Technically speaking, all French wines are vins de France. But some choose to be officially labeled Vin de France, a relatively new category of generally low-priced wines. Established in 2010, the category replaced Vin de Table, the lowest rung on the quality ladder.
Producers of all levels and legacies are using the new designation, including some of France’s most heralded names, who are offering quality wines at varying price points.
One such example is Margaux’s celebrated Château Palmer. Château Palmer, however, is no stranger to the concept: It created its Historical XIX Century Blend red wine in 2004, harkening back to the era when, in poor vintages, rich Rhône Valley wine was added to the lighter Bordeaux.
Under the old system, Château Palmer circumvented label restrictions against mentioning vintage by printing a lot number, “L20.04.” (a sly reference to the harvest year) on the wine’s label. That coding continues under the new classification, the most recent vintage being L20.14. Its price—the highest for any Vin de France wine—ranges from $250 to $300 and demonstrates the legitimacy of this new category.
At the other end of the spectrum are white, red and rosé wines from the Perrin family, owners of the acclaimed Château de Beaucastel. While their signature winery makes premium Châteauneuf-du-Pape that can sell for $100 or more, the family’s long expertise in blending Rhône Valley and Provence grapes delivers the value that was originally intended for the Vin de France category in their La Vieille Ferme label, priced from $6 to $10.
The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), the organization that regulates French agriculture, didn’t foresee that the category would be used to solve a legal problem. But that’s just what Jacky Blot, of Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups, and François Chidaine, of Clos Baudoin, did. The Vouvray appellation was rescinded for their wines, which were grown in Vouvray but made at their wineries in Montlouis. Faced with decertification of their valuable Vouvray Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines, Blot and Chidaine decided to label them as Vin de France. Rather than selling into grocery chains at lower prices, they kept the Vouvray appellation prices of $30 to $34, giving consumers another reason to look beyond the humble label.