Which French wine regions might see both wines and vineyards multiply in value in the next 50 years? Andrew Jefford peers into his vinous crystal ball and makes some educated guesses.
- Scroll down the page to see Jefford’s French wine regions to watch
Over dinner with the ‘father’ of Condrieu, Georges Vernay, we discussed the struggle he and his own father Francis had fought to save the appellation from oblivion, and with it, Viognier. Just 19hl of Condrieu were produced in 1969 – equivalent to around 2,500 bottles – and in 1971 a bottle of Condrieu fetched seven francs, or about the same as a kilo of cherries, he said.
On many occasions since that evening 15 years ago, I’ve wondered which appellations today might multiply in value 14 times in the next 50 years.
Seven francs equates to €7 at today’s prices. And this month, Domaine Georges Vernay’s Coteau de Vernon 2013 was on sale at Berry Bros & Rudd for £100 a bottle.
Put another way, if you invested in any French vineyard zone for the long-term future, where might you recoup your investment most handsomely?
Alas, the ‘kilo-of-cherries’ test is unlikely to work. You can buy plenty of wines in France for the same price as a kilo of cherries, but few of them from propitious terroir – which was clearly what Condrieu was all along.
Perhaps a more useful comparison is Gigondas. It emerged from the Côtes du Rhône pack in that same emblematic year (1971), yet it now often rivals the local grandee Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Which are the names that will step out of the shadows in this kind of way over the next decades?
French wine regions to watch
Vineyard price data source: Safer
Cairanne has just received its Côtes du Rhône cru status, and I’m sure there are more examples in the southern Rhône. The difficulty lies in picking out the greatest spots of terroir in such a huge area, but Cairanne is certainly one zone I’d back for future greatness. I tasted recently with Claire and Thomas Richaud at Domaine Marcel Richaud and was enormously impressed with the purity, freshness and perfume of their wines: packed with the disarming loveliness which is such a southern Rhône hallmark and which is certainly a legacy of terroir.
Cairanne at a glance:
- Gained Côtes du Rhône appellation status in 1953
- Promoted to Côtes du Rhône Villages status in 1967
- Average vineyard price per hectare: N/A (Côtes du Rhône Villages average is €30,000p/ha)
- Main red grape varieties: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache
- White grape varieties: Grenache blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier
- Vineyard area: 956ha (95% red)
Comparing their cellar-door prices with those I’m more familiar with for Languedoc leaders underlined the sensational value of the best southern Rhône reds.
For white wines, St-Péray is now one of the most exciting zones in France. Every time I go to the northern Rhône, canny growers seem to have bought a little more land there. They offer the wine as an ‘entry-level’ white, priced well below white St-Joseph – though it’s usually every bit as good. The Les Figuiers cuvée from the great Bernard Gripa is a benchmark, but there are many, many more keen contenders. I’m convinced that the best St-Péray could challenge lesser Hermitage Blanc one day, if it doesn’t already do so, and land prices for good sites there cannot remain low for long.
St-Péray at a glance:
- Gained St-Péray appellation status in 1936
- Average vineyard price per hectare: N/A (Rhône AOP average is €25,300p/ha)
- White grape varieties: Marsanne and Roussane
- Vineyard area: 73ha (100% white)
Lalande de Pomerol
If I was to buy vineyard land in any of the ‘modest’ areas of Bordeaux, meanwhile, it would certainly be in Lalande de Pomerol. Denis Durantou and others have proved over the past decade that Merlot can perform with some of the sensual irresistibility which it shows in Pomerol itself – and Pomerol is so tiny and so sought-after (and great Merlot so rare on the global stage) that Lalande cannot but follow it towards the stars.
Lalande de Pomerol at a glance:
- Average vineyard price per hectare: €180,000 p/ha
- Main red grape varieties: Merlot, Caberent Franc.
- Vineyard area: 1,050ha
Other appellations worth following over the next few decades include Cahors, Menetou-Salon in the Loire and Maury Sec in Roussillon, with Madiran and its white counterpart Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and neighbouring St-Mont as long-odds outsiders.
Menetou-Salon at a glance:
- Average vineyard price per hectare: €87,000 p/ha
- Main red grape varity: Pinot Noir
- Main white grape variety: Sauvignon Blanc
- Vineyard area: 495ha
Cahors at a glance:
- Appellation status in 1971
- Average vineyard price per hectare: €11,000 p/ha
- Red grape varieties: Malbec
- Vineyard area: 4200ha
Maury Sec, Roussillon
Maury Sec at a glance:
- Appellation status in 2011
- Average vineyard price per hectare: N/A (Average for Maury AOP is €10,000 p/ha)
- Main red grape variety: Grenache
- Vineyard area: 2000ha
Others worthy of mention: Lirac & Massif d’Uchaux
Much the same could be said for the wines made by Eric Michel of Cros de la Mûre in the vineyards of the Massif d’Uchaux: striking quality, and a perfect illustration of the fact that you will never know the potential of a terroir until a great wine-grower gets going on it. Lirac, at Châteauneuf’s back door, is surely also destined for greater things as Châteauneuf land prices rise.
Even if you’re not in the market for a few hectares of vineyards (and no, nor am I), look out for the bottles of leading young growers working in top sites in these areas: they’ll offer great value over the coming decades, as France’s fine-wine map is slowly redrawn.
This is an edited version of Andrew Jefford’s column in the March 2016 edition of Decanter magazine.