The Wines of France: An Overview
France as a whole is considered the preeminent wine producing country in the world. This reputation has been held for many centuries and perhaps will not change for as long as wine as made. Wine cultivation in France dates back to Roman occupation, when Roman settlers planted vines brought from Italy. The growing and making of wine has been refined over thousands of years and unfortunately for the rest of the rest of the world, no amount of money and innovation can replace this passage of time. While other countries, such as Italy or Greece, have been making wine even longer than France they have not been blessed with the temperate climate that France enjoys. Certain regions of France, where some of the world's greatest wines are consistently produced, enjoy the most ideal combination of weather and soil that the earth seems able to provide.
It's difficult to choose which regions of France are the most important for wine production but perhaps they would be Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone Valley. The largest area under grape cultivation is in the Southwest where vast oceans of wine are produced, much of it of low quality. Much of the wine that French people actually drink comes from this area. France has long exported its quality wine abroad and the really good wine is often too expensive for the average French citizen to afford.
Burgundy, in the South-East, is famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The land has been under cultivation for so long that areas and vineyards have been subdivided ad infinitum, as growers through the centuries figured out the optimal land for cultivation. This adds a great deal of confusion when trying to decipher the different wines produced in the region. Every vineyard is known for its particular characteristics. This is of course the end goal of any wine producing area and only in Western Europe has there been enough time for the qualities that every vineyard offers to be defined. Wine-making knowledge has traditionally been passed down within families in Burgundy and to a large extent this still holds true. Plots of land and wine-making secrets are jealously guarded.
Bordeaux is situated on the Atlantic coast in the South West of France. Bordeaux is the traditional home of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and continues to set the standard for wines made with these grapes. With a few exceptions, red wine of Bordeaux is almost always a blend of these two, along with several other grapes in minor quantities. Bordeaux has historically benefited from being a major sea-port, which facilitated a booming wine trade. Bordeaux has been doing big time wine business since the Romans. White wines made with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are also world famous and are also considered the standard by which these grapes are judged.
Champagne is located in the cooler climates east of Paris. Until a monk named Dom Perignon perfected the process of making sparkling wine, the region was not particularly well known. The short growing season and cool temperatures produced a tart unripe grape and was completely unsuitable for red wine. The winemakers realized that they could use the cold winters for their benefit as the cold stopped the fermentation and allowed the wine to sit dormant until Spring, whereupon carbon dioxide would form and the wine would become carbonated. Today of course the process is standardized but still the deep, dark and cold caves of Champagne serve their duty to protect the sleeping wine from adverse change.
In the South of France the Rhone River runs into the Mediterranean. Along its steep banks wine is grown, Syrah and Grenache in particular. The region finds its greatest expression outside the town of Chateauneuf de Pape where Syrah and Grenache along with a myriad of proscribed minor varietals are blended to create a world-class wine. Every village and town along the river have their own particular blend, each noted for the different distinct qualities it offers. The Rhone Valley was considered a lesser region for many years but as quality was improved and consumers realized the value it offered it has taken its place in the pantheon of world-class wine producing areas.
France offers a lifetime of wine exploration. The Alsace region on the border of Germany is famous for its white wines as is the Loire Valley, which also boasts many fine reds. Almost every part of France, with the exception of the North, is under grape cultivation. In recent times this has led to problems as France finds itself faced with a glut of wine. People are drinking less and demanding better quality. This is bad news for the growers in the southwestern areas like the Languedoc, who have grown used to easily selling indifferent wine. Yet even in the areas known for lesser quality, the potential for better wine exists. Many growers are attempting to emulate American and Australian winemakers by improving consistency and adopting more consumer friendly marketing. Even after all this time the French wine industry is realizing sometimes a little change is good.
Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.