really, for 3.5 €, we hold something... the Domaine de Pontfract is managed by Paul Xavier who according to the linked page is 86 today and started helping make wine at the age of 12. I think it would be interesting to go see this winery.
I found this bottle in the Leclerc supermarket in Brignoles.
Similar price, but not so lucky for this wine we had for dinner (actually we often started the wine at the apéritif and stayed with it for dinner).
I stopped at the coopérative of La Roquebrussanne in the Var département to buy this rosé, for a try. I chose the basic rosé to remain in the price bracket of this story. Knowing that at least some of the wines like the Cuvée du Laoucien (which costs 5,7 €) are worthy, I thought I might reproduce the happy surprise on the rosé, but it's not for nothing that it's an entry cuvée, it must be a blend of the less interesting grapes.
Mouth : Not very pleasant even at cold temperature, a bit too much syrupy, too much alcohol, not balanced anyway. It'd have been almost OK if it had been their entry rosé in bulk wine which costs 1.8 € a liter (I checked the retail prices of wine on tap when I stopped there) but this bottlle was not worth its price.
Vin de Table from the Var
In order to finish on a great vinous moment, here is a beautiful, earthy red that we had for apéritif (I'm not sure the tapenade was fit to pair well with it) : Les Terres Promises "A ma Guise" 2013, or 2012 because it was in the house and I may have bought it last year or even possibly the year before. Note that this is a primeur vinified without SO2 and that it was not stored in a cellar. when I spotted the bottle in my mother short bottle stock I told her it had to be drunk right now.
The wine has still some beatiful remains for a primeur which is supposed to have passed its peak long ago. Aromas of dust, bushes, dry leaves, black fruits, a pleasant chew and the unmistakable feeling to drink something real and purposeful. At the time of my visit of the domaine, this primeur had been made with 11 varieties including a few whites. I had paid 8 € for a bottle back then. How come Provence hasn't more wines like this one, if AOC reds in Provence could reach the quality level of this humble table wine this would be a revolution and the region would really shine.