The French Wines You Need to Know

If you want to appreciate good wine, look to French wines to understand the classics. We’re speaking of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne to name a few. But look further to find some incredible discoveries from small producers that often are bypassed in favor of the big names. Here’s a range of great products from some less well-known French wine houses suggested by wine consultants and wine buyers Sam Davies, Jazmin Davila, Chad Colwell, Laura Mooney, Marco Castillo, and Misaki Reinoso.

 

Bourgogne Pinot Fin, Arnoux-Lachaux 2011

There are more than 100 different clones of the Pinot Noir grape in Burgundy, delivering a wide range of flavors, from the lightest, most fragrant and most delicate ones to the fullest, most tannic, and most imposing ones. Pinot Fin, with its small, dark berries in very tight bunches, delivers a more concentrated fruit flavored version of the Pinot Noir family. A little bit earthier, with subtle, spicy notes, this is one of the Pinot Noirs I feel more attracted to. – MC

Nicolas Maillart, 1er Cru Brut “Platine” NV

This family has been tending vines in the village of Chamery since 1753. This flagship of the estate is made from a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, with up to 35% of reserve wines that are kept in barrels. – MR

Francis Boulard Blanc de Blancs Vieilles Vignes, Extra Brut NV

Founded in 2009, Francis Boulard has a small three hectares, which he farms biodynamically. Francis is one of three children of Raymond Boulard. Raymond Boulard & Fils was founded in 1980 but ceased when his children decided to take separate paths. 100% Chardonnay, three to five grams of sugar.  – MR

Tarlant “Zéro,” Brut Nature NV

Not all Champagne tastes strictly of second fermentation notes (yeast, sourdough, toasted bread). This bubbly has honeycomb, lemon custard, rich apricots, and white grapefruit. Don’t let the dryness level “Brut Nature” scare you; this Champagne is brimming with great flavor. – SD

Jasnières “Cuvée du Silex,” Pascal Janvier 2013

I am always looking for my next favorite white wine, and this one is my current pick! It is effortlessly balanced with a crisp acidity that cuts through its creamy roundness. A great selection for summer salads or a cheese plate. – NG

José Michel & Fils, Pinot Meunier Brut NV

While most of Champagne focuses on the grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Jose Michel is the Meunier master, botting a 100% Pinot Meunier cuvée from vines up to 50 years old. The wine is full and lush with aromas of lemon curd, pear flesh, and juicy plum. To help this wine shine, skip the flute and throw it into a Burgundy bowl. – CC

Saumur Brut, Non Dosé, Ch. La Tour Grise 2004

This is the direction I’ll point you in when you ask for sparkling wine that is interesting and of great value. This graceful vintage sparkling is… Chenin Blanc! Find rich and complex flavors balanced by delicate floral notes and a bone-dry, mineral finish. Add this to your everyday wines, or skip your mimosas this weekend in favor of this delicious drink. – JD

 Georges Laval, Brut Nature NV

A super small producer who crafts his wines in Cumieres. Vincent’s French wines are hard to find. He took over for his father, Georges, in 1996 and has been working diligently in the vineyards and the cellar. He is one of three to riddle and bottle by hand. – MR

St.-Véran “Les Pommards,” Dom. des Vieilles Pierres – Litaud 2013

The single vineyard St. Veran “Les Pommards” is winemaker Jean Jacques Litaud’s pride and joy. To drink this is to taste the terroir of old Chardonnay French wine vines growing on Litaud’s own estate in limestone soil. This wine never touches oak and allows for notes of candied lemon, a distinct smokiness and a chalky, salty finish to shine unobstructed. A true beauty on its own, and an ideal match for scallops, oysters, and grilled halibut. – LM