French wine has always intimidated me. My love for wine blossomed in Italy and for years I felt quite content drinking bottles almost exclusively from there. Italian wines felt approachable to me — and more importantly, many were and continue to be quite affordable for my lifestyle.
Yet as my interest in wine has grown over the years, I've slowly dipped into French wine. And you know what? There really isn't much to worry about. Sure, there are plenty of fancy, expensive bottles out there, but a good chunk of the great wine that comes out of the country is easy to drink and easy on your wallet.
These affordable wines are also the wines real French people drink — and they're the ones you should drink, too.
1. Crémant d'Alsace
Crémant is basically champagne that's not made in the region of Champagne. You probably won't be able to taste the difference and it's usually much, much cheaper.
Crémant can come from many different regions of the country — from the Loire, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and more — but Alsace is a great place to start because Crémant d'Alsace is plentiful (it accounts for about 50 percent of Crémant produced in France), easy to find, and will almost never set you back more than about $20.
This white wine comes from an area in the southern part of Burgundy called Mâconnais. Made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes, it's a simple, medium-bodied wine that's rarely aged in oak, so it's crisp and refreshing, with citrus and floral notes. Even better, most bottles are around $15.
3. Picpoul de Pinet
Yes, great French white wine under $10 exists — it's called Picpoul de Pinet. Hailing from southern France, in the Languedoc region, the wine is made from the local Picpoul grape and delivers fresh, bright acidity with lots of minerality. It's ridiculously refreshing and so affordable. Once you've tried it, it's sure to make a regular appearance on your table.
4. Beaujolais Villages
You may associate Beaujolais with Thanksgiving, but it's too tasty to be enjoyed just once a year. While the Nouveau variety is most popular during the holiday, as it's just been released, my favorite Beaujolais is Beaujolais Villages. It's aged a bit longer so it's a little more interesting, but it's still incredibly fresh and light-bodied — plus, bottles can easily be found for under $15.
Made from the Gamay grape, this has been my red of choice lately, especially in the summer months when I don't want to sip anything too full-bodied and heavy. It's best enjoyed lightly chilled, at around 55°F (that means about an hour in the fridge, or 15 minutes in the freezer before popping the cork).
Pairs it with: Smoky Puff Pastry Stars
Malbec wine probably makes you think of Argentina first and foremost, but the grape actually originated in France, in the small, southern region of Cahors. If you love Argentinian Malbec, you should definitely give Cahors a try.
Interestingly, although it's the same grape, the style of the wine is different, thanks to different terroir. Cahors is less fruit-forward and velvety than Argentinian Malbec, with more structure and higher tannins, but it's still a full-bodied wine that's great with steak. It clocks in at about $12, on average.
What's your favorite cheap French wine?