by VineSleuth Contributing Writer, Steve Gross
Over the last few years, as I’ve expanded my wine education, I’ve spent quite a bit of time tasting wines from France. I’ve learned how to read the labels, and I’ve tasted more than a few wines from each region. This has raised my enjoyment level immensely. I don’t claim to be an expert, but through the rest of this year, I’d like to take you with me on a wine tasting tour of France.
Why should you care about French wine?
Well, along with Italian wine, French wine has served as a template for other regions around the world. The concept of ‘terroir’ (loosely, the belief that wine takes on the characteristics of the location where it’s grown) originated here, and its validity is argued to this day. Centuries of winemaking in France have produced wines that are great with food and communicate the character of where they’re grown.
Mention Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah, and many wine drinkers will have immediate sense memory of wines made from these grapes. What we know about the flavor profiles of these well-known wine grapes originated in France, and though the grape name is not mentioned specifically on the French wine label (like it is on many New World wine bottles), what we know about many varietals originally emerged in France.
Telling the Wines from Regions of France Apart
As more and more wine is produced all over the world, it has become harder to know what to expect from any individual bottle. The wines of France, while not totally predictable, offer an interested wine drinker a chance to learn wines regionally. This is true because the climate, moisture levels, elevation, and soil are more alike then different within each region.
Each region offers a frame for understanding, and as I learn more about the wine, I take comfort in knowing what to expect from other wines from that region. When a wine is really great, the skill of the winemaker and the placement of the particular vineyard seem to be the keys, and many wonderful wine moments ensue.
What we’ll explore in each region of French wine
As we proceed throughout the country, I will share wines I feel to be typical of each region.
My budget will not be off the charts on this adventure, so we’ll focus on affordable wines. It should be noted, however, that ‘affordable’ will vary from region to region. It’s tough, for example, to get a really representative and full red Burgundy for less than $30-40. I’ve found that if you always try to scrimp on price, you may not get a true picture of each region. For example, if you only tried $10 red Burgundies (if you could even find them), you might not ever drink Burgundy again. You’d certainly scratch your head when you hear of $2,300 bottles of La Tache (a famous red Burgundy) on the wine list of an upscale restaurant!
How will we explore the regions and wines of France?
Over the course of the year, we’ll move mostly in a clockwise manner, starting with Burgundy. (I’ll discuss Bordeaux out of the clockwise order, since it’s not widely drunk during the hotter months, and that’s when we would have arrived there.) I’ll drink red and white wines from each region, then share my observations on the wines, as well as let you know what characteristics you can expect.
If you are looking to taste alongside me, my advice is this:
Ask a lot of questions of your wine professionals, get a sense of the average price of wines from a region, then taste a lot of them so you can (1) get a sense of the uniqueness of the region and (2) find a wine you really like!
As always, I’ll be interested in your comments, and we’ll all benefit from suggestions of good or great wines from each region.
If you are also a wine blogger, I’d love for you to consider tasting alongside me for each region and writing your own posts about your discoveries. Then, share the link to your post on my post about the region. (Please also include a link back to my post on your post so your readers can read what others have to share, as well.) This way we’ll build a great resource for our readers to explore as they learn more about French wine… and we’ll all learn from each other, too. I’m including my posting schedule here. If anything changes in the schedule, I will update it here, as well, so please consider bookmarking this page.
We will follow this itinerary for our tasting through French wines:
- April 17: Burgundy Reds
- May 1: Burgundy Whites Part 1 (Characteristics of the Region)
- May 15: Burgundy Whites Part 2 (Wines Tasted)
- May 29: Beaujolais Part 1 (Characteristics of the Region)
- June 26: Rhone Valley Part 1 (Characteristics of the Region)
- July 10: Rhone Valley Part 2 (White Wines Tasted)
- July 24: Rhone Valley Part 3 (Red Wines Tasted)
- August 7: Roses (mostly Southern) Part 1 (Characteristics of the Region)
- August 21: Roses (mostly Southern) Part 2 (Wines Tasted)
- September 4: Southern Wines Part 1 (Characteristics of the Region)
- September 18: Southern Wines Part 2 (Wines Tasted)
- October 2: Loire Valley Part 1 (Characteristics of the Region)
- October 16: Loire Valley Part 2 (White Wines Tasted)
- October 30: Loire Valley Part 3 (Red Wines Tasted)
- November 13: Bordeaux Part 1 (Characteristics of the Region)
- November 27: Bordeaux Part 2 (White Wines Tasted)
- December 11: Bordeaux Part 3 (Red Wines Tasted)
- December 25: Champagne (Characteristics of the Region)
- December 27: Champagne Part 2 (Champagnes tasted… moved up to get you ready for New Year’s Eve!!)
Will you be joining us for our tasting journey, either by blogging, commenting or just tasting and learning?
What questions or thoughts do you already have about French wine? Please share in the comments.