Close your eyes (well, after you read the next sentence). Imagine the warm sunshine beating down on your skin as you take in the smell of the Provence lavender fields. Or maybe you prefer the hustle and bustle of Paris while sipping on a glass of rosé in the city center. I would do just about anything to take a break of the craziness going on in my life to head to France. Unfortunately, that’s not in the cards for me right now if I want to continue on this journey to become a doctor. The good news is, wine can take me there. One of the things that I love most about wine is its ability to cultivate the essence of the place it came from.
French wine is probably the most reputable wine in the world. It is the second largest wine producing country in the world (can anybody guess what the first is?!). That also means that there is a lot to learn, which can be intimidating. However, it really doesn’t have to be! Here are some tips and tricks to navigate French wine like a pro (and not break the bank!).
Maps & Terroir – The Wine Regions of France
Terroir. Gag… one of those wine snob terms that gets thrown around. What does it even mean? Terroir is the term used to describe how the climate and soil of an area affects the wine. The temperature dictates what kind of grapes can be grown and can actually change the flavor profile of grapes of the same varietal. The soil affects the mineral component of the wine. But can you actually taste the difference? To be honest, I was skeptical too! That was until I discovered the terroir of my favorite winery in Temecula, California. No matter what kind of wine they produced, there was just something about their wines that let me know that it was theirs. But now on to France!
Different regions of France grow different grapes, producing different wine. Sometimes the wine is named after the region that it is from. For example, Champagne is a sparkling wine from Champagne, France. A lot of people call all sparkling wine ‘champagne,’ but this is technically incorrect. Champagne is a varietal (or type) of sparkling wine, just like Prosecco is a type of sparkling wine.
At other times, wine is not named for the region that it is from, but you can assume that it is a particular type of wine based on where it is from. For example, if you are drinking a ‘Burgundy,’ you can assume that it is a Pinot Noir (if it is red). It does get a little more confusing when one wine region produces a few different wines that are native to that region. For example, a ‘Bordeaux’ could be a Cabernet Sauvignon or a few other varietals. I will break it down by region below. Instead of going on and on about each region, I will give you some examples of wine that you might like to try!
As I stated above, a Burgundy is typically a Pinot Noir if it is a red wine. If it is white, it is typically Chardonnay. Chablis is in the northern part of Burgundy and produces the varietal Chablis. This white wine is very similar to Chardonnay in taste. Pinot Noirs are known for being a lighter bodied red wine. Usually I prefer fuller bodied wines, but an earthy Pinot Noir can really give those fuller bodied wines a run for their money!
Talk about the queen of full bodied wines… Bordeaux produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. If you order a ‘Bordeaux’ wine, you can expect it to be a blend of some combination of those grapes. However, a Bordeaux can also just be one of those varietals, but usually it will specify on the bottle. A white Bordeaux is going to be a Sauvignon Blanc, a Sémillon, or a blend of both.
Home of the Syrah. Another one of my favorites. The Rhône Valley also produces Grenache.
Alsace is particularly known for its white wines. You can get a lot of great Riesling and Pinot Gris from this area. A lot of people think of Riesling as a super sweet wine, but this is not always the case. Old world wine, or wine from Europe, typically does not produce sweet Riesling.
Côtes de Provence
Provence is known for making amazing Rosé and Mourvèdre. I remember this one by imagining holding a wine glass of light pink Rosé up against the lavender fields. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be!
Old World (meaning originating from Europe) Rosé is not sweet. This one is a perfect example of how you can have a dry rose with floral and fruit flavors. It has flavors of berry and rose with a smooth and round finish.
Of course, Champagne comes from Champagne. This region also produces red sparkling wines, Sparkling Blanc de Noirs, using Pinot Noir.
Mas de daumas Gassac is the only Grand crus status wine from the Landeudoc region. Grand crus, French for great growth, is a regional wine classification given to certain vineyards to denote a top tier wine. They produce reds, whites, and rose.
This red is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Pinot Noir, Malbec, Dolcetto, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Tempranillo, and Merlot. Although relatively young, it has a lot of complexity with a very smooth finish. Definitely look for notes of earthy lavender and blackberry.
This sparkling rosé smells of fresh fruit but tastes like freshly baked brioche. It is just slightly sweet, so it pairs nicely with a cheese plate filled with brie and goat cheese.
What better to pair with French Wine than French cheese and butter? I made a cheese board complete with fresh cut baguette, brie cheese, butter, fig spread, and olive oil and vinegar. I highly recommend pairing the sparkling rose with the brie cheese!
Photography by Kim Davis & Brendan McFall
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