Over a year ago, when friends, Lauren and Brian made it to Martinique, I found myself drooling over every Facebook and blog post they wrote. We were still in Puerto Rico, with limited options for good wines, bubbles, and fancy food stuff at the grocery stores. I poured over every word, eager for my chance to indulge.
When that time came, we found ourselves overwhelmed by the selection. We knew close to nothing of French wine, and reached out to Lauren, sommelier, chef, general foodie, and now restaurant owner, for guidance. I told her we like funky reds (i.e., velvety, smelly, big mouth feel), and buttery, oaky chardonnay (I will not feel ashamed for this!). And, of course, we love champagne. Our price range was $10-$12 for everyday wine, but we’ve learned we can find excellent options for half that. These were her recommendations, which she has graciously allowed me to share with y’all. For the record, I’ve pretty much abandoned my search for oaky chardonnay here, in favor of the amazingly light and crisp Rosés that are plentiful and inexpensive.
Buying wine is tricky in the French islands because there seems to be a rotation of producers – if you find a bottle you like, you’re likely to never see it again. The good thing about French wine though, is that when you can nail down the region and the price point you like, that’s usually good enough, since wine makers there usually don’t deviate from the rules that govern how to make the wine in their region. For example, I love the Rosés of Provance and Bandol best, and I’ve found that I usually don’t go wrong when I stay in the 10-15 dollar range. There will usually be a more limited supply of low range Burgundies (Bourgogne) in the 15-20 range. For me it goes bottle by bottle. I’m willing to pay a bit more for Burgundy at the wine store where I can get better grades of wine at vastly cheaper prices compared with the US. I do the same with Champagne. Those bottles are not for everyday drinking though. Most of the wine you find in the grocery stores is Vin de Pays… which means “country wine”. You don’t see much of these wines in the US because France holds onto them – they are the everyday wines of the people. For Rosés, Cremants (bubbles from regions other than Champagne), and bone dry Muscadets (these are the wines I like for 5 bucks) the Super U/Hyper U will do just fine. Boxed wine is common in France, so do not fear it, but you can usually buy the brands that are in the box in the bottle too – so maybe try the bottles the first time you go, before you commit to the box. (Side note – we found that the cheaper wines go bad fast in the hot climate and the boxes are even faster. I hauled a bunch of boxes to Grenada, only to arrive with bags of vinegar.)
Here are some suggestions based on preferences you mentioned:
Oaky Chardonnay – you’re going to want to look at white Burgundies. The French do not embrace the full on Cali style, but the more you spend, the better the oak.
Earthy reds – red Burgundy, as you mentioned, but if you’re looking for value, look at Beaujolais too – it’s the gamay grape, some nice earth without a lot of tannin, great slightly chilled.
Seafood wines – Muscadet is a great value – pretty much any white from the Loire will do you good. If you’re into Sauvignon Blanc, I found some value Sancerres that I liked at around 13 per bottle. (Careful! They were selling a red Sancerre that I believe is Pinot Noir, which is kind of unusual. Just look carefully before buying.)
Bubbles – you’ll find champagne in abundance at good prices, but I like to stock Cremants for everyday drinking – they come from various regions and are often very good. I also found Cava at the Super U.
So, there you have it! We’ve branched out to try different regions and varietals, and occasionally pricier bottles, but always find ourselves coming back to this list when we want to be assured of what we’re buying. I hope this helps you like it helped us. À votre santé!