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Easy on the wallet as well as the palate

Two tips if you’re looking for a wine bargain:

1. Go the aisle marked “France.”

2. Look on the label, maybe even the back label, for the phrase “Vin de Pays.”

Call this country boy biased, but man, can anything ever be simple in France?

Vin de pays means “country wines.” Wines bearing this phrase are typically grapes blended from a region to create immediately drinkable, highly accessible and very inexpensive wines.

Man, I wish I’d known this when I was in college.

Here is the inescapable background:

There are three tiers of Vin de Pays: regional, departmental and local. We’re going to focus on regional Vin de Pays.
There are six regional Vin de Pays, which cover large areas of France.

The most voluminous contributor to this category of wines is Vin de Pays d’Oc, from the Languedoc–Roussillon area in Mediterranean France. Remember that, it’ll be important in a few more paragraphs.

Why so many Vin de Pays — and why so cheap — typically $10 or less on the retail shelf?

Face it, France is the motherland of wine production. Millions of gallons of juice get smashed out of mountains of grapes every season. There’s no way all that juice can become expensive Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Enter Vin de Pays.

In addition to being the everyday wine of most Frenchmen, there’s still plenty of juice left over to fill clever packaging designed to hustle to bargain hunting wine buyers.

In fact, Vin de Pays juice is so prevalent that lots of U.S. distributors contract with the French to produce proprietary labels. Sometimes, these wines are more glitz than glory. Brilliant packaging design masks sub–par wines.

In other cases, the juice inside is often quite drinkable.
Which brings us back on track. Last week, I tasted through five varietals of Vin de Pays brought to market under the label “Public.” The clever black and white label –– with only the flag of France in color — is eye–catching and elegant.

Each of the wines is 100 percent varietal, each hails from the Vin de Pays d’Oc and each is finished with no influence of oak aging. Each is a very pure expression of the varietal –– and finishes clean, bright and enjoyable.

Here are my notes on the four I preferred:

Public Chardonnay: For a $10 Chardonnay, this one stands out. This medium–bodied wine is lush, subtly complex and presents bright and flavorful. It’s finish in stainless steel means that it’s fruitiness is very food friendly.

Public Sauvignon Blanc: You’ll find plenty of lemon and lime notes in this wine — but won’t find it as boldly herbaceous as those grassy New Zealand Sauv Blancs. It’s a perfect companion to our local shrimp and oysters — or chilled nicely and savored on a hot day.

Public Merlot: I’ve really been groovin’ on Merlot again and this bargain basement model is no exception. The spiciness says “Merlot” and there’s enough complexity, considering it is not aged in oak, to satisfy. Perfectly fine as a stand–alone wine, it will pair with cheeses, grilled meats and richly seasoned poultry dishes.

Public Cabernet Franc: Wow, a Cab Franc for under $10? Yeah, and this one possesses enough of the grape’s characteristics to make it impressive. Medium–bodied, rich with spice and dark berry flavors, pour this one up with meats and a nice cheese tray.

All are available through local retailers for around $10 — or less.