Essentials Series: French Wine
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be focusing on different regions of wine and their characteristics, varietals, and overall style in our Essentials Series. Up first: France.
When it comes to wine and winemaking, everything comes down to the French. They weren’t necessarily the first to discover wine but they were the first to do everything right. They mastered the growing techniques, the fermentation process, and everything in between. If you notice, most varietals even have French names: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc.
Let’s talk about varietals. It happens that the six noble grapes are actually French (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot) so for the sake of France, we’re going to talk about regions. When Old World wineries label their bottles, they actually use the name of the region, not necessarily the name of the grape, mostly because the entire country of France produces many of the most common varietals.
Burgundy: The lands of Burgundy have been farmed for vineyards for hundreds of years and been consistently growing the same grapes for just as long. The most popular grapes of this region are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, although they can come from all over and will be labeled from their respective geographical region. There’s also Beaujolais which is made from the Gamay grape.
It’s really the climate that makes Burgundy prime for growing Pinot Noir- warm summers and cold winters. The Chardonnay doesn’t require such a specific climate, especially because in Chablis it’s grown in stainless steel casks rather than oak.
Bordeaux: Known almost exclusively for its red wines, Bordeaux has over 10,000 winegrowers and over 60 appellations, which means it’s chock full of unique and delicious red wines- specifically Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. However, many of the Bordeaux-originating bottles you can buy are actually blends.
The region is split into the “Left Bank” and “Right Bank” wines. A blend from the Left Bank will probably be dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon because of the high content of soil which is perfect for the Cab grapes while the Right will be primarily Merlot due to the clay-filled soil that the Merlot grapes love. However, unlike Burgundy, the wines of Bordeaux aren’t named by region, they’re named after their producer.
Loire: The Loire Valley is saturated with wine producers but unlike the other two regions, it isn’t limited to just one or two varieties. Almost everything grows here. It’s a fairly large region so it’s split up into smaller areas: The Pays Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine, and the Central Vineyards.
The Pays Nantais is famous for Muscadet, Anjou-Samur (otherwise known as sparkling wine country) is the biggest producer of Loire’s bubbly, Touraine has its Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, and finally, The Central Vineyards are known for their Sauvignon Blanc. The differing climates of this massive region attribute to the many types of grapes being grown throughout.
Champagne: Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about our bubbly friend. Did you know that Champagne is always sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is Champagne? It must have been physically produced in the region to get the name.
It’s not just the region that makes it famous but it has to do with the very intense production method which involves double fermentation and a turning process that takes weeks. Fun fact: the region does actually produce more than bubbly but it’s not actually called Champagne.
We hope you learned something about French wines from this article, and please stay tuned for the next one on Italian Wines!