Wine of choice

Club and house wines are always a safe choice.

The Club Claret or Club White feature on the wine list of many clubs, yachting or otherwise.

A Vin de Pays Maison is a likely offer in restaurants and gastro pubs, sub-named by a particular French region or town and a grape variety. Not always the cheapest but somehow suggesting a safe, value-for-money wine, researched and chosen by the club wine committee or the restaurant ‘patron’.

We are all familiar with the French system for classifying wine, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée based on geographical location and grape varieties. The concept dates back to 1411. Using it as a business marketing tool began in earnest in 1905.

While this seemed a good thing to safeguard quality and orderly business for the French wine industry, especially for exports, ‘new world’ wines from other continents were gaining market share, based on new tastes and character. The strict AOC rules made responding with new French creations impossibly slow.

The very French response was a much more flexible new classification, Vin de Pays, passed into law in 1979.

In 2009 Indication Géographique Protégé and Appellation d’Origine Protégée options were added, giving even more flexibility for a new generation of wine makers. Because innovation is consumer led, some Vin de Pays wines are now considered better or command higher prices than AOC wines.

VIN DE PAYS

There are four main Vin de Pays regions: Val de Loire, Pays d’Oc (the southern France Langedoc-Roussillon area), the slopes of the Rhône for Côtes de Rhône and Beaujolais and Comté Tolosan centred on Toulouse. For all of these there are many sub-classifications by grape type or specific location or ‘terroir’.

Why then Club Claret? Claret is the British name for a red Bordeaux wine, exclusively red, exclusively Bordeaux. The term began 200 years ago as a nickname used by English traders of the day, probably derived from ’clear’ or ‘light’ to describe the wine.

With dozens to choose from, leaving this to the club committee or a trusted restaurant patron seems like a good idea to me. It is not a cop-out – treat it as delegated responsibility.

GIVE THESE A TRY

Here are a few suggestions from my own house wine committee.

Waitrose Reserve Claret AOP Vin de Bordeaux, bottled 2015, 13 per cent, £5.99 for 75cl, from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, fresh with notes of blackcurrants and plums.

Waitrose Bordeaux Blanc AOP, 12 per cent, £5.75, made from Semillon and Sauvignon blanc grapes from Arcachon on the coast. This is oyster farming territory, hence the oyster shell on the label, so we can expect this wine to go well with seafood. Crisp notes of gooseberries and green apples.

From Sainsbury’s House range, appellation contrôlée Côtes du Rhône, 14 per cent, £4.60 for 75cl bottle, light and fruity and good value for this type of wine.

And, just for fun, Les Rosbifs Vin de Pays d’Oc IGP Shiraz 2015, 13 per cent, £5.99 from Sainsbury’s.

‘Rosbifs’, of course, is the French nickname for the English (just as we call the French ‘Frogs’), allegedly originating as a derogatory joke about how the English love and cook their Sunday roast. The label sports a knife and fork sketch and says, predictably, that it is “the perfect match for a good old fashioned Sunday lunch”. Bon Appétit, as we say in England.