French Wine explained

As the French celebrate Bastille Day with full French flair in July, and the Tour de France takes off, seems timely to take a look at France. With a few basics we’ll have you an expert (or seemingly so) in no time at all.

Bordeaux is located in the south west of France and has for many years been the centre of the world’s fine wine trade; a historic region producing exceptionally long-lived wines. The main red Bordeaux varietals are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. White wines are predominantly made from Sauvignon and Semillon. The top producers make outstanding wines, year in year out, thanks to expertise and the ability to carefully select, whatever the cost. In great vintages they require a good part of your lifetime in the cellar, whilst the tougher vintages are usually earlier drinking. The 2015 vintage of the top wines has just landed in New Zealand. This is a great vintage, the most lauded since the exceptional pair of 2009 and 2010. Also in store the 2012 vintage, a vintage that we have identified as being very good value with many of the wines ready to drink now. This vintage has a lush soft nature to it.

The romantic region of Burgundy starts with Chablis in the north and finishes with Beaujolais in the south. Wines from Chablis are made from Chardonnay; from the heart of Burgundy, whites are also from Chardonnay, whilst reds are made from Pinot Noir. In the south, the grape variety of Beaujolais is Gamay.  

The region of Alsace makes it a little easier for understanding by putting the variety on the label. The five noble varieties grown here are: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Muscat. The classification system is also a little simpler (perhaps the addition of a little German efficiency has helped this small northern region). There’s AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and Grand Cru.

Distinctly broken into two sections, the northern and southern Rhône, and stretching over 800km from just south of Lyon to Avignon in the south. The northern Rhône is home to the great Syrah of France, rich and superbly textured. The white superstar of the north is Viognier, grown in and around the village of Condrieu. The southern Rhône is home to Grenache and the great blended wines of the Rhône.

Loire Valley
There are numerous wines produced in the Loire. We choose to focus on the areas of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Vouvray. Sancerre wines are produced around the town by the same name and are made from Sauvignon Blanc. Pouilly-Fumés (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuissé from Burgundy) are also made from Sauvignon, with the term ‘Fumé’ not referring to a smoked flavour in the wine but rather to the mist that rolls into the region. The wines of Vouvray are grown on top of the steep chalk slopes alongside the Loire River. Vouvray’s are made from Chenin Blanc and in a wide array of styles from dry to very sweet.

The South
Lumped together it’s a big generalisation and a big area to cover. The south coast of France produces the most diverse collection of styles in France. Starting in the west, close to the Spanish border, there are rich and robust reds like the wines of Madiran and Banyuls. Moving to the east and across the sun-drenched beaches of the Mediterranean all the delights of Côtes de Provence hit you.

By: , Wine with Liz Wheadon, Glengarry

Issue 89 July 2018