French wines

Almost everywhere in the world where wine is grown, France is considered the standard. Although there has been a marked shift in recent decades, for example, a Tuscan winemaker of Merlot wines will try to make a Merlot wine that can compete with the quality of a Pomerol and a South African winemaker with a pinot noir will try to emulate the character of a Cote de Nuits.

France has the unique combination of a very specific soil condition, the terroir, and a climate that lends itself perfectly to the cultivation of the leading grape varieties. That combined with knowledge that has been built up before Roman times and has been highly completed since then plus the strict legislation for growing wines, so that quality is guaranteed, has led to circumstances in which the best wines in the world are made.

Regions in France

Alsace  |  Arbois  |  Armagnac  |  Banyuls  |  Beaujolais  |  Bordeaux  |  Burgundy  |  Champagne  |  Chateauneuf-du-Pape  |  Jura  |  Jurancon  |  Languedoc  |  Limoux  |  Loire  |  Madiran  |  Minervois  |  Provence  |  Rhone  |  Rivesaltes  |  Roussillon

The history of French Wines

The first vines came to France some 2,500 years ago, probably because of the Phoenicians who brought them ashore in Marseille. The Romans eventually brought the vines further north. A good example of this can be seen at Domaine Drouhin in Burgundy: in their cellars about 20 meters below the ground you can see a completely intact Roman tower.

After a relatively stable growth in wine production over the centuries, population and prosperity growth accelerated in the 19th century after the French revolution. Around 1870, however, came the phylloxera crisis, which caused a period of decline that lasted until the mid-20th century. From the 1960s onwards, new plantings were added and quality was given a big boost. Whereas in 1870 there was 25,000 hectares of vineyard in the Medoc, in 1960 it was only 5,000 hectares. In 1990 it was 13,000 hectares. These new hectares were mainly planted with the aim of producing quality wines instead of simple wines.

In the 20th century, state intervention established rules on the cultivation of wine, the grape varieties to be used and the demarcation of wine regions. These rules were laid down in, among other things, the appelations

The best French wines

Even though around the world wines are made that, at the very least, measure up to the French wines, the country is still viewed as the standard. Wines from the Bordeaux, with its famous appellations Pomerol, Saint Emilion, Pauillac, Margaux, and Graves, and in a similar way Burgundy with its Côtes de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, as well as the great wines from the Rhone enjoy world-wide renown. On the other hand, the remarkable wines from the Loire, the Alsace and the Provence are not to be underestimated either.

The grape varieties in France

In France, the following blue grape varieties are widely used: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Carmenere, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Gamay,

Furthermore, the following white grape varieties are widely used; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Viognier, Marsanne, Rousanne, Muscat, Chenin Blanc.

The best red French wines are generally made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah. The best white French wines are generally made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Champagne is made from Chardonnay, Pinot noir and pinot minor. It is striking that a large proportion of blue grape varieties are used in the making of Champagne. It is a white wine but by directly pressing the blue grape varieties a white wine is made without a red or pink tint. Only with rose Champagne are the blue grapes not pressed directly.

The French Appelations

Each country can enact its own legislation on wine. These include requirements for:

The origin of the wine, the region. If a particular area has very good climatic conditions and/or specific soil (terroir), then it may be a quality characteristic that a wine comes from a particular region.
The grape varieties used. For each area, requirements can be made on which grapes can be cultivated in order to obtain an appellation. Not all grape varieties produce the best results in a given area.
The yield per hectare. The maximum number of hectolitres per hectare shall be fixed.
The minimum alcohol content.
The techniques used in the vineyard and on the chateau. In France, for example, it is not allowed to be irrigated in the face of (extreme) drought. If they do, the grapes may not be used in the wine that the appellation carries.
The inspection of the wines. All wines that receive an appellation must be approved analytically (in a laboratory) and experimental (i.e. by tasting).

In France, wine is divided into three categories:

Appellation Origine Contrôlée (AOC). The wine comes from a certain area. Specific requirements are placed on the making of wine.
Vin de Pays. The wine comes from a certain region, but it is much less demanding than with the AOC wines. For all types of Vin de Pays, the area of origin must be indicated on the label.
Vin de Table. The wine does not come from a specifi ek area (so it can be a mixture of wines/grapes from various areas) and the legal requirements are less stringent than with the Vin de Pays. This is usually a very simple wine.

The distribution in the three main categories mentioned above applies to the whole of France. The main category Appellation Origine Contrôlée is again divided into a number of subcategories. These may vary by wine region.

Appelations in Burgundy

To get an appellation in Burgundy, only the grape varieties chardonnay (white), aligote (white) and pinot noir (red) may be used.

Burgundy has the following subdivision in appellations:
Appellation Bourgogne Contrôlée: the wine comes from Burgundy.
Appellation <area or municipality> Contrôlée: the wine comes from a certain area or municipality of Burgundy. For example Appellation Puligny Montrachet Contrôlée: the wine comes from the municipality of Puligny Montrachet.
Appellation <vineyard>Contrôlée: the wine comes from a special vineyard and is a grand cru. For example Appellation Montrachet Grand Cru Contrôlée: the wine comes from the Montrachet vineyard.

For distinguishing the best vineyards in Burgundy, one knows besides the above mentioned grand cru also the premier cru. The latter is a lower class than the grand cru.
Premier cru: the wine comes from a specific, very good, vineyard from Burgundy. On the label is next to Appellation <area or municipality> Contrôlée also premier cru on the label. For example: Appellation Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru Contrôlée: the wine comes from a specific vineyard from the municipality of Puligny Montrachet.
Grand cru: the wine comes from one of the best vineyards in Burgundy.

Chablis: an area in burgundy The appellations from the Chablis range from simple (appellation Chablis Contrôlée) to the top (appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée). Here too, several wine producers own entire vineyards or parts of them.

All white wines made in the Chablis of chardonnay and according to the AOC rules may bear the name Chablis.

Appelations in de Bordeaux

As in Burgundy, only certain grape varieties (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, sauvignon blanc and sémillon) may be used in Bordeaux for wines with appellation.

The Bordeaux has the following appellations:
Appellation Bordeaux Contrôlée: the wine comes from bordeaux.
Appellation <area>Contrôlée: the wine comes from a certain area of bordeaux. For example Appellation Haut Medoc Contrôlée: the wine comes from the Haut Medoc area.
Appellation <municipality>Contrôlée: the wine comes from a certain municipality
within a certain area. Appellation Margaux Contrôlée: the wine comes from the municipality Margaux.

In addition to the general appellations, bordeaux also has, analogous to Burgundy, local appellations, to distinguish the best vineyards in this area. Here, however, there is a clear distinction between the vineyards on the left bank of the Gironde (from Medoc to Graves/Sauternes) and the right bank of the Gironde. On the left bank the following appellations are used: premier (1st) grand cru, deuxième (2nd) grand cru, troisième (3rd) grand cru, quatrième (4th) grand cru, cinquième (5th) grand cru and cru Bourgeois. The grand cru subdivision was established in 1855 and has not changed since! The Prime Minister
grand cru's are still the absolute top of Bordeaux, the other crus don't always live up to their cru status anymore. The cru Bourgeois is of more recent date.

Appellations on the right bank are the general area-appellations, such as the Appellation Pomerol Contrôlée. In the appelation of St. Emilion, however, a very own system has been developed, which is redeveloped every ten years. The summit in St. Emilion consists of two premier cru classes A wines. This is followed by a number of premier grand cru classes B and grand cru classes. In addition, there are many grand cru wines, which are generally anything but distinguished. This is in contrast to the grand cru wines of Burgundy.

Where in Burgundy the vineyards several owners, the Bordeaux is organized differently. In bordeaux, vineyards belong to one chateau. The chateau can be given a cru status with its vineyards.

Appelations in the other wine regions

Similar appellations are common in the other regions of France, such as the Loire, the Rhône and Alsace.

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