When we look at France we are reminded of its “terroir”, as it links the style of the wines to the locations they are made and The Appellation d’origine Controlee (AOC) system which define which grape varieties and winemaking practices are allowed within each Appelation. France is home to grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah to name a few, now grown all over the world.
Burgundy’s prized vineyards stretch from the city of Auxerre in the north down to the city of Macon in the south. In Auxerre we find the wines of Chablis, made with the Chardonnay grapes, moving south we traverse Irancy and its red wines and Saint Bris with Sauvignon Blancs.
While moving south we reach the place where the most sought-after and expensive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay based wines are made, the Cote D’Or, where in fact all of Burgundy Grand Cru vineyards except for Chablis Grand Cru are.
The Cote D’Or is divided in two main sub-regions, Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune, that stretch south for about 70 kilometers from Dijon to Dezize-le-Maranges. This is where we find “Village” wine in the lower part of the slopes and “Premier Cru” to “Grand Cru” as we move higher. The Cote de Nuits contains 24 of the 25 red (Pinot Noir) Grand Crus, while the Cote de Beaune has all of the white (Chardonnay) Grand Crus.
Moving South there’s the Cote Challonnaise with less known Appellations such as Mercurey, Rully and Givry. Below is the Maconnaise and further south Beaujolais, famous for its Gamay based wines.
- Chablis has a cool climate and produces Chardonnay based wines with flinty and steely notes. The soil is made of Kimmeridge clay, the same that is found in the near by Sancerre. The majority of Grand Crus and Premier Crus vineyards are planted along the Serein River. There are 7 Grand Cru vineyards inside Chablis Grand Cru, and 40 Premier Cru, the Grand Crus are Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Presuses, Valmur and Vaudesir.
- The Côte de Nuits extends from Dijon (where the famous mustard is made) to Nuits Saint Georges, this is Pinot Noir land, it covers fourteen communes. The most famous Grand Crus are in Gevrey-Chambertin with 9 of them.
- Côte de Beaune is influenced by the Dheune River, here is where we find the great Chardonnay Grand Cru from Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Aloxe-Corton. In Pommard and Volnay are produced good value Pinot Noirs.
- The Côte Chalonnaise doesn’t have any Grand Cru vineyards, and the Bouzeron AOC produces white wines from the Aligote grape. There are several Premier crus from Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny.
- Mâconnais is in the south of Burgundy, influenced by the Saone river the main grape variety is Chardonnay with great examples coming from Poully-Fuisse and Saint-Veran, there are also some Pinot Noir and Gamay based wines coming from the region.
- Beaujolais overlaps Burgundy in the north and the Rhône valley in the south, like most of Burgundy the body of water flowing through Beaujolais is the Saone River. The soil is mainly Granite and the best Appellations are the Beaujolais crus of: Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Juliénas and Saint-Amour.
Champagne wine region is located in the northeast of France. The soil is Chalky and the climate is continental. The grape varieties used to make champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The main districts of champagne production are Aube (Pinot Noir), Cote de Blancs (Chardonnay), Cote de Sazanne (Chardonnay), Montagne de Reims (Pinot Noir) and Valle de la Marne (Pinot Meunier). Reims and Epernay are the commercial hub of Champagne.
The Bordeaux wine region is located in the southwest of France, with the city of Bordeaux as its business center. The success of Bordeaux are its geological foundation of limestone with a lot of calcium, the soil is composed of Gravel (left bank), sandy stone and clay (right bank) and the affluence of the Gironde river and its tributaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers bringing with their waters an Oceanic influence.
These rivers define the areas where Bordeaux is made:
- The Right Bank: is located right of the Dordogne river close to the city of Libourne. The main grape here is Merlot and the most famous communes are St.Emilion and Pomerol.
- Entre-Deux-Mers: between two seas (meaning the rivers).
- The Left Bank: located on the left of the Garonne river and south of Bordeaux can be divided into 2 sub-regions: Graves and Medoc, the main grape is Cabernet Sauvignon and the most famous communes that produce First Growth Chateaux from the 1855 Classification are: Margaux, Paulliac, St. Estephe, St. Julien, Haut-Medoc and Pessac-Leognan the latter producing some quality Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon. South of Pessac-Leognan is Sauternes, famous for the botrytise wines made with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscatelle
The British call Bordeaux Claret.
The Rhône wine region is divided into two sub-regions the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. The northern produces red wines from Syrah sometimes blended with white wines such as Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier. The Southern Rhône produces red, white and rosé wines, often blends of several grapes like in the famous Chateauneuf du Pape.
- Northern Rhône has a continental climate and is influenced by the cold mistral wind. Main grapes ( Syrah, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier)
- Southern Rhône has a Mediterranean climate and large pebbles are used to retain the heat. Main grapes GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre); Cinsault and Carignan. Grenache is the main grape in the Côtes du Rhône AOC.
- Tavel AOC is famous for its Rose’.
The Loire Valley wine region flows along the Loire River west to east from the city of Nantes to the city of Orleans. Along the way we find the wines of Anjou, Saumur, Bourgeil, Chinon, Vouvray.
- Nantes is home to Muscadet made with the Melon de Bourgogne grapes.
- Anjou in the middle of the Loire produces mainly wines made with Cabernet Franc and Gamay.
- Saumur is famous for its Saumur Mousseux (sparkling wines) and Cabernet Francs in Saumur-Champigny.
- Bourgueil and Chinon produces almost exclusively Cabernet Franc.
- Vouvray is home to the Chenin-Blanc grape grown on limestone-Tuffeua soil and kept in Taffeau caves. Chenin Blanc produces the famous Savenniers wine.
- Sancerre and Poully-Fume’ are made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the red versions of Sancerre are made with Pinot Noir.
Alsace wine is determined by two main factors, the Vosges mountains in the west and the Rhine river in the east. Almost all of the white wines in Alsace are made from aromatic grape varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Pinot gris, Riesling, Muscat and Sylvaner. There two main types of late-harvest wines in Alsace:
- The Vendange Tardive (VT), late harvest
- The Selección de Grains Nobles (SGN), selection of noble berries.
- They vary depending on the amount of Residual Sugar present in the bottle.
Provence is situated south-east of France and its mainly famous for its Rose’ and reds from Bandol near Toulon. The climate is Mediterranean and the soil varies a lot. The main grapes produced here are: Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Rolle (Vermentino). Provence is also home to Cassis.
Languedoc-Roussillon wine is produced in southern France. The five best known appellations are the Coteaux du Languedoc, Corbieres, Faugeres, Minervois and Saint-Chinian. The main grape produced is Syrah.
ARMAGNAC AND COGNAC
Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy produced in the Armagnac region, southwest of France. It is distilled in Column stills from white grapes like Ugni Blanc. The resulting spirit is then aged in oak barrels. It is made in the Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Tenareze and Haut-Armagnac.
Cognac is another variety of brandy named after the town of Cognac. Also Ugni Blanc grape is used to make it but the main difference is that Cognac is double-distilled in Alembic Pot Stills rather then column stills. Aging in barrel is what gives it its darker color.