French Wines: Introduction to a Journey of the Wine Regions of France

You may have crossed glasses with people who expressed a light intimidation when drinking French wines. While some enjoy featuring how remarkable and elitist French wines can be (throwing wine ratings at you trying to impress with their "knowledge") -- we instead prefer looking at how value driven French wine can be, simply by just visiting wineries and meeting with true farmers. We are sharing with you the quintessential knowledge of French wines -- and it is actually quite easy to enjoy, experience and appreciate.

Even though most of the French grape varietals are found in the United States (Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Riesling and many others), their wines have distinctive flavors that contrast any other region in the world. One of the best examples, in the region of Burgundy, where Pinot Noir is king, two adjoining parcels, farmed and vinified by the same vintner with the same techniques, will develop completely different aromas and flavors. This is where we enter the realm of the specific terroirs of France.

What is a “terroir” that the French boast so much about? Basically, it is the composition of a soil where the vines are planted. Its geology defines if the land will breed fantastic vines or if they should farm something else. But, every country in the world has soil, so what makes French terroirs so special? This question is the most interesting to answer. It isn’t only related to the layers of dirt, minerals and sediments but also to the farming techniques applied. France is the only country in the world that forbids any sort of irrigation or water retention system: a very drastic measure indeed. Let’s take a minute to realize why this fact has such an impact. They cannot dig trenches, pump or change the landscape to source water from a natural stream. They are not allowed to create any retention system to collect rain water. The only way for the plant to survive is by reaching with its roots the deepest layers of soil, looking for and sustaining on pockets of water and moisture. These contain highly concentrated minerals, filtrated over time through all the different type of rocks. “You are what you eat”, this statement alone sums up this process. France, overall, is not as hot as the Napa Valley. If the sun does not provide enough energy, then, the vine's only dietary complement is provided by the earth. Loaded up with minerals and keeping moist thanks to a lesser sun exposition, the fruits develop a complex and integrated array of scents and flavors. The lower sugar content allows tannins for red and acidity for white (both key element for long aging potential) to deepen, developing secondary and tertiary flavors: basically, subtle elements hard to discern when in presence of high alcohol content.

Now that we grasped why the “terroir” are always the core attention for French vintners, let’s focus on their specificities by discussing the most emblematic regions of France. We will be covering in a more detailed manner each of the French wine regions on separate blog posts, and the link to each region appears below.

Learning the basics about the popular wine regions of France