La Barroche "Liberty" Vin de France 2015
The last ten years have seen a radical re-organisation of appellation laws across the EU. The upper echelons of wine production have not been greatly affected, although the new term Protected Designation of Origin is now used to describe the regions with the strictest quality rules. It is the broader tiers that have been more affected, allowing a greater flexibility in winemaking and where the grapes come from.
The catalyst for these changes was the success of countries such as Australia, whose geographical designations are much wider than those of France and other European countries. France replaced Vin de Table, a low designation applying to wines fit only for local consumption, with Vin de France, for wines made anywhere in France from grapes grown anywhere in France.
The knock-on effect of this wide-reaching designation is that quality producers have started to take advantage of it, especially when they feel local appellation rules are unnecessarily stringent. I was in the Loire Valley last summer, and I was surprised by how many quality wines were labelled Vin de France, most of them creative and innovative. Being able to do what they like - as long as the wine comes from and is made in France - gives producers a welcome and overdue liberty.
And that is the name of this wine of the week: liberty. Drawing on the famous motto of the French Revolution, liberté, égalité, fraternité, but also appealling to the Franco-American sentiment of the Statue of Liberty, the wine comes from 65-year-old vines just outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The producer - two young friends making wine together since the 1990s - could, of course, release the wine under Côtes du Rhône, but that's another designation which arguably limits the production of quality wine. So instead the wine is simply Vin de France.
In essence, this is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and just because the vines fall outside the appellation's boundaries does not effect quality or style whatsoever. It's got a floral, expressive, almost carbonic nose with ripe red and black fruits, and a serious, grainy, tannic palate. And the great advantage for the consumer is that it's half the price of a Châteauneuf of a similar quality.
Grape Variety: 55% Grenache 18% Syrah 12% Mourvèdre 10% Cinsault 5% Carignan
Region: southern Rhône
Ageing: 600l barrels for 18 months.
Food pairing: red meat; sausage dishes; casserole; something rich and heavy