For some reason, Americans enjoy bashing France. That in spite of fact France was essential to our winning the Revolutionary War, French cuisine is exquisite—made Julia Child a household name, and French wine defines world standards.

Robert Parker, world’s most important wine critic, puts it simply: “French wines remain the points of reference for every other country that produces fine wine. Their greatness and intrinsic distinctiveness are how producers from other countries measure the quality and success of their wines.”

Many countries now compete with France. California, of course. Spain is spectacular in terms of quality and value. Italy bottles great wines and great values. South America and Australia soar. But when you discuss wine, France is the gold standard.

That is not to downplay U.S. accomplishments. France has worked on perfecting wine, matching soil and climate to grape for centuries out of memory. The U.S., in contrast, has barely more than a century-plus of experience, and that interrupted by idiocy of Prohibition. Compared to France, we are Little Leaguers playing World Series champs, and still—thanks in part to generous French wisdom—we win a few.

Take away point for those beginning to enjoy wide world of wine: there is good, even great wine made in lots of places. But, when you refine and define your palate, French wine must be included in the experience. Even if you are, for whatever weird reasons, Francophobic.

Recommended (all French wines):

• Domaine De Couron Marselan. Trendy Rhône red: Marselan is new varietal cross between Cab and Grenache. Pepper and prunes on nose; full body in the mouth. Experiment. $15

• Château de La Greffiere Mâcon La Roche-Vineuse. Pineapple nose, tropical fruit palate. Chardonnay. $18

• Château St. Georges (St. Emilion; right bank). Merlot driven; softness, red fruit, firm tannins. $36

• Château Batailley (Pauillac; left bank). Bordeaux Cab blend; bright fruits, juicy style. $57