Upcoming Tours Major Grapes: Merlot, Grenache
Welcome to France
France, more than any other wine-producing country, offers an unequaled selection of wines. They span every taste sensation and include some of the greatest wines the world has ever known. Great wines are never inexpensive. But because French wines are so varied, they cover a braod range of prices.
Blessed with an ideal combination of soil, climate and a long tradition of wine making, France has over the centuries created wines that are the standards against which all other wines are judged.
About one million Frenchmen grow grapes. From these grapes come wines of every style, each different from those of other regions.
The centuries-old wine history of France has shown that the quality of a wine is tied to two factors: the grape variety and the soil. So the same grape variety will produce a different wine in one place than it will in another place where the soil is different. Under AOC laws, only grape varieties that have proven themselves best for that place are allowed to be grown there and to be used in that wine.
Some wines are, by tradition and law, made of several varieties- Bordeaux red for example can be made of 6 different grapes. Other wines such as beaujolais must be made of only one variety.
When more grapes per acre are produced, the concentration of taste tends to decrease. In order to prevent overproduction and maintain high standards, a maximum number of gallons of wine per acre has been established. As an appellation becomes more specific- St. Emilion for instance- the number of gallons allowed from each acre decreases.
AOC laws also limit the number of vines per acre as well as the pruning methods.
It is under these strict regulations that French wine makers must try to produce the best quality wines. They are not even allowed to irrigate!
Bordeaux is one of the most important wine regions in the world, producing most of the fine wines of France. In fact no other region anywhere produces a greater amount of outstanding wines.
Located near the Atlantic coast in SW France, Bordeaux is heavily influenced by 2 rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne which join to form the Gironde. All of the great wines of this region come from vineyards close to one of these rivers.
The major grapes used in Bordeaux red wines are the cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec. For whites, the grapes are the sauvignon blanc and semillon. Most Bordeaux wines are blends of various amounts of these grapes and there is no 100% varietal used.
There are several categories of premium Bordeaux wines. The most basic level in the AOC is the wine labelled simple “bordeaux.” The next category in quality is the wine named after one of the various sub-districts, such as St. Emilion, Haut Medoc or Cotes de Blaye. Then the quality increases dramatically the more specific the label: the next level of quality is the individual commune name, eg St. Emilion, Pauillac, Margaux. The final category in quality is the wine named after an individual vineyard site, where the grapes used for the wine come from a certain estate or vineyard, eg Chateau Lascombes. This latter category is where you will find the most famous of the Bordeaux wines.
The fame of Bordeaux originated in the Classification of 1855, where the top wineries at the time (84 of them) were ranked and placed into one of 5 categories or crus, called 1st Growth, 2nd growth, etc.
Some of regions in Bordeaux produce only red or white wines; others produce both and some only produce a sweet dessert table wine.
The Loire Valley has the claim to being the most beautiful wine region of France.It is where medieval and renaissance nobility built magnificent fortresses or pleasure castles. One of these castles inspired Disney’s fairy castle.
The Loire River is the longest in France and there is wine produced all along its route to the Atlantic Ocean, some 350 miles from end to end. Most of the wines are white, although there are some wonderful rosés such as Anjou and reds. The Loire valley also produces some outstanding sparkling wines and dessert wines.
The primary grapes are the sauvignon blanc used in Sancerre, chenin blanc and the cabernet franc.
Picturesque villages with quaint cobble-stoned streets and half- timbered houses are what characterize the entire region of Alsace. The Alsatian wine region is west of the Rhine River and is about 70 miles long and 1-2 miles wide. It is influenced by the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Rhine to the east.
It is unique among the France wine regions because it labels its wines after the grape variety, and not the geographical reference. Almost all Alsatian wines are white, the primary grapes being the Riesling, gewurztraminer and the sylvaner.
Burgundy is one of the top 2 wine regions of France, the other being Bordeaux. It is not the largest region and is a fraction the size of Bordeaux. Yet it consistently produces some of the finest, and most expensive, wines of the world.
Geographically Burgundy is an elongated region of different soil types separated into the following districts: Chablis, Cote D’Or sub-divided into Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise, the Maconnais and Beaujolais.
All of Burgundy’s major white wines are made entirely from the Chardonnay and the reds from the pinot noir. Some of the vineyards are so small that they consist of only a row or 2 of vines. For this reason, many of the wines are sold to shippers who label the wines under their names. Consequerntly it is essential to become familiar with the best shippers since they consistently produce the best wines.
The names of the wines are controlled, as they are throughout France, by the AOC laws. The Cote D’Or has the right to laber their wines as grand cru- their very best-, premier cru and village wines.
To complicate matters even more, many of the villages have adopted the name of the most famous vineyard in the town; eg Gevrey Chambertin, Chambolle Musigny.
The Cotes du Rhone is a long, narrow strip that stretches along the banks of the Rhone River. It begins just below Lyon and ends 140 miles south in Avignon. The northern region is characterized by steep mountain vineyards of the syrah garpe; the southern region is flatter and uses more than 12 different grapes in the blend. Most of Cotes du Rhone wines are red, although some outstanding white wines with a world-wide reputation are made; eg Condrieu, Chateau Grillet. Some of the best rosés in France, such as Tavel, come from the Cotes du Rhone.