When I first started getting into wine about 10 years ago, I was adventurous: Italy, Spain, Germany, Oregon, Romania…you name it, I tried it. But the was one region that scared the living daylights out of me and that was France. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that there are certain levels of detail in French classification that intimidate me still. My recommendation for people to this day with France is to start sloooowly if you want to learn your Burgundies and Bordeaux. These lofty regions are well deserved in their prestige (if not always in their prices) but fortunately for us wine lovers there is a whole lot more of France to explore.
For the sheer joy of finding fantastic values and delicious wine, there are few better places that the south of France. I have been absolutely loving the wines of Provence and the Languedoc as of late. They are delicious, varied, and usually very reasonably priced. You will also often find the designation Vin de Pays on many wallet-friendly wines- the only problem is that VdP can stand for any de-classified region throughout France (Loire, Burgundy, Alsace…you name it). If you’re looking to stick to the South, look for something like Vin de Pays d’Oc (Languedoc) or Vin de Pays de Rousillon.
Many producers from the Rhone and Burgundy also have holdings or produce wine in Provence and Languedoc, with comparable quality levels at literally half the price. For this reason, you can often find ridiculously good values in Pinot Noir and Syrah here literally right across the border. In wine, like real estate, so much has to do with location, location, location.
Also be on the look out for some very good values in Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot. However, buyer beware- there has been an influx in the past 10 years of companies from other countries buying up bulk juice from the South of France and basically making Yellow Tail-like creations out of it. Not to knock the Tail, but that’s not what I want from my French wine.
I feel like I may have been more confusing than helpful on this topic- but my advice is, as always, to not be afraid to explore beyond the smaller confines of classified French wine and to let you palate do the walking. You’ll be surprised by how many wonderful things you can find.