French Tips: Getting to know French Wines

The fascinating world of French wines is vast. The many wine names, regions, appellations, grape varieties, and so on might seem confusing indeed! Ever wondered what the terms terroir and appellation mean? Or what French wine to pair with your next meal?

The first thing to understand about French wine is that it is labelled by region rather than grape varietal because of the focus on terroir. Terroir refers to all of the regional environmental factors that give grapes their particular flavor. These factors can include local climate, soil content, weather patterns, elevation, nearby bodies of water, local plants, and more. This practice marks the biggest difference between French and American wine labels so it’s helpful to know what major wine grape varieties are produced in each wine region of France. If you enjoy sauvignon blanc wines you will find these in the Loire Valley while you need to go to Bourgogne to find pinot noirs. But where do you find cabernets, chardonnays and others? This informative blog includes a helpful map that lists the major grape varietals found in each region.

Next you need to familiarize yourself with the concept of French appellations which are legally defined areas within the major wine regions where grapes are grown. In France, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC system, strictly regulates the grape varieties that can be used in each appellation, minimum alcohol levels, how densely you can plant a vineyard, and how much it can yield. For example, Bordeaux alone has 57 distinct appellation areas throughout its region making it the biggest producer in France. Today, there are over 360 AOCs in France within 11 primary growing regions (Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Rhône, Loire, Alsace, Provence, Champagne, Beaujolais, Sud-Ouest, Languedoc-Roussillon and Corse). These appellation names are proudly displayed on the bottle labels along with the region, vintage year and chateau winery producer.

Of course, we all know that the French love to enrich their meals with the perfect wine pairing, so now that you understand how to decipher a French wine label you may be wondering which wines go best with seafood, grilled steaks or perhaps a summer salad. This food and wine blog highlights some favorite pairings to keep in mind when planning your next dinner party. Finally, you might want to brush up on your  wine vocabulary before embarking on your first French wine shopping adventure. Bonne dégustation de vins français!

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