Shopping For Wine in French Supermarkets

This month the Wino shows us what to look for when we are faced with the bewildering choice to be found in French Supermarkets.

We’ve all been there.  A quick dash into the supermarket before returning to Blighty- no time to spare really but it’s too good an opportunity to miss. Then the reality – row after row of wine arranged with little apparent logic. A frantic buy with mixed feelings of a job well done and money saved but with some concern about whether it will become more of a duty than a pleasure to consume them!

We used to nearly always drink new world wines before our wine course – one of the benefits was an introduction to French wine labels.

I remember one trip to the supermarket before returning home. It happened to be the first trip after our wine exams. I was studying the labels when a young Brit approached me to ask if there were any “sweet wines”. He was very relieved to find I was English and said he was looking for some wine for his girlfriend. He said she likes sweet wine but was baffled as to which one to go for. I pointed out a few including the one he went for in the end – a Monbazillac.

A good idea before diving into the supermarket is to have a plan. Firstly what quantity do you want to buy? It might be limited by your spare payload. Remember the bottles weigh a fair bit too an average of a few of our bottles of wine suggests 1.3 kg to 1.7kg for a 70cl bottle of wine. The better wines tend to come in heavier bottles (however this is not necessarily an indication of quality!). The other option if low on space and/or payload is wine in boxes, often available in a wider range than in the UK.

The wines are often arranged in regions rather than price so it’s useful to have some idea of the areas that produce wines you tend to like and likely to have something at a price you are happy with. We think it’s usually better to have a good wine from a cheaper region than the cheapest bottles from a well known one. That bargain bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape is unlikely to be as good as a middle of the range one from a nearby region.

It’s easy to decide if you are just a volume consumer and not too choosy about what you buy but be careful as it often seems that the supermarkets place quite expensive wines next to the cheap stuff so pick with care!!

As always planning is a good idea and if you are in France for a while there’s no excuse not to sample a few bottles of wine that look like the sort of thing you want while you’re there. Take a photo of any you like and then you can be sure of getting the right ones before you return, especially if you go back to the same chain of supermarket. Alternatively you could buy at Majestic in Calais and buy wines you know you like. In our experience however we feel that the French supermarkets often offer better value and choice. Some will also have a few wines from the rest of the world but may not have labels you recognise and may not be like the wines you prefer at home. We stay fairly often on vineyards so tend to acquire a stock as we travel, some of which makes it back across the channel!!

Wine is still a fair bit cheaper in France than the UK despite the current exchange rate, especially on cheaper wine where the duty and tax are such a big part of the cost in the UK.

So if you haven’t around to tasting wines with any real purpose on holiday and deciding at the last minute to bring back some extras what to go for?

Wine to look for:

Vieilles Vignes

‘Old Vines’ these usually produce better quality wines

Medals – helpful if you are wondering what to go for but not a guarantee!

Languedoc Roussillon

An area in South West France which produces a large variety of wines that are generally, very drinkable and good value.

So if you like wines from another country and are unsure of which French wines you will like, what should you look for?:

Prosecco

Why not try a Cremant de Loire or Cremant de Bourgogne. Also but not French but  vintage Cava can often be a really good buy for the price.

Chardonnay

A white Burgundy (Bourgogne) – Macon is often being very pleasant

Merlot

Wines from the Bordeaux right bank area are predominantly Merlot and tend to be easier drinking styles than the left bank wines

Cabernet Sauvignon

These are the left bank Bordeaux – wines and specifically look for a Medoc. This style of wine often goes much better with food than on its own.

Big Aussie Reds

Try Cotes du Rhone Village – Syrah(Shiraz) Grenache or a blend from the Languedoc

Pinot Grigio

Viognier – Condrieu is beautiful but expensive or maybe try a Chenin Blanc from the Loire such as Vouvray

Sauvignon Blanc

Try a Touraine – also Sauvignon Blanc but more restrained in style than many New Zealand styles. Or Sancerre which is great with the local goats’ cheese!

Rose

Has to be Provence rose and often comes in a pretty bottle too!

Dessert Wine

Montbazillac or Rivesault is usually much cheaper than dessert wines in the UK plus as an added bonus they often come in full rather than half bottles. These are quite light dessert wines compared to some.

Sweet Sherry

Pineau de Charentes makes a nice aperitif served chilled, however it’s more difficult to find away from the Charentes area. Or if you are in the south, Banyuls is a lovely sweet wine commonly served as an aperitif too and virtually unobtainable in the UK.

So was the young Brit’s choice of wine the right one with his bottle of Monbazillac? We were behind him at the till where his purchases consisted of the wine, some chocolates, a bunch of flowers and a packet of “English overcoats”! Hopefully, the wine did the trick!