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About wine

The material in this section appeared in a much shorter form as a series of three articles in Living France magazine in late 1997 and early 1998, and another series early in 1999. If you havenít seen this excellent magazine, have a look at a copy next time youíre in WH Smiths (or your local equivalent) - and check out the Living France website too.

Donít miss the updates at the bottom of this page.

Iím no wine expert, but I can tell you where to go in France to buy excellent wines at very low prices. I have to do that, because in our house at least a bottle disappears every day. I like decent wines, so that gets pretty expensive if I shop here. But I donít. I doubt if Iíve bought half a dozen bottles in Britain in the past five years.

It sounds as if I make a lot of trips to France, doesnít it?

I do - but most of them arenít to wine-growing areas. The trick is to buy the wine in bulk direct from the producers and bottle it at home. That way, you can get the equivalent of around 350 bottles of decent wine home in an average family car (particularly if you donít take an average family with you!). Thatís a yearís supply for someone like me, and it will cost you little more than £1 a bottle (or even a lot less if youíre not as fussy as me).

Assuming you would normally pay a modest average of £3 a bottle at home, thatís a saving of about £700 - enough to pay for a decent weekís holiday.

I can also tell you where to find excellent Champagne for well under £10 a bottle...

Want to know more?

There are eight articles on this site. The first four explain the whole business:

  • First an account of how I found out about buying wine en vrac and how I got involved - link at the end of this page (thereís a lot more background in the unpublished article The Big Holiday, specially interesting for anyone who isnít a seasoned Continental traveller as it tells how I planned my very first holiday abroad, and how it went).
  • The second article deals with the technical stuff - containers, bottling, bottles, bungs, labelling - and how to find your wines.
  • The third article will get you from the UK to the Vaucluse dťpartement, with some useful (and hopefully entertaining) stuff about places to stop, eat and sleep.
  • The fourth takes you on a whistle-stop tour of the CŰtes du RhŰne Villages area, highlighting some of the villages where Iíve found particularly good wines, and gives tips on tasting and buying.
  • The remaining five articles introduce some of the producers Iíve visited and bought from, with detailed directions to help you find them (including a long diversion to the Champage region).

So please read on. I hope you enjoy your holidays, your wine and the money you save as much as I do...

Update October 2007 Even if you canít get to a wine area, all is not lost, because you can find 10-litre bag-in-boxes of reasonable (if not exceptional) everyday wines at the equivalent of around a pound a bottle all over France. I kept quiet about this until recently, because I was buying mine in a farm co-op in our local market town and I didnít want to give the game away. Now Iíve found very decent Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the local Champion supermarket, and our nearest big town has at least three specialist caves des vins that offer something a bit more upmarket in boxes. I even persuaded my mate Bernard to buy in bulk rather than bottle for his wife Annickís birthday party (41 guests!) this year! The great advantage of these boxes is that - like the miserable little 3-litre ones they sell here - you can serve the wine straight from the tap. It will keep for months, even after the box has been opened. (You can always fill a decanter if you want to impress someone!

Update February 2010 Since we sold the house in France we havenít visited quite so often. I kept the basic red wine stocks going by bringing back ten 10-litre boxes from the far co-op mentioned above, but have actually had to start buying wine in the UK. A three-monthly box from Laithwaites always produces an interesting selection, but for everyday plonk Iíve been buying half-a-dozen bottles a week of Gran Tesoro from Tesco (£3.54 a bottle until the VAT went back up) ever since Tim Atkin had it as a best buy in The Observer Magazine in mid-2009. This Spanish wine is cracking value.

Update July 2010 On our last visit to France a couple of months ago I decided to branch out and try two of the ícavesí (sort of wine cash-and-carry stores) in Lisieux. Lo and behold, I discovered that you could taste any of the wines sold in 10-litre bag-in-boxes. I found two wines that were a little more expensive than my Vinsobraise from the farm co-op mentioned in the 2007 update, and were both rather more refined. I brought two boxes of each back, plus two of my íold faithfulí (a total of 60 litres or 80 bottles). The prices were 24.60, 31.90 and 33.90 euros per box Ė 1.84, 2.39 and 2.54 euros a bottle. The cheapest one is the Vinsobraise from the DrŰme ProvenÁale. The middle one is a nice Ventoux from a bit further south in the Vaucluse Ė smoother and a bit posher. The last is from the Luberon, even further south (Peter Mayle country), and I havenít opened that yet. The most expensive, with the euro at around 83p currently, works out at £2.10 a bottle..

Update November 2010 On our most recent visit to Normandy, mon ami Bernard and I went back to buy half a dozen cubis of the Ventoux, but the cave was awaiting a delivery which didnít arrive in time. So I came home with 60 litres of the Vinsobraise to get me over Christmas. Itíll be a cheap winter, with the euro currently at around 87p and this wine therefore at about £1.60 a bottle...

Update September 2011 Just back again from Normandy. I didnít get to any of the caves visited before, so it was back to the farmersí co-op for 60 litres of the La Vinsobraise. My credit-card statement shows 150 Euros at a horrifying exchange rate of £0.91 per Euro - what happened to the £0.87 we keep hearing on the radio? Not to worry, though: this tots up to 80 bottles of this very acceptable everyday plonk for £136.98 - £2.28 a litre or £1.71 a bottle. I shudder to think what anything I might find in the UK at this price would taste like...

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.