For all the discussion of California and Italy, etc, French wine remains the North Star of the wine world—a managing light for all others. That can leave the feeling that it’s unaltered and relentless, its sobriquets characterized by long history and its wines intended to be benchmarks.
Nothing could be further from reality. French wine develops and changes as much as wine anyplace else, maybe more so—it was the languid methods for Gallic vignerons that made ready for California to become an adult with 1976’s Judgment of Paris tasting. Furthermore, both the ready, oak-driven “internationalist” style of wine and the specialists who supported it got their beginning in none other than Bordeaux.
However, the previous decade, particularly, has denoted a period of progressive change in each wine area of France—some of it more evident than others. In Champagne, the ascent of cultivator makers that started in the mid 2000s completely developed during the 2010s, with far reaching confidence in better cultivating, better winemaking, and regarding Champagne as a genuine wine instead of an advertising idea with bubbles. Burgundy rose up out of a very long while of developing torments to introduce another period of splendid, tough winemaking, frequently by winemakers scarcely in excess of a couple of years out of school. Beaujolais, since quite a while ago viewed as a laborer wine—and profoundly manhandled by the prevailing fashion of Beaujolais Nouveau—changed itself into genuine and collectible, with bottles from single packages procuring a similar cachet as Burgundies. Muscadet, when the basic white-wine proportionate, making the most of its own Cinderella story, abandoning something to wash down clams into a genuine contender to top Chablis.
These sorts of changes could be found all over the place: Up and down the Loire, for instance, where spots like Saumur-Champigny and Anjou were reconceived as extraordinary, unfamiliar terroirs, the Loire itself shaking off its old notoriety as a cultivator of bistro wines. Indeed, even aged old Bordeaux, stuck in the jail dividers of its 1855 grouping, ended up home to a blossoming companion of pariahs.
More than that, as normal wine turned into a worldwide pattern, its foundations unavoidably drove back to France—what had been chic in east Paris in the mid 2000s was all of a sudden being duplicated from Tokyo to Culver City. The lighter-style red wines advanced in the Jura were all of a sudden being made crosswise over France, and about wherever else from the Adelaide Hills to Sonoma.
Not every single French pattern were to improve things, obviously. The blasting ascent of Provence rosé, encapsulated by the runaway achievement of Whispering Angel, appeared to destroy itself before the finish of the 2010s—having transformed most French rosé into dull, almost lackluster plonk. The recklessness of the Languedoc, once touted as France’s New World, became quieted as that affection for its global style wines failed out.
Be that as it may, on balance, the best French wines today consolidate the best of their incredible customs with exactly what the present wine buyers progressively request: artisanship, temperate cultivating and straightforward winemaking. Jean-Michel Deiss, the renowned Alsatian winemaker, characterized contemporary French winemaking to me as “a response by individuals who can’t suffer in the modern, generation disapproved of world.”
With that, at that point, how about we think about the change of French wine over the previous decade, as spoke to by these 10 containers.
Dominique Belluard Le Feu Savoie White
Savoie wines were long seen as simple—until Belluard’s efforts from the tiny village of Ayze, not far from Mont Blanc, changed that. His wines were textured and rich, in the spirit of great white Burgundies. Le Feu, made from a single plot of the nearly-extinct local Gringet grape, was breathtaking in its exotic flavors and green-tea savor and paved the way for a new generation of serious Savoyards.
Jean-Charles Abbatucci Rouge Frais Imperial
Pierre Gonon Saint-Joseph Rouge
A decade ago, Saint-Joseph was an afterthought of an appellation—a gangly stretch of connective tissue between the important northern Rhône corners of Côte-Rotie and Hermitage, each known for its exceptional Syrah-based wines. Jean Gonon’s work changed all that. From vines on steep slopes in the towns of Tournon and Saint-Jean-de-Muzols, his wines were Syrah unbound, explosive in their peppercorn spice and kaleidoscopic savory aspects. Suddenly, the afterthought became highly collectible.
Maxime Magnon Campagnès Corbières Red
Magnon studied in Burgundy and worked with Beaujolais talent Jean Foillard, then improbably headed south, to the lonely hills of the Languedoc’s Haut-Corbières, known for its rugged red wines. He introduced organic farming in an area drawn low by pesticides and began making reds subtle enough to legitimately be called Burgundian, including this one from century-old Carignan vines. A throwaway variety in a forlorn corner of the Languedoc suddenly got new life.
Julie Benau Classique Picpoul de Pinet
Pinet is a quiet bit of countryside down near the Languedoc’s large Étang de Thau lagoon, one of France’s best oyster fisheries. And Picpoul was the local wine to accompany. But Benau saw a different option: organics, low yields and longer aging could rewrite its reputation as an acidic “lip-stinger.” The result has been one of the most joyous white wines of the south.
Champagne Louis Roederer 2012 Cristal
Grower Champagne has occupied most of the ink about that region this past decade. But extraordinary work is taking place elsewhere—namely at Louis Roederer, one of its most respected grandes marques, where cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon transformed much of the farming to organics or biodynamics, among other things. This resulted in the 2012 Cristal, the first major tête de cuvée Champagne in decades to be produced entirely from organic grapes. To make that commitment for such an iconic wine is a dramatic statement of faith that even Champagne can embrace serious sustainability.
Château Lafleur-Gazin Pomerol
Pomerol perhaps more than any other Bordeaux appellation has witnessed its fame skyrocket since the 1980s—châteaux like L’Evangile and of course Petrus becoming both rare and high-priced. But Lafleur, while no bargain, represented something different: a tiny, enigmatic jewel of a property that remained in obscurity, in part because its longtime proprietors, the Robin sisters, had zero interest in posh visitors. In the late 2010s their grand-nephew Baptiste Guinaudeau, his wife Julie and their winemaker Omri Ram began to gently bring Lafleur back into public view, the rare case of a top Bordeaux that justified its price and scarcity.
Chanterêves Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Burgundy has no shortage of young talent among old family properties, such as Amélie Berthaut of Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet. But outsiders face a much tougher, bootstrapping path. And yet opportunity is always there, as proven by this young, naturally-minded label from Tomoko Kuriyama and her husband Guillaume Bott. Both have day jobs (Chandon de Briailles, Domaine Simon Bize), making Chanterêves on their own time using mostly purchased fruit—exquisite but friendly Burgundies that gained an international following. This bottle underscored two welcome trends in Burgundy: the rise of so-called micronégociants, who are making waves in the region, but also a dramatic jump in quality of even basic Burgundies like Bourgogne Rouge.