A Dozen French Wines

A Dozen French Wines
Wine lovers sometimes play a game in which they have to choose just one country whose wines they will drink for the rest of their life, then defend their choice from the other players. We are lucky that good wines are made in so many different places nowadays and there are new countries like China and India joining in and producing wines that may be the icons of the latter part of the 21st century.

If forced to drink the wines of just one country the choice for most people is France. It has a long history; it pioneered most of the wine styles and was the origin of most of the grape varieties planted around the world. It is also a huge country with distinctive wine producing regions. Just one, Bordeaux, makes more than the whole of California.

So I thought I’d put together an imaginary mixed case of French wines, highlighting the range the country can offer. Four red, three dry whites, one rose, one sweet, one sparkling and one fortified.

Bordeaux: The world’s greatest region for fine red wines based on Cabernet and Merlot and a huge producer of everyday claret. Look for Pauillac wines which are Cabernet based or softer wines from St Emilion which favours Merlot.
Burgundy: The world’s greatest region for fine Pinot Noir; this is a region where the producer’s name is more important than the vineyard.
Rhone: Ripe full bodied wines made from Syrah and Grenache: Chateauneuf du Pape is big and beefy and Cotes du Rhone offers great value .
Beaujolais: Soft juicy fruited wines made from the Gamay grape, the village of Fleurie produces the most delicate silky Beajolais.

Burgundy: Home of Chardonnay, made unwooded so crisp dry (rather than fat and buttery) and superb. The Burgundy area of Chablis is rightly known the world over
Alsace: Piercingly precise Riesling in a tall Germanic bottle but that’s the only similarity. Producer Hugel, with bright yellow labels, is reliable
Sancerre: Sauvignon Blanc from the banks of the Loire river, fuller bodied and less acidic than new Zealand. Look for Sancerre on the label or Pouilly Fume, from the town of Pouilly sur Loire across the river whose name inspired Robert Mondavi to call his Sauvignon wine Fumé Blanc.

Provence: The orange pink wines from the French coast are a very grown-up drink. 80% of all Provence wines are made rosé; slightly chill and drink young. Great with lunch.

Champagne: quintessential sparkling wine emulated the world over. I like Lanson’s Black Label as it is crisper than many, but you really can’t go wrong with Champagne. The secret is to stick the bottles away for a minimum of six months before opening and you’ll notice the improvement.

Sauternes: intense sweet dessert wine from nobly rotted grapes. A sub-area called Barsac tends to produce wine with a little more acidity to balance the sweetness.

Languedoc-Roussillon: Vin du Naturel is the confusing name given here to wines strengthened with the addition of grape brandy to stop fermentation and so keep the sweetness of fresh grape juice. Beaumes de Venise is the most distributed but look also for Riversaltes.

So much choice: how about a distilled wine? Cognac from the region of the same name is justifiably famous but I think I’ll reserve the remaining slot in my twelve bottle case for another bottle of Champagne which is a drink I cannot have too much of.

If you could drink the wines of just one country which would that be? Tell us in the forum.

Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

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The Great Domaines of Burgundy
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