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Best of the cheap French Reds

Many Ithacans fondly remember Ithaca’s very own French restaurant, l’Auberge du Cochon Rouge. And many remember that restaurant’s inexpensive French house wine, Meribeau rouge, and have happily drunk it in their own homes, as well. This tasty red wine was an Ithaca favorite for decades until its importer decided to drop it in 2009.

Meribeau has not resurfaced, and many customers of Northside Wine and Spirits have been seeking a replacement for this good everyday red. With that in mind, the staff at Northside decided to conduct a blind tasting of fifteen inexpensive French red wines with a maximum retail price of $7.99.

The tasting’s top wines offered real enjoyment for a modest price. The staff’s nearly unanimous favorite was the Chapelle-St.-Arnoux 2006 Côtes du Ventoux, priced at $7.99 per bottle. It is a very pleasant, harmonious wine from the southern Rhône Valley, and is composed of 75% Grenache blended with smaller amounts of Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault. For an inexpensive wine, it possesses a certain degree of complexity, is well balanced and easy to drink, and features an aroma and flavor that both display hints of cherries, plums, and Provençal herbs.

The staff’s second place wine was an old standby, the Georges Dubœuf “Cuvée Rouge.” Most of the juice for this wine, priced at a modest $5.99 per 750 ml bottle, comes from the southern Rhône Valley as well. The grapes blended for this wine are similar to the Arnoux; the addition of some Gamay gives the Dubœuf a slightly fruitier character. This appealing, strawberry scented wine should be served slightly cool.

Tasty, flexible, and inexpensive, both wines can be paired with a wide range of foods. The greater weight of the Côtes du Ventoux deems it more appropriate for casseroles, stews, steaks, or full flavored meatless dishes like ratatouille. The Dubœuf would be most appropriate with simple chicken dishes, cold cuts, meatier fish like salmon or tuna, as well as lighter vegetarian fare.

If you would like the full tasting list along with the rankings, please email us your name, phone number, city, and zip code to

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