Ooh-la-la Prices

French wine is getting cheaper, thanks to stiff competition.

Faced with overseas competition and abundant inventories, Beaujolais winemakers are ripping vines out of the ground rather than produce wine that must be sold below cost. In Bordeaux, producers are almost giving it away: At the city's recent Vinexpo wine fair, the world wine industry's most important get-together, the worried talk was of red Bordeaux being offered at just one euro a bottle.

Bad news for French producers is great news for wine lovers. Winemakers are cutting prices to keep their American customers, so great wines are going for less than they otherwise might, especially in the face of a weak dollar.

Domaine de L'Ameillaud is a case in point. It's a highly regarded Côtes du Rhones Villages wine from Cairanne, one of the best of the Rhone Valley's 16 "villages," or classified subregions. About 35% of the 300,000 bottles the estate produces each year go to North America. Most good Côtes du Rhones Villages wines retail for $15 to $18 a bottle, but owner Nick Thompson has maintained L'Ameillaud at around $12.

Other French regions have great values, too. Good Beaujolais is selling at rock-bottom prices. A bottle of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages can now be found for as little as $8 a bottle. Even Burgundy and Bordeaux, whose wines traditionally attract hefty premiums, are looking more reasonable. Tollot Beaut is one of Burgundy's most accomplished winemakers, but its Chorey-lès-Beaune 2000 will set you back less than $20. In Bordeaux, a string of abundant years means that vintages such as 1999 are relatively cheap. Château Cantemerle 1999 from Margaux and Château Carbonnieux 1999 from Graves are well priced at $17 a bottle and ready to drink.

"When it comes to great-quality wines, it's now a shopper's paradise," says Sam Perkins, executive editor of The Wine Enthusiast. That's reason to uncork a bottle.

By John Rossant

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