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Ask a Somm: How Can I Drink Really Fancy Wine for Less Money?

Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Wondering about a bottle? Drop us a line.

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More chefs across the country seem to be embracing a tasting menu-only style of dining, plating extensive (and often expensive) culinary journeys explained through two dozen plates or more. But one restaurant that nails flavor, innovation, and aesthetics above the rest is San Francisco's three Michelin-starred Saison, helmed by chef Joshua Skenes and co-owner plus wine director Mark Bright. Together the pair weave menus that embrace seasonal California ingredients alongside small production wines from both near and far. Below, Bright expounds on affordable wines produced by premiere vineyards.

Q: The more French wine I drink, the more I realize that big name chateaux oftentimes own many vineyards and produce great wines at lower prices under different names. For example, I love Château des Tours, made by Château Rayas. I know this is a very broad question, but any suggestions on some other great affordable wines to look out for that are made by famous chateaux?

Bright: In France these days many of the traditionalists and old name producers are getting more and more curious about their neighbors and their wines. Producers in France, especially in neighboring regions, would always trade a case or two of wine every year. They would trade these wines whether it was for their own enjoyment or they had a stronger curiosity of the terroir. Now, there are a number of producers that have stretched their winemaking skills to other regions of France to try different grapes and terroir. Below is a list of a few that I like and I think are amazing deals:

Domaine du Pelican is a new estate with its first vintage being 2012 from the Jura in France, made by the legendary Guillaume D'Angerville of Volnay, Burgundy. Here’s some background info I found online: "Guillaume D’Angerville partnered with Francois Duvivier to search for the best vineyard sites in the Jura. After settling on Château Chavanes in Montigny-lès-Arsures, they created a state of the art winery surrounded by 5 hectares of biodynamically farmed vines that had been impeccably replanted 10 years prior by former owner François de Chavanes. The domaine is supported by an additional 5 hectares of chemically-free vines formerly farmed by Jean-Marc Brignot at a site of high-quality geology and exposure." These wines are some of my favorite, they are young and vibrant with delicious grip and texture.

Another great combination of fantastic winemakers is Potel-Aviron Beaujolais. These are amazing wines for a fantastic deal in my opinion. Grippy and showy Beaujolais and affordable for everyday drinking. Here is a little history of this relationship. Potel-Aviron is the joint venture of Nicolas Potel and Stephane Aviron. In the early 1990s, they were classmates at the prestigious enology school in Beaune, France. Potel was raised at the acclaimed Domaine de la Pousse d’Or in the Côte-d'Or village of Volnay. His father was the legendary winemaker Gérard Potel. Aviron also was raised in a in winemaking family, but in the less assuming Beaujolais district.

And one more from a famous Burgundian producer is Anne-Claude Leflaive's Clau de Nell. Wines from the Loire Valley have skyrocketed in popularity amongst sommeliers in the most recent years and now the wines are becoming harder and harder to find. This is the time to explore the Loire Valley and the many amazing wines and deals to be found now, before its too late! I really love these wines, especially the whites from Chenin Blanc, one of my favorite grapes to enjoy, especially in the summer months with shellfish and smoked fish!

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Photo by Saison


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