French wines offer something to suit every style: cool and laid back, fun-loving and quirky, glamorous and chic, or authentic and natural. What’s yours?
Fashion fades, only style remains the same,’ stated French icon Coco Chanel. But unlike Chanel, most of us need a little inspiration to find our personal style, whether that comes from music, books and films, or the people we look up to.
It’s the same when it comes to wine – and there’s no better place to start finding a style you love than France. With more than 300 unique and diverse wine-producing areas (known as appellations) as well as regional Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) wines and quality Vin de France bottles – not to mention the second-largest total vineyard area in the world – France produces a huge range of wine styles: there’s literally something for everyone.
But where do you start? Top sommelier Gérard Basset MW OBE has a few tips that can help. A Master of Wine, as well as a Master Sommelier and winner of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale’s Best Sommelier of the World competition in 2010, Basset is a confirmed fan of French wines.
‘France produces wines with a great diversity of styles and plenty of character,’ he explains. ‘It produces wines at all levels from simple quaffing wines up to highly delicate and complex wines.’ So much choice can be confusing, but it’s easy to begin discovering which wines are for you.
‘The occasion you are purchasing the wine for can be a place to start,’ advises Basset. ‘Is it just for you? Is it to share with friends you are having fun with and feel very relaxed with? Is it an important meeting, such as perhaps a date, and you want to amaze your partner, or a business colleague you want to impress?’
Whatever the occasion, there will be a French wine to suit it. Learn more by researching at websites such as vins-france.com or call on the experts. ‘If you are in a wine shop or a restaurant, ask the shop assistant or the sommelier and give them as much information as you can about the wine or grape variety you normally like,’ recommends Basset. ‘They will use the info and should be able to find you a French wine with similar attributes, perhaps not from the same grape, but from a grape that resembles the style of the one you know you already like.’
With this in mind, we’ve prepared a special Square Meal restaurant and bar guide showing you where to find French wines to suit your style – whatever the occasion. Whether you’re out in the capital having a relaxed evening with friends in a trendy bar or celebrating a special event with family in a smart restaurant, you’ll discover that there’s a French wine for you…
COOL & LAID BACK
Even the most determined city slickers need a night off – time to let your hair down and unwind with friends or family. Chilling out calls for easy-drinking wines, simply made for sharing in casual, relaxed situations and no one understands this better than French winemakers. ‘AOP’ wines to make a beeline for include Beaujolais, Bordeaux and Côtes du Roussillon. Look out for ‘IGP’ on wine labels, which tells you that you’ve found a great regional wine made for everyday drinking, while ‘Vin de France’ on labels indicates that a wine has been made outside the strict appellation rules of a particular region.
Where to try them:
15-17 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2NE; 020 7486 7922
A smart but casual eatery offering top-notch modern European dishes, with a great wine list that includes interesting IGP Languedoc blends such as Carignan/Grenache and Marsanne/Roussanne, plus AOP Bordeaux Supérieur wines.
Riding House Café
43-51 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PQ; 020 7927 0840
This all-day brasserie has something for everyone, whether you’re after a laid-back brunch à deux or a relaxed supper to catch up with old friends. A great selection of easy-drinking regional bottles, from IGP Languedoc to AOP Côtes du Rhône, means you’ll easily find a French wine to suit your mood.
Sager + Wilde
193 Hackney Road, E2 8JL; 020 8127 7330
The short and regularly changing list at this new-wave wine bar in East London might include easy-drinking Rhône reds and whites or sparkling wine from the Languedoc. Try them with charcuterie or small plates such as fregola, butternut squash and basil.
Also try: The Modern Pantry, Village East, Vivat Bacchus
FUN-LOVING & QUIRKY
If you’ve got an individual sense of style and like to do things differently, you’ll be looking for wines that are daring and full of surprises on a night out. These aren’t your mainstream wines. They’re regions, styles and grapes that are less well known but have bags of individuality, such as reds from Sancerre or whites from Provence. Try powerful Madiran or Vin Doux Naturel such as Rivesaltes.
Where to try them:
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
8-10 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP; 020 7734 7737
The team behind Experimental Cocktail Club opened this refreshingly different wine bar in Seven Dials, which is a discreet haven for wine lovers in search of something new. Try white Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Condrieu from the Northern Rhône with French-inspired small plates.
27 Battersea Rise, SW11 1HG; 020 7223 1112
With its daily changing menu, Soif is a reliable choice for dishes
that are different and delicious: from hot smoked salmon with gherkins and sorrel to chilled ajo blanco. Such a varied menu calls for quirky wines to match and this list doesn’t disappoint, with unusual choices including Vin Jaune from the Jura, plus a great selection of versatile Beaujolais.
Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, E2 9NF; 020 7871 0461
Hot young chef Lee Westcott has been making waves at Typing Room with cutting-edge dishes made from local seasonal ingredients. Wine pairings are equally distinctive, with a list that includes sweet wine from Jurançon and AOP Chinon.
Also try: Boundary, Green Man & French Horn, Vivat Bacchus
GLAMOROUS & CHIC
Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion with a dressed-up night on the town or simply like to add a touch of glamour to every day, you’ll know that certain wines conjure up a picture of luxury, elegance and prestige as soon as you see their names on a list. We’re talking here about the ultimate celebration drink, Champagne, but also about sweet Sauternes and the top wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône and Alsace.
Where to try them:
10 Berners Street, W1T 3NP; 020 7908 7979
The grand, picture-lined dining room makes a glamorous setting for Jason Atherton’s modern British menu, with an impressive wine list to match. You’ll find Burgundy premier and grand crus, top Rhône appellations and a great Champagne list.
43 Upper Brook Street, W1K 7QR; 020 7408 0881
Le Gavroche was the original flag-bearer for prestigious French dining in the capital – and it’s still one of the best. Iconic French dishes from Michel Roux Jr are complemented by a lengthy classic French wine list including big-name Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés, Alsace
Grands Crus and honeyed Sauternes.
Level 32, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY; 020 7268 6700
Perched atop The Shard and offering jaw-dropping views over the city, uber-chic Oblix serves up a New York-inspired menu. Even better, it has a dedicated sommelier station offering fine wines and rare vintages of prestigious Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne by the glass.
Also try: Hakkasan, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, The Greenhouse
AUTHENTIC & NATURAL
If you’re the kind of person who likes to go back to basics and share genuine experiences, you’ll appreciate wines with a pure, authentic and regional character. They could be made from native varietals using traditional, centuries-old methods. Try wines that are typical of their region and easily identifiable, such as styles from the Loire, Sancerre, Jura, Savoie, Provence, Bergerac or Cahors.
Where to try them:
29 Maddox Street, W1S 2PA; 020 7629 2999
Two Michelin-star chef Claude Bosi serves up French dishes such as Brittany rabbit with sauce cressonnière and chestnut mushrooms that demand regional French wines to match. The lengthy list at Hibiscus includes characterful reds from Jura and Savoie, plus classic styles
such as Loire Valley Pouilly-Fumé.
St John Bar and Restaurant
26 St John Street, EC1M 4AY; 020 7251 0848
Fergus Henderson’s uncompromising style of defiantly seasonal nose-to-tail cooking calls for equally authentic wines, which France offers in abundance. Pair roast bone marrow and parsley salad with a distinctive Minervois red or simple lemon sole with classic Muscadet Sèvre et Maine.
5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW; 020 7036 0660
Inspired by Parisian wine bars, Terroirs is a welcoming spot to enjoy simply prepared dishes that allow top-notch ingredients to shine. The wine list shows the same care, featuring a great selection of bottles from smaller growers in French regions from Alsace to Cahors, often made from native varietals and with bags of regional typicity.
Also try: Fera, Great Queen Street, Vinoteca
If you’re still unsure which French wines will suit your own style and taste – or if you’re simply keen to learn more about the huge range of wine styles that are made in France – here’s your chance to find out more. In an exclusive competition, Square Meal readers can win a mixed case of 12 bottles, featuring wines that showcase the four different styles: cool and laid back; fun-loving and quirky; glamorous and chic; authentic and natural.
To enter, email your name, address and a daytime telephone number to Frenchwines@squaremeal.co.uk. All entries must be received by Friday 28 November. The winner will be notified by Friday 5 December.