France is one of the oldest wine producing regions. On average, France produces more than 6 billion bottles of wine per year. Ellegant, well-dressed, showing an appreciation for the good things in life but never to excess – that is the style of a good French wine. Currently France is the second in wine production, but the fact that today the quality of even the least expensive French wine has improved impressively, means that there is a whole new range of wines open to wine drinkers.
French wine has a huge part of the French identity and pride, as demonstrated by the wines having more of a regional than a national identity. Different regions have their own classification systems, grape varieties and production methods, which make them complex but unique.
If you are a wine beginner, the first thing you should know about French wines, is where exactly they are coming from. So here are the main French wine regions:
- Cotes de Rhone
- Loire Valley
- South West
French wines can be confusing because they rarely put the name of the grape on the bottle. Instead, they put a controlled place name, appearing on the label as the “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée”. The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system is overseen by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, or INAO. It regulates the boundaries of each region, as well as yield, winemaking and viticultural methods, ripeness and alcoholic strength, and grape varieties .Why put the place on the label instead of the name of the grape? Many people would say that it’s because of the notion of terroir. Essentially, terroir is the wine’s expression of the place from where it came. When winemakers speak about terroir, they’re talking about a variety of things that influence the wine, including the type of soil it’s growing in, the slope and elevation of the vineyard, as well as the climate and weather.
Alsace is right on the German border with France.Over the last few hundred years, France and Germany have alternated possession of the area and a unique blend of each country’s wine heritage remains. The most popular grapes in the region, called noble grapes, are Riesling, Pinot Gris,Gewurztraminer and Muscat.
Bordeaux is the planet’s largest source of fine wine, the model for Cabernet Sauvignon- and Merlot-based wines around the globe. Bordeaux wines are considered by many wine connoisseurs to be the world’s greatest reds. The majority of Bordeaux wines are the dry, medium-bodied reds that made the region famous. The finest, and most expensive, come from the great chateaux of the Medoc. Merlot is the dominant red wine grape in the vineyards of Bordeaux, followed closely by Cabernet-Sauvignon and then Cabernet-Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Bordeaux’s white wines are generally blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle.
Burgundy is located in the east-central part of France. It may be small in size but its influence is huge in the world of wine. The two key grape varieties of Burgundy are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Here, I’d like to present you my favorite wine from this region.
Young white Burgundies like this one have aromas of fresh apple and pear, citrus, mineral overtones and sometimes toasted hazelnut notes from barrel aging. Try white Burgundies with delicate seafood dishes, like salmon or scallops, roasted chicken or spring vegetables.
The heart of Champagne region lies 90 miles northeast from Paris near the Belgian border. Champagne is the name of the world famous sparkling wine we all know. By French and European law, the mention of “champagne” is submitted to a strict regulation and the term champagne can only be used for wines, produced in this region. Here is one of the most popular (and expensive) champagnes in the world.
The 2006 Dom Perignon is beautifuly balanced,rich,voluptuous and creamy. This champagne is a graceful, minerally version, featuring rich notes of smoke, mandarin orange peel and chalk that lead to subtle accents of toasted almond and espresso.
Côtes de Rhône
You might have heard of Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage: those appellations are in the Rhône. The Rhône River starts up in the Alps and flows down through Valence and Avignon, ending in the Mediterranean Sea in the area near Marseille. The area is generally split into two main parts: the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône.
The Northern Rhône is the birthplace of syrah and where many wine lovers find it reaches its height of expression – full bodied, savory and elegant. The Southern Rhône region has a Mediterranean influence in culture and climate. If syrah is the big boy of the North, Grenache is the king in the South and forms the foundation of the area’s popular blends.
This is a very easy drinking wine, packed with smooth notes of cherry and earth with a slight herbal finish. Perfect for beginners. Perfect for any occasion.
If you like rosè, this is a great lively wine with fresh, black fruit flavors, some spices and just the right amount of tannins. A nicely balanced food wine. Pairs great with beef, lamb, spicy food and hard cheese.
LANGUEDOC AND ROUSSILLON
Languedoc and Roussillon are two large regions that lie on the coast of the Mediterranean. Red and rosé wines from these areas are generally a blend of Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, with other indigenous and international varieties making an appearance. White wines are less common, but when you see them they are also usually blends that include Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Muscat, and sometimes other grapes.
The Loire Valley is France’s most diverse wine region, producing exemplary wines in every style. Popularity of Loire Valley wines with sommeliers and wine writers has been growing steadily for the last ten years because for all their variety, refreshing acidity and minerality.
This is one of my favorite white wines I’ve ever had. Crisp, appropriately acidic, and aromatic, this wine is an amazing experience on both the nose and palate. It also tends to be more expensive compared to a Sauvignon Blanc bottle of wine – but not necessarily without good reason. This wine pairs well with nearly all kinds of seafood and salad greens. The classic pairing of Sancerre with grilled goat cheese is quite possibly the best thing to put in one’s mouth.
When we think of Provence, we first think of rosé. They make a lot of it here, usually a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. No summer afternoon is complete without a little bit of the pale pink/orange wines from Provence. These light and crisp rosès have just the slightest touches of bright berry flavors and can complement a meal perfectly or be delightful on their own.
This is the perfect summer wine. It may be not complicated or heady, but it’s certainly lovely. It is bright flavored, with crisp acidity and light touches of tart red berries and citrus fruit.
This is a classy rosè. You certainly will taste strawberries and peaches. Lovely feminind salmon color, wheat aroma and sharp bubbles. It has great balance between sweetness and tartness. Works well as a pairing for light deserts, beef, spicy foods and cheeses.
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, located between the southeast coast of Provence and the west coast of Tuscany. Despite its remote location, Corsica’s winemakers have amassed an impressive portfolio of grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Barbarossa grow alongside one another.
Known as “France’s Hidden Corner” the South West region is tucked away between the Pyrènèes Mountains and Spain to the south, Bordeaux to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. If you like Bordeaux but not the prices, or love to discover new varietals that scream ‘terroir’, then the South West region is calling you.With some unique grapes in the mix, this is one exciting region for wine lovers.
P.S. I hope you find at least one great wine from France. Wait a minute… there is no bad French wine! You should know this already. Now, its time for a dinner and a glass of Sancerre. Bon Appètit!