French with an Accent


Now then, here’s a bit of a mystery. At first glance, you’d think these two bottles of wine come from France. They’re the classic French Bordeaux shape and they have a French name. The front label shows a painting of a building which has more than a passing resemblance to a Bordeaux chateau and the top foil on the bottle indicates that the wine was made by VMV (Vignerons Du Mont Ventoux) which is based in Bédoin in the Southern Rhone Valley.

It’s the leading winery in the Ventoux area. The back label states that the grapes were “sourced from the Rhône Valley”. However, in minuscule print (and you might need a magnifying glass to read it) the label also says that the wine was “produced and bottled in Vietnam”.

You don’t hear the words “wine” and “Vietnam” in the same sentence very often. But I rather think that’s going to change. Although during the late nineteenth century, the French colonists planted vineyards in the highland areas near Hanoi, it was not until the late twentieth century that wine-making really started to develop in Vietnam with the assistance of foreign expertise. In 1995, Vietnam began a joint venture with Australian winemaker, which resulted in a massive planting scheme of international grape varieties.  I think we are going to see exciting developments in the Vietnamese wine industry in the near future, because they have the climate, the vineyards and the know-how.

But having said all that, this is not actually Vietnamese wine. If anything, it’s French wine with a Vietnamese accent. My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that what we have here is a Southern Rhône wine shipped in bulk to Vietnam, where it’s then blended with local fruit wine. Don’t let this put you off, because a similar process is used for making “Mont Clair”, that good old work-horse wine of all the bars and cheap restaurants in town. If you need a couple of easy-drinkers for under Bt 300, these two Belleville wines could fit the bill.

Belleville Chardonnay-Viognier 2010 (white), France. (Foodland Bt. 295)

No one really knows where the Viognier (vee-oh-NYAY) grape originally came from. It was once fairly rare, growing only in the northern Rhône regions of France. But the grape has become increasingly popular and makes aromatic wines in an increasing number of countries.

This pale straw-coloured wine has a rather creamy floral aroma of tropical fruit, with hints of dusty herbs. I thought I could pick up pears too, presumably from the Viognier in the blend. It has a very soft mouth-feel, hardly any acidity and a reasonable long and pleasant finish.

The off-dry quality may appeal to those who don’t normally drink wine. It’s a pleasant little glugger, even though it has 13% alcohol content, but I have to admit that the wine tasted a lot better than I expected.

At this price it’s a terrific bargain and could make an excellent party wine. Although it seems to me very much like a wine to drink on its own, it would probably work well with many Indian and Thai dishes as well as with light curries.

Belleville Grenache-Shiraz-Merlot 2009 (red), France. (Foodland Bt. 295)

With an aroma of red cherries, this is an attractive garnet-red and although the wine is completely dry, the mouth-feel is quite soft and the tannins hardly noticeable. It’s an interesting blend too. You’ve probably heard of Shiraz and Merlot but the Grenache may be less familiar, even though it’s one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world. Although the Grenache (gren-ASH) originated in northern Spain, it’s most often associated with the wines of the Rhône and southern France. It’s often used as a blending component, adding body and fruitiness to a wine.

This is a pleasing easy-drinker and the Shiraz in the blend gives a hint of spice and pepper which adds interest to this French-style wine. At this knock-down price it would be terrific for a party or other social occasion if, that is, you can still afford to have them.