From the old guard to the avant-garde, the wines of southern France run the gamut of vinicultural expression. Read on to discover the vast array of oenophilic ecstasy to be found below the Maison line of La France.
Perhaps the most famous wine growing region in the world, Bordeaux’s mild climate combines with tempestuous weather from the Atlantic to produce rich, fruit-forward grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Bordeaux’s Left Bank is home to the kings of French wine – names such as Château Haut Brion, Château Lafite Rothschild, and Château Margaux (all cabernet sauvignon-based) fetch outrageous prices at wine auctions around the globe. Bordeaux’s Right Bank, while not quite as famous as its sister across the river, is the original home of the merlot grape, and still makes some of the best merlot-based wines in the world.
Elephants Bordeaux recommendation: Château Vieux Chevrol Lalande de Pomerol; classic merlot dominant Bordeaux with cassis, leather, cedar and cigar box notes, smooth tannins and long finish, this kind of wine makes you rethink merlot; $27.
Rhône River Valley
Sun-scorched and wind-blasted, the valley of the Rhône River in southwestern France has been home to a hearty and distinctive grape for untold centuries. Syrah, since exported around the world, is native to the boulder-strewn hills surrounding the Rhône. This varied region is split geographically between its northern and southern regions. In the north, vineyards such as Cote Rhotie, L’ Hermitage, and Cornas produce the finest syrah-based wines in the world (with prices to match). In the south, in addition to the justifiably famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape (new home of the popes), there exist some excellent quality-to-price ratio wines from regions such as Gigondas and Vacqueras.
Elephants Rhône Valley recommendation: Château Saint-Roche Liroc Blanc; a creamy, plump white made for those who claim not to like white wines, this tropical fruit-heavy beauty, fermented mainly from the viognier grape, lasts on the tongue; $17.95
The lands hugging the coast between the French Riviera and the border with Spain, collectively known as Languedoc-Roussillon, form the single largest wine producing region in the world. Over 800,000 acres of vineyards fill this varied terrain, subjected to diverse microclimates and comprised of over 200 varieties of grapes. While most of France’s wine regions are rigidly controlled, the vintners of Languedoc are left free to explore the outer reaches of fermentation and experiment with grapes, blends and bottling. Tucked into this Mediterranean wine laboratory are a few classics – leftovers from an earlier era. Blanguette de Limoux is the real birthplace of sparkling wine, and still makes some of the finest in the world. And not far from there is Mas de Mas, a vineyard nestled in one of the area’s famed microclimates. This tiny gem produces Bordeaux quality wines at Languedoc prices.
Elephants Languedoc recommendation: Clos Fantine Faugères ‘Cuvée Tradition’; Dark herb- and smoke-laced cassis fruit, spicy and grippy tannins, and just enough earth funk to keep things interesting, this is one of the most character-driven wines we’ve had in a while; $21.95