Finding a French wine
October 19, 2007
The holiday season is fast approaching, and many of us will be looking for some special and unusual wines to offer our friends at holiday parties.The French have been making exceptional wines for centuries, but many people steer clear of purchasing French wines, mostly because the labels can be confusing, making it hard to figure out what type grape has been used to produce that wine. Presenting a bottle of a good French wine, that you know a bit about, would make a welcomed hostess gift, and maybe a new tasting experience for the party-goers.Selecting a bottle of French wine can be a very daunting experience for many. Having some fundamental knowledge about French wine regions, and what are the predominate grapes grown in those regions, along with some basic French wine law knowledge should help you in selecting some great new wines to try.
In 1935 France established a system of regulating and defining wine regions, supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture . These laws regulate the production standards, grape variety, minimum alcohol content, and methods of growing grapes. Wines are rated by quality standards into four categories. Look for one of the following ratings on the label to determine the quality rating of the wine.
Appellation Origine Controlee, or AOC, are wines of higher quality: 52 percent of French wines fall into this category. This ranking is about where the grapes are grown, and that region name will appear on the label. Rarely will the grape variety be listed on these wines. Sometimes the word origine will be replaced on the label by the name of the place of origin of the wine, such as Appellation Bordeaux controlee These wines are produced from grape types that are approved for a specific growing region. The maximum yield per vineyard is kept low, viticulture techniques are controlled, and the wines must be taste tested, and chemically analyzed prior to bottling to ensure they meet quality standards. Under this ranking, certain vineyards have earned a superior rating, and the label will indicate this ranking by the phrases grand cru or premier grand cru.
The next level of quality is the Appellation dOrigine Vin De Qualite Superieure: AOVDQS, or VDQS, will appear on the label of these wines. This ranking is similar to AOC wines, but the crop yields are much higher. This rating is generally a temporary rating used for vineyards that are being developed into the higher rating standards of AOC. The next rating is Vin de Pays, which translates to country wine. There are about 150 Vin de Pays appellations in France, accounting for 25 percent of the total wine production. Winemakers must use specific grape varieties, and those varieties will be listed on the label. Before a wine can be bottled and marketed under this ranking it must be tasted and approved by a regional tasting panel. On the label the geographic region where the wine comes from will appear after the words Vin de Pays. The final rating is Vin de Table , which is ordinary table wine produced without limits on grape yields per vineyard, or quality of grapes used, or any regulation as to what varieties can be used to produce the wine.
Now that we somewhat understand the French rankings, we should know the wine growing regions, and what grapes are grown in those regions as a final aid in choosing a French wine.The most well-known region and important region is the Bordeaux region. Red grapes grown there are cabernet sauvignon; white varieties include sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle. Merlot, cabernet Franc, petite verdot, and malbec. Burgundy red wines are produced from pinot noir grapes, and white Burgundy is chardonnay. Beaujolais is produced from Gamay grapes. The Rhone region produces hermitage, which is produced from syrah grapes. Cote Rotie is also produced from syrah. All northern Rhone reds are produced from syrah and the white wines produced there are mostly Viogneir, with some Marsanne and Rousanne, and Clairette white grapes used. Cotes du Rhone is made mainly from Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault red grapes. Chateauneuf-du-Pape traditional blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault and Clairette grapes. Condrieu white wine is produced from Viogneir grapes.From the Loire region Sancerre and Pouilly Fume wines are made from the sauvignon blanc grape. Vouvray is produced from chenin blanc grapes.The Alsace region produces excellent dry rieslings, refreshing pinot gris and pinot blanc wines and wonderful gewurztraminer white wines. Tavel region produces mostly rose wines made from grenache and cinsault red grapes.I hope this thumb-nail guide to selecting some French wines will assist you in selecting some new wines to try. The wine expert in one of our local quality wine shops should be able to refine your search and add much more insight into the terroirs of the vineyards which add so much to the grape flavor profiles, or lead you to wine from a specific wine region.Janice Jones is a Truckee resident and wine consultant. Reach her at email@example.com.