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The Wines of France
March 8th, 2016

France the home of wine

France is home to some of the longest dated viticulture and enology practices in the whole world. There is spectacular regional delineation here with some of the most unique and sought after wines in the world that truly show a sense of place and express the essence of varietal typicity. Understanding the wine regions of France can offer any enthusiast the opportunity for a very solid education in the baseline of fine wine culture around the entire planet. For it is in France that we find the great and aristocratic "clarets" of Bordeaux, the sensuous and seductive Pinot noir and Chardonnay of Burgundy, the racy and flinty Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire Valley, the home of the fiercely sought after bubbles that grace the finest celebrations, and the meaty, earthy, and urethral reds of the Rhone. Literally thousands of tomes have graced script about the scintillating wines of France, but here we will only summarize the great qualities and grape vines of each region in order to give a small semblance of topical cognizance.

Bordeaux

Home of the great Chateaux, Bordeaux is a standard bearer for the entire world of wine. Five permitted red grape varieties and three white ones make up the blends or as the English deemed them "Clarets" of Bordeaux. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec are the grapes of the red wines, while Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle create the whites. In 1855 the Classification of Bordeaux took place to categorize the quality wines of the left bank or Medoc in order from most expensive to least, in the form of 1st through 5th growth wines. Today these classifications still exist giving a hierarchy to the higher ranking Chateaux whether or not they deserve it or not. The wines from Saint Emillon that grace the right bank of the great Garonne estuary, which are primarily Merlot based, were given a different set of classifications many years later. Pomerol a small right bank region that garners much esteem was never classified and still isn't today. 

Burgundy

A region carved in the valleys and slopes of the Saone tributary of the Rhone, Burgundy established itself as a viticultural utopia as early as the second century AD. Benedictine and Cistercian monks of the Roman Catholic church were pivotal in the cultivation of vineyard practices and formed the deep rooted history and idea of terroir in the region. Terroir a concept of how a wine can be an expression of the soils, specific micro-climate, and the people who tend them. Because of the cool climate conditions in Burgundy, the grapes that have made their homes here are particularly suited to Burgundy's mild and somewhat unpredictable weather patterns. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay make up the bulk of production in the regions, while in the southern region of Beaujolais Gamay Noir takes center stage as the grape of choice. Unlike Bordeaux, Burgundy has a classification system rooted on the vineyards themselves, rather than the actual estate and the grand vin. Grand Cru denotes a vineyard of the highest quality, Premier Cru vineyard of supreme quality but not as high as Grand Cru, Village wines can be made from several vineyards inside a particular sub-region of Burgundy and are usually a bit higher in production, but still of nice quality, and than finally Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge which are simply wines made from any grapes inside of the region of Burgundy. 

Champagne

Home of the most celebrated wines in the world. Celebrated in the sense that the wines are most typically consumed for special occasions outside of the region and country of France. Three grape varieties are principal in the production of Champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Most non-vintage house cuvee's are made from a combination of all three grapes, however if the wine states "Blanc de Blanc" it means it's made from 100% Chardonnay. Likewise if the wine says "Blanc de Noir" it's made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. Wines that state the vintage are most commonly held in higher esteem as they are normally produced in a single vintage which is of particular high quality. Champagne is also classified by dryness and sweetness level and the following terms are used to describe such levels in order from dry to sweet: 

*  Extra-Brut or Brut-Naturale 0-6 gram of sugar per liter (the driest of the dry, unsweetened) 

*  Brut less than 15 gram of sugar per liter (dry, this is the typical style of Champagne with no sweetness) 

*  Extra-Dry 12-20 gram of sugar per liter (still dry with a hint of sweetness or slightly sweet) 

*  Sec 17-35 gram of sugar per liter (medium sweet) 

*  Demi-Sec 33-55 gram of sugar per liter (sweet) 

*  Doux more than 55 gram of sugar per liter (Sweetest, very rare and is considered as dessert wine)

Loire Valley

This is a complex growing region that is much more than meets the eyes. Generally speaking what really reaches the masses from the Loire Valley are the famous Sauvignon Blancs from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. These wines are the gold standard for the grape varietal around the world. Chalk full of intense aromatic expression of mineral and sea floor essence, these Sauvignon Blanc's can literally floor you with their intense acidity and immense food pairing quality. Further west in the region there are other extraordinary white wines that rivals these with their complexities. Muscdet from the Pays Nantais and Chenin Blanc from Touraine are fascinating whites that when made in a quality fashion can become the sharpest of instruments in the Sommeliers tool kit. Cabernet Franc is produced in this region as well with very high praise in the small Chinon and Bougueil appellations. These wines tend to be lighter in style and incredibly aromatic. Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley almost resembles Pinot Noir in color and texture, but exudes the most mind-blowing herbal and mineral notes.  

Rhone 

The long and narrow Rhone valley is basically divided into two separate sub-regions the Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhone. The Northern Rhone produces it's red wines from the Syrah grape and it's whites from a combination or Roussane and Marsanne, and also Viognier. The Southern Rhone grows a much larger variety of red varietals, however the focus is much more on Grenache, with Syrah and Mourvedre taking second and third stage. Whites are also grown in the Southern Rhone with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussane and a number of other obscure whites featuring. The Southern Rhone is also home to the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape which is a blend of up to 19 varieties of wine grapes (ten red and nine white). 

Alsace

Because of it's close proximity to Germany, Alsace France is undoubtedly Germanic in it's varietal choice and expressions. Alsace is located on France's eastern border and on the west bank of the upper Rhine neighboring both Germany and Switzerland. The primary grape varietals grown in Alsace are all white with exception of very few reds made from the Pinot Noir grape which are light and pale in color. Most of the whites are made with aromatic varietals and being such the overall characteristics of these wines are floral and spicy. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Muscat, and Sylvaner are the most widely planted grapes. 

 

 

 


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