Five good French wines for less than four dollars a bottle.

Here’s something to keep in mind the next time you lay out $20 or more for a Chateau Latour or a Rothschild. Five new French imports have hit the Dallas market, and all are impressive values – between $2.89 and $3.99 a bottle. Don’t let their unfamiliar labels and low prices fool you. While not among the very best, these wines are legitimate.

Four of the new imports are from Le Périgord, a region of vineyards immediately east of Bordeaux, centering on the city of Bergerac. Although the Périgord has climate, soil, and varieties of grapes in common with Bordeaux, it has never been awarded – or claimed – equal prestige. Unless you’re a Francophile, you probably know the Périgord only as the source of the black truffles inexplicably prized by the French. The region has a substantial gastronomic reputation, however, based on paté de foie gras and a variety of complicated game and freshwater fish dishes, including hare a la Royale, lamprey in wine sauce, and goose and duck meat preserves. Its wines are less well known: wine primers often refer to the Périgord as Bordeaux’s parent pauvre, or poor relation. The Perigord”s lack of status is all to Dallas’ benefit.

Wines with the Pécharmant appellation are considered the best of the Péri-gord’s reds. In the interest of quality, production is limited to 250 acres, and if the Pécharmant 1973 we sampled was any indication, all promises have been made good. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec grapes, the Pécharmant is an impressive dry wine, light enough to serve with fowl or poultry. The Pécharmant has very little aftertaste, which should make it especially pleasant to sip during the hot months. (At $3.99 a bottle, you might as well drink the whole thing.) The 1975 Pécharmant should arrive in Dallas in two or three months: we are told it will have a slightly fuller taste.

The largest production of wine in the Périgord region is bottled under the Ber-gerac appellation. At present, there are two Bergerac labels in Dallas: Chateau Pajot. a dry red, and Cotes de Bergerac. a sweet white. The red Bergeracs are the least known of an unfamiliar group of wines, but we found the 1975 Chateau Pajot to be very pleasant. Although made from the same assortment of grapes as the Pécharmant, with the addition of Petit-Verdot, their different proportions give the Pajot a much heartier taste – it’s not as good for sipping, but wonderful with bread and cheese, and much less likely to be overwhelmed by beef, highly flavored sauces, or other wines in a multi-course meal.

A blend of Sémillon, Muscadelle, and Sauvignon grapes, the white Bergeracs are sweet but fine, like a good Vouvray. The label we tried was a good introduction: The Cotes de Bergerac had a complex taste, sweet but not at all syrupy. It would make a good aperitif or complement to sweet entrees, like Oriental sweet and sour dishes and duck with orange sauce or grapes. Those who prefer a light, sweet wine will find the Cotes de Bergerac an impressive value at $2.89.

Sweeter yet was the Chateau Septy 1975, an example of the Monbazillac wines, whose distinctive amber color and honey taste distinguish the best of the Périgord’s whites. In good years, Monbazillacs rank with Sauternes as fine, rich dessert wines. Made from the same blend of grapes, the two also share an unusual late harvest and slow fermentation process, producing a small quantity of glycerine that makes them unusually smooth. Sauternes cost between $8 and $35, however; Chateau Septy costs $3.99.

Our last find was an intriguing white wine, Chateau de Costis. Although it’s a Bordeaux, this wine has not often been imported, for reasons we can’t discern. We tried a bottle from 1976, and at $2.89 it turned out to be a real find: full of the taste of fruit, but light and dry enough to remind us of a Pouilly Fuissé or a good Chablis (these start at $6 or $7, with no top end in sight). We liked the Chateau de Costis immediately, and the more we drank, the better we liked it.

Pécharmant, Chateau Pajot, Cotes de Bergerac, and Chateau Septy are available in Dallas at La Cave, Marty’s and Norman’s Wine World; also Warehouse Liquors and Goody Goody. In Fort Worth try King’s Liquors on West Berry St. Find Chateau de Costis at La Cave, Buckeye, Warehouse, and Big Tex Liquors, and King’s in Fort Worth.

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