If you are traveling to France anytime soon, or simply need a reminder next time you want to stray from US wines, print this shortcut or reminder of what is what from French vines.
First the basics.
- Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)
These wines are the finest (with Vins de Qualite Superieure, AVODQS, finishing a very close second). Vineyard growing areas, yields, grape varieties and alcohol content are scrupulously regulated. When looking at the label, note that the word for the area of origin will often replace “d’Origine” as in “Applellation Beaujolais Controlee.”
- Vin de Pays (VAN DUH PAY-EE)
These wines bring you to the delightful bouquet of the French countryside. They are often varietal wines whose growing area, grape variety and minimum alcohol content are carefully delimited. But do not limit yourself. Serve these delicious wines with all your favorite meals.
- Vine de Table (VAN DUH TAB)
In France, these are the wines the French enjoy daily. They give you a consistent blend of fine quality and good value. French table wines are easy to get to know and a joy in their diversity. Available in red, white, and rose, these wines are splendid with a wide variety of foods.
Now the regions.
- Loire Valley (LWAHR)
Extending the length of France’s longest river, the Loire, this valley was known as the vacation spot for the French royalty. Today, you can dine just as royally by having a Loire wine for every occasion. There are sparkling wines, for the aperitif hour, crisp, refreshing whites perfect with seafood; light reds and roses for simple meat and poultry dishes, even demi-sec (slightly sweet) and moelleux (sweet) wines for desert.
- Bordeaux (BOR-DOE)
Since the 1st Century A.D., the region of Bordeaux has been creating wines which have delighted everyone from ancient Romans to modern Parisians. This 2,000 year experience has led to wines which are considered the epitome of the winemaker’s art. Serve Bordeaux whites with seafood, ham, poultry, and pork. Serve Bordeaux reds with lamb, duck, and any roast with rich sauces.
- The Southwest
Situated next to Bordeaux, this is an enormous wine-producing region which is noted for Bergerac and Cahors wines among many others. 100 years ago, the vineyards were devastated by disease. Remarkably, the vineyards now bloom again with rediscovered local, historical grape varieties. In fact, these age-old varietals producing red, white and rose wines, both dry and sweet, are being enjoyed by new generations of wine lovers.
- Languedoc-Roussillon (LANG-DUC RUE-SEE OWN)
On the slopes, hillsides, terraces, plains and coastlines the vineyards of this region in southern France represent the world’s most extensive wine growing area, producing world class varietals. This is an emerging wine region with new growths, new wines and a new sense of importance among wine lovers. Here you’ll find wines with a powerful bouquet, fruity roundness, full body and pleasant spicy character.
- Alsace (AL-SASS)
Dry, white and fruity, the wines of Alsace are ideal for a variety of menus and are especially well matched with exotic spicy cuisines. These are the French AOC wines which are named after the grapes from which they are grown- Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (Tokay d’Alsace), Riesling, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Sylvaner.
TRAVEL NOTE: These are among our favorite wines in France. They are typically white, affordable and very drinkable. Ask the shopkeeper or waiter for the “dry or not sweet” choices. By the way, a week long trip along the region’s “wine road” is delightful. Loaded with charming hotels and one of the largest concentrations of affordable Michelin starred restaurants. Consider the off season for no crowds and affordable prices.
Fly in and out of Frankfurt, rent a car at the airport, add Strasburg at the beginning and a spa stop at Baden Baden on the end and make it 10 days or two weeks. (Now back to wine!)
- Bourgogne (BOR-GOAN-YUH)
For centuries, the region known as Burgundy has produced marvelous whites from the Chardonnay grape and wondrous red wines from the Pinot Noir variety. Whites go especially well with seafoood and many poultry preparations. Reds complement all types of beef. Between Bourgogne and Beaujolais thrives the sub-region of Macon where winemaking dates back to the founding of the abbey at Cluny in 910. It’s famous for wines such as Macon-Villages, Macon Lugny and the renowned Pouilly-Fuisse.
- Beaujolais (BOE-JZOH-LAY)
From Beaujolais Nouveau to basic Beaujolais to Beaujolais-Villages to the 10 Beaujolais crus, these 100% Gamay grape reds have a refreshing, fruity bouquet. There is a Beaujolais to go with everything from gourmet dises to pizza, from pasta to burgers. Best served slightly chilled, Beaujolais is known as “the red that drinks like a white.”
- Rhone Valley (ROAN)
The Rhone valley in southern France is an area rich in history with vineyards dating back to pre-Roman times. The whines produced here are as robust as the climate. Noted for rich, spicy reds, Rhone wines are perfect with poultry, game, stews and hearty cheeses.
- Provence (PRO-VAHNS)
Situated in southeastern France is an area on the Mediterranean, Provence is a region of contrasts – flower filled valleys and rugged mountain ranges, lush forests and the famed beaches of the Cote d’Azur. This is the home of bouillabaisse, salad nicoise, hearty stews and strong aromatic white, red and rose wines.
The island of Corsica, off the southern coast of France, is best known as the birthplace of Napoleon in 1769. Wines is a integral part of the Corsican way of life. Corsican proverbs, sayings and maxims assess life’s experiences with wine and the vine. The inhabitants of Corsica produce many fine white, red and rose wines which go wonderfully with seafood as well as with meats.
TRAVEL NOTE: We were lucky enough to have a wonderful Corsican meal including their wines on a brief stop while on a Mediterranean cruise. The white wine we ordered was crisp, tart, bold with a clean finish. We would go back in a heartbeat to see more of the island and its Italian neighbor Sardinia. We have never found a Corsican wine in our stores. Has anyone out there found these wines in the US?