French Wine: Our First, Our Last, Our Everything
Full disclosure: At Wine for Rookies we are hard core Francophiles and proud of it! Not say that it is our only favorite wine region, but if we could drink wine from one country only for the rest of our lives, France would be it. Think of the diversity: from the delicate bubbles of Champagne to the meatiest of Rhone Valley reds, France has a little something for every palate, mood or budget.
Regions of Note:
- Alsace: French wines with a German accent. The noble varieties live up to their name here. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurtztraminer and Muscat all shine here, be they dry or dessert wines.
- Bordeaux: The traditional home of meaty, sophisticated, age-worthy reds, whites and dessert wines. Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc), Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon thrive.
- Burgundy: Where drinkers can sample the silkiest of Pinot Noirs and most charming of Chardonnays.
- Cahors: Think Argentine Malbec's more rustic, robust French cousin. This is the OG Malbec: black, brooding and beautiful.
- Champagne: The birthplace of bubbles, and argueably the best in the world. These wines are incomparable, toasty, yeasty with a breath-taking acidity.
- Loire: A little something for everyone in terms of varieties and styles, from bone dry to sticky sweet; sparkling to rose and everything in between. Although Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noirs are grown here, it is Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc that truly shine here.
- Languedoc-Roussillon: France's wine lake is also home to some of the most stellar values on the market: Check out reds from the Minervois and Herault, and whites from Picpoul de Pinet.
- Rhone Valley: A region with a split personality! The north features whites made from Viognier or Marsanne and Roussane, while reds are based purely on Syrah. The south is all about the blends. For whites check out waxy, rich and luscious vino based on Grenache Blanc (super underrated). Although Chateauneuf du Pape is the most famous of the regions with its 14 permissible varieties, with the driving force being Grenache. Vacqueyras and Gigondas, provide some well-priced alternatives, with every bit of concentrated berry fruit, leathery earth, deep pepper spice as their more expensive counterparts.
- Provence: Rosés like none other: fresh and pretty and delicious year round! Also the reds of the Bandol are dynamite - deep dark and brooding. If you see an older vintage on a list go for it!
French Wine: Why Are the Labels so darn complicated?
Because Europeans are just smarter than us! Just kidding. If one had to pick a word, it would be, terroir. We have mentioned it elsewhere on this site, but the definition bears repeating. Terroir is known as taste of place, everything other than the grape and the winemaking that goes into what we find in the bottle. Another analogy, If one were to think of a bottle of wine as a work of art, the terroir is the painter, the winemaker the canvas and the grape is the paint.
In the old world the concept of terroir is more important than variety or creativity of the winemaker. In order to bear the name of the region the wine must abide abide by certain rules (Think of it as a local citzenship/ ambassadorship test for the juice in the bottle). the certification prociess that determines wether or not a a wine can bear that name is known as appellation d'origine contrôlée. If you see this term on a label, then you know that your wine has passed the test for typicity - what is typical of the region.