By Paul Franson
French wines have an odd problem among many U.S. wine lovers: they love the top wines, like Champagne, Chateau Lafite, Romanée Conti Burgundy, even Provence rosés. But they won’t buy the less-famous wines and certainly not the basic everyday drinking wines.
One contributor might have been that, until 2010, French wines couldn’t just be labeled French varieties from a certain region. They had to be called simply Vin de Pays (country wines) with a few exceptions like Vin de Pays d’Oc from Languedoc-Roussillon in the south.
You could buy 2014 Chilean Cabernet or Merlot, but not the French equivalent. It was just Vin de Pays. No French wine category allowed a producer to source grapes from a region like Languedoc-Roussillon, Rhône or Provence, but still sell the wine under a varietal designation. Not surprisingly, the former Vin de Table category that represented the simplest wines produced in France, has suffered from decreasing sales for several decades.
Fortunately, the French have rationalized their labeling, at least enough for you to buy simple French 2014 Merlot.
An organization called Anivin de France, is now responsible for promoting Vin de France wines to American wine enthusiasts who are looking for simple (and inexpensive) everyday wines. Not surprisingly, it’s also highlighting the varieties, since what are strangely called “international varieties” like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and others are more accurately defined as French. They all were developed or discovered and nurtured in France.
Vin de France wines can be either a single-variety wine or a blend, and producers can blend grapes or wines from different regions of France. The grape variety and vintage can be shown on the label.
While strict quality requirements are in place, wine producers have the flexibility to use modern winemaking techniques. With rules concerning yields or winemaking practices lifted, wineries can be creative in their production methods.
Still, Vin de France is the lowest level of three in the overhauled wine classification system of France. The highest category is Appellation d’origine protégée (AOP), then Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP).
This system replaces the former system of four levels—Vin de Table, Vin de Pays, Vin délimité de qualité supérieure (VDQS), Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), simplifying what was a confusing choice for most American wine lovers. These Vin de France wines are the French answer to the varietal wines made throughout the world.
To introduce Americans to the new wines, they’ve started an aggressive program to raise consumer awareness of Vin de France producers and wines. This includes wine sampling, where allowed, as well as store promotions and displays.
In 2017, the wines of Vin de France will host more than 100 in-store promotions with well-known retailers like Total Wine & More, Lowes Foods and Liquor Barn. These promotions will be supported by staff training, merchandising and promotional advertising. The program is augmented by a new digital campaign with dedicated social media pages, as well as a companion media relations program.
Vin de France varietal wines, which now represent almost nine million nine-liter cases exported worldwide, have seen significant growth success in the U.S, to 700,000 cases. Over the last three years, the volume of Vin de France varietal wines exported to the U.S. has increased four-fold and continues to grow. In the last 12 months, exports grew 14 percent in volume and 16 percent in value versus the previous year.
What does it mean for the wine lover? Surely try the wines, if you get a chance. You’ll likely find them good values and perfect for Tuesday night’s dinner.
You can get more information at vindefrance-cepages.org/en.