France has been a powerhouse in premier wine making for hundreds of years. Over it’s rich history of wine production the French sought out to produce the best wines available anywhere in the world and accomplished just that. As a result, wine making in France improved wine production worldwide. Many of the techniques, grapes and information we know about how to produce high quality wine came about through centuries of French wine making tradition. The French were obsessed with terroir. They wanted to know why particular climates, slope, soil, rock, altitude of regions directly impacted the result of the wines. This resulted in the abundance of wine-making regions in France each making uniquely different wines.
Over the next six weeks, I will drink my way through France’s main wine making regions providing tasting notes and recommendations each step of the way.
Bordeaux is probably the most important and best wine making region in the world. Its beautiful countryside is sprawling with grand chateaus only matched with the perfect climate. They produce a lot of wine in Bordeaux, roughly 150,000,000 gallons of wine through 20,000 producers. The majority of these premium wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Each grape is used differently within the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux. The Left Bank tends to use the Cabernet Sauvignon as the focal grape in their blends while the Right Bank priorities the Merlot for blends. The south is known for its dessert wines or Sauternes.
Important Regions within the Banks
Left Bank: Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Jullien, Pessac-Leogan
Right Bank: Pomerol, Saint-Emillion
Burgundy region of France has been producing wine since 200 AD. Unlike the other regions, they are obsessed with terroir to the degree that vineyards are fragmented into small parcels of land. Each of the hundreds of regions is classified as different appellations based on variances in climate, geology and geography. The ultimate goal is and will always be the overall quality of the wines. Hence correlating to grapes being grown based on the terroir produces. Burgundy is known for luscious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This is where Pinot Noir originated from and where you will find complex, balanced red wine. Chardonnay is also native to Burgundy and is often as complex and intense as any in the world.
Chablis (Chardonnay), Côte d’Or, Côte de Nuit (Pinot Noir), Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, Beaujolais
The Rhône Valley
Rhône was one of the first regions of France to be used for winemaking. Although overshadowed by Bordeaux and Burgundy, Rhône is responsible for some of the best wines in the world. Split into two distinct regions Northern and Southern Rhône each differ drastically in their approach to wine. The primary grapes of Rhône are Viognier, Syrah and Grenache. Northern Rhône only allows Syrah to be used in their red wines while Southern Rhône mixes many different grapes into their red wine with Grenache being more of the focal point.
Northern Rhône:Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage
Southern Rhône: Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Tavel
Champagne is an entire region of France dedicated to the production of the highest quality sparkling wine. This region is responsible for the techniques used throughout the world in crafting quality sparkling wine known as methode Champenoise (two step fermentation), the process of remuage (riddling) and degorgement (disgorgement). The main grapes grown in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The colder climate of the region give the wine its unique characteristics. The Chardonnay grape never have a chance to ripen therefore the wine is acidic and light where as it would normally be low-acidic and fuller bodied. The Pinot Noir was also unable to ripen and is used to add body and fruit to the champagne . Pinot Meunier is able to thrive in the cooler climate and is responsible for much of the fruit and acidity in champagne.
Style of Champagne
Non-vintage (blend of vintages), Vintage (non-blended, limited quantity), Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay), Blanc de Noirs (no Chardonnay), Rosé Champagne (juice or skins of red grapes used in 1st fermentation), Prestige Cuvée (best wine the producer makes)
The Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a large region stretches the banks of the Loire River from central France to the Atlantic Ocean. Comprised of four very different regions due to changing climate, the Loire Valley produces almost every style of wine. The most grown grapes of the region are the Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and the Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc produced here are crisp acidic, light bodied and floral. Chenin Blanc originates from the Loire Valley and depending on the climate produces dry to sweet with a range of acidities. Cabernet Franc is used exclusively in the Loire Valley for its red wines, unlike much of the other regions that use Cabernet Franc for blending.
Touraine (Vouvray and Chinon), Upper Loire (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume), Pay Nantais, Anjou-Saumur
Located along the northeastern border of Germany this region has adopted deep roots in German winemaking over its history. The style of the bottles, labels, grapes, style of the wine are mostly German. The key difference is while German wines tend to be sweetened and made from under ripe grapes the wines of Alsace are dry and made from riper fruit. The main grapes grown in Alsace are Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. Riesling is the most famous of the grapes and produces a fruity, dry, citrusy, medium bodied white wine. Gewürztraminer is very distinct, spicier and more exotic then its German grown counterpart. The Pinot Gris is full bodies, low acid and fruity.