DYWK Country Series: France, Part II – Key Wine Regions of France

Bonjour à mes collègues amateurs de vin!  (And thank you, Google Translate.) It is time for Did You Wine Know France Country Series Part Deux!  As a reminder, this is part of a 3-part series covering some basic Wine Know of France.

DYWK Country Series: France, Part II – Key Wine Regions of France

As you may have noticed, while strolling around your local wine shop, French wines do not have labels splattered with the name of the grape used to make the wine.  They are known by the region from which they come. It comes down to “terroir”.

Terroir: Terroir is a French term and we don’t really have an English word for direct translation.  It is is the grape growing environment that is influenced by climate, sunlight (and orientation to the sun), soil, slope of the earth, elevation, rainfall, wind, fog, temperature, etc.  It is the sum of everything that influences the growing of grapes.  Wines from a particular terroir have flavors in the wine that are associated with that particular location (as in plot of land).  Every vineyard in France is said to have its own terroir. Technically, one (with a very well trained palate) should be able to taste a wine and recognize where it is from because it should taste like it came from that region.

Terroir is embedded in the culture of French wine.  We might say it defines the French wine culture.  The classification system is based on this concept – a vineyard must show that there are flavors that are typical of the land on which the grapes grow (from that terroir) in order to be classified in the wine system.

Wino Take-Away: Terroir is très important to building your French Wine Know. Wines from a particular region have characteristics that are typical of that region.

Regions:  There are 14 official wine regions of France (a designated wine region must be part of the AoC/AOP classification system, as discussed in Part I.) There is SO MUCH to know about French wines – I mean, they have books that cover just one region or even one vineyard with lots and lots of history and meaning.  My trusty source for much of my Wine Know (The Wine Bible) dedicates 200 of its 900 pages to France and its regions.  But here on W2WK, I intend only to whet your appetite on the topic and will spend about 800 more words on the topic.

The below image shows where France’s 14 wine regions are located. In today’s post, I’m going to highlight the types of grapes grown in just four of these regions. Because of the strict regulations in the French wine classification system, only certain grapes are allowed to be grown in certain regions.  For example, winemakers in Bordeaux aren’t allowed to plant just any old grape, make wine, and call it a Bordeaux.  They must use the grapes permitted by the system.  Since we American Winos primarily choose our wines based on the grape varietal (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, etc), we get a little squeamish around wines without this info on the label. I tend to wander into the French wine section at the store and look around wondering if “Chateaux blah blah blah” is going to be light or heavy or bold or fruity…. I never know! But hopefully this breakdown of some of the French wine regions will give us a start and knowing what to go for in the wine shop. 

French Wine Regions

French Wine Regions

Bordeaux: This region produces more wine than nearly any other region in the world.  Over 700 million bottles of wine are produced in Bordeaux every year.  And 80% of that is red wine. Five grapes are primarily used to make Bordeaux wines – and they are almost always blended together.  “Bordeaux wines are about elegance and intensity of flavor; they are rarely massive or powerful.” (The Wine Bible)

  • Reds
    • Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Merlot
    • Cabernet Franc
  • Whites
    • Sauvignon Blanc
    • Sémillon
  • Other “supporting” grapes used minimally to blend wines include Malbec, Petit Verdot, Muscadelle, and Ugni Blanc.

Historical Fun Fact about Bordeaux: Because this region is on the waterways of France, in the 13th/14th centuries, Bordeaux wines were being shipped off to places like England. And as the English (among other countries) became accustomed to the joys of Bordeaux, its success and familiarity grew faster than most other French wines.

Wino Take-Away: Bordeauxs are primarily a blend of the major and minor grapes grown in the region, which brings about a gentle complexity.

The Loire Valley: The Loire is the most diverse wine region in France as it grows many different grapes. As you can see in the map, it is a long strip of land from west to east. The region has a cool climate and experiences temperatures at some of the lowest points at which grapes can ripen. “The signature characteristic of all Loire wines is their zesty acidity.” (The Wine Bible)  For The Loire Valley, different types of grapes are primarily used in different parts – so I’ll highlight the grapes not by red vs white, but by the regions within the region.

  • Western Loire – primarily produces dry white wine
    • Muscadet (white)
  • Central Loire – produces sweet-medium sweet wines, sparkling wines, dry red and white, and rosés
    • Chenin Blanc (white)
    • Sauvignon Blanc (white)
    • Cabernet France (red)
  • Eastern Loire – primarily produces dry white wines, some red
    • Sauvignon Blanc (white)
    • Pinot Noir (red)
    • Gamay (red)

The interesting historical influence of The Loire Valley is that it used to be the vacay spot of Kings and their courts in the mid-20 century. They’d ride on down from Paris when it got too hot and went to hang out in The Loire.  And what does one do on vacation?? Eat and drink too much, of course. So Loire Valley wines were developed to accompany food from that region. For example, the Western Loire Valley – which is on the ocean – produces wines that you will likely enjoy most when consumed with a seafood dish.

Wino Take-Away: Loire Valley wines are widely varied with many grape varietals, and may be most enjoyed when paired with food.

Burgundy: Karen McNeil – author of The Wine Bible- describes wine in such an eloquent way that I’m going to have to just quote her on her Burgundy description.  “The great red Burgundies are indisputably sensual. For centuries they have been described in the most erotic of ways, and sipping them has been compared, among other things, to falling in love.” Does that not make you want to go out to the wine shop and grab a bottle RIGHT NOW or what?! (In fact, I think I might…)

Drinking a good Burgundy may conjure ethereal feelings, so one might think there is a complex blending methodology used to bring about great balance. (No wait – we already learned that happens in Bordeaux.)  Burgundy has only TWO major grapes.

  • Red: Pinot Noir
  • White: Chardonnay
  • Note: Gamay is also used for wines from Beaujolais, which is technically part of Burgundy

Drinking a red Burgundy is not quite like opening a bottle of Pinot Noir, however. The flavors of red Burgundies are greatly influenced by their terroir and each vineyard is unique in its terroir.  Another interesting historical piece to this is that the average grower has only 3.2 acres. This primarily ties back to the days of Napolean who set in place land fracturation laws requiring that all children in one family receive an equally divided piece of their father’s land. So the land broke up into smaller and smaller chunks.  (Luckily, this did not stop anyone from continuing to grow grapes.)

Wino Take-Away: While Burgundian reds are all primarily made from Pinot Noir grapes, they vary greatly in flavor and complexity from vineyard to vineyard. But a good red Burgundy may have you floating on cloud nine upon tasting.

The Rhone: The Rhone region is divided between Northern and Southern Rhone, and these areas are very different. Most of Rhone produces red wines, but whites and roses are also made there. Northern Rhone primarily uses Syrah as its major grape and Southern Rhone reds are usually blends of a number of grapes. “The wines’ howling spiciness has no parallel. Rhones are the wine equivalent of a primal scream.” (The Wine Bible)

Northern Rhone:

  • Red: Sarah
  • White: Viognier, Marsanne, Rousanne

Southern Rhone:

  • Red: Grenache Noir (is the major grape)
  • Whites: Granache Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne

Because these wines are so big and bold, a good red Northern Rhone wine will age very well – upwards of 50 years!  (Who on earth can save a bottle for that long!?)  Something to keep in mind when you have things to celebrate 50 years down the road… I guess my 85th birthday is probably worth celebrating… hmmm. Something to think about.

Wino Take-Away: Red Rhone wines are big and spicy.  

There are TEN MORE wine regions of France.  As you can see, it takes a lot of Wine Know to get a feel for each region’s characteristics (or terroir) as represented in wine. For me, I feel like I have a slightly stronger understanding of at least these four regions now, and won’t have to pretend (as much) that I know what I’m doing in the French wine aisle.  Next up in the Country Series is going to be more about pairing food to these wines.

Wound Up, Wined Down

This week, I had the pleasure of flying out for a work trip on Sunday. Yes. Sunday. [Insert growl.] Sunday work travel gets me a little wound up… I mean, it keeps me from lounging on my couch and watching episode after episode of Parenthood, or Breaking Bad, or other shows available on Netflix while flipping through holiday catalogues. Clearly, important things. So anyway, after I begrudgingly boarded my flight, I opted to spend the $7.00 for a mini-bottle at 30,000 feet to wind down. And, as expected, it was a success!

Brickhouse Cabernet was better than expected… But most things are when paired with B.B. King amd Eric Clapton!20121203-235118.jpg

The Top 100 of 2012…

It has arrived… Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list!!  Can’t wait to review it in more detail and start trying out some of these wines (and then posting about them here!)

Wine Spectator, December 2012

!!Spoiler Alert!! 

The Wine of the Year is a Shafer Vineyard’s 2008 “Relentless”.  It’s a Syrah-Petit Syrah blend… It’s $60/bottle but only 3,300 cases were made.  Which I believe means it may be difficult to track down.

Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year
2008 Relentless, Shafer Vineyards

 

 

Wine Gratitude

Hello Winos! My how I’ve missed you!  I appreciate your patience as I took a bit of a hiatus from the blogging world.  But I’m very excited to get W2WK up and running again. Stand by for some formatting changes in the coming weeks.

So why now?  While I do believe there isn’t necessarily a season for wine (all seasons are wine seasons!), the holiday season is certainly our society’s chosen time of year for a wee-bit of overindulgence.  (AKA: gluttony and drunkenness) And we all know you can’t fight it… so my suggestion… join in with a little wine know.

Today I offer you some wine suggestions for The Meal.  (That would be Thanksgiving, in case you couldn’t tell from me making “the” and “meal” proper nouns.) Whether you are dining alone, in a small group, or amongst a chaotic gathering of family, I would argue (though I don’t know it is worth arguing this point with a bunch of Winos) that the wine is just as important as the turkey!

So The Meal… it tends to be full of salty, buttery, and savory dishes. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, fancy stuff that I don’t know how to prepare, etc., etc. What does one think about when choosing some wine to accompany such dishes? Well, balance is key… you don’t want to eat all those savory foods and then have a super dry red that will make your throat beg for water.  But you don’t want a soft wine either that will get lost in the mix of all the other flavors.

Tobin James Ballistic Zinfandel

For red wine, go for something big, bold, and fruity.  Specifically, try a fruity Zinfandel, Syrah, or Merlot.  A Cabernet Sauvignon will also work (then again, when does it not?!), but aim for one that is more fruity than dry. I will be accompanied to my Thanksgiving celebration by Tobin James’s Ballistic Zinfandel for this Thanksgiving.  It is full of flavor and has a great balance with its fruitiness that will definitely bring out the flavors of your Thanksgiving dinner. Another option that I’ve read about, but never tried, is having a sparkling Shiraz.  Doesn’t that sound delish??! I may have to give that a whirl too.  (Head’s up 43rd Street – we’re going to have a lot of wine to consume!)

 

Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling

For white wine, try a Chardonnay or a dry Riesling. Many times, we assume Rieslings are always sweet, but there are plenty that lean towards the dryer side.  An overly sweet wine may be too much sugary flavor for the savory meal.  If you prefer Chardonnay, try one from California. My white wine choice for Thanksgiving is the Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling (which we’ve talked about here on W2WK before).  I am almost surprising myself with this choice, but based on my wine reading, and imagining that turkey with this Riesling, I think it will be a good choice!

 

Happy Thanksgiving, Winos! I know we all share in our gratitude for enjoying a delightful bottle of wine.  But it’s always better when you get to enjoy that delight with a great meal, like Thanksgiving, and maybe even with some great friends and family.  What will you be drinking with your meal? Leave a comment and let us know!!

 

Varietal: Little Sniffers

While hanging out with some of my favorite family members, “Buttercup” and “Bear”, I witessed some of the most intense wine smelling I’ve ever seen. Buttercup smelled strawberries and Bear smelled grapes in this Cabernet Sauvignon…. They’re on to something…

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Varietal: Wining at Lunch… Turkish Style

I know…. The biggest blogging mistake is dormancy. And I have been dormant. But today’s lunch is going to propel me from my hibernation and back into gaining more Wine Know!

So, I don’t often have a glass of wine at lunch… Not because I don’t enjoy it, but because it usually leads to an unplanned nap. (Apparently, I have real issues with dormancy.) But it was a long week… I was getting ready to get on a plane (where I usually nap whether or not I want to)…so why the heck not?!

My lovely co-worker suggested Pasha Mezze for lunch in the Kent neighborhood of Norfolk, VA. This place has “Mediterranean and Anatolian cuisine” made from local ingredients… And much to my delight, it also had regional wine options on its menu! I generally think it makes a meal more interesting (and often better) when pairing wine and food by region. Especially when the wine offering is somewhat unique! Can’t say I often look for Turkish wine at the wine store… Though now that I’ve tried it, I may just have to!!

I enjoyed a glass of the Kavaklidere Yakut red wine… And it did indeed have fruit flavors and ripe tannins with a pleasant and velvety finish (as indicated on the menu).

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Here’s to many more wining lunches in the future!

Varietal: Wine Know Inbound!

The day got away from me today and I did not have a chance to complete a Thoroughly Wine Know Thursday post.  But I did want to take a moment to share a new incoming source of “wine know” for W2WK followers.  I recently subscribed to Wine Spectator and just received my first edition in the mail!! I’m looking forward to passing along any interesting tidbits of knowledge that I gain from my new favorite pleasure reading!

 

A new subscriber’s first delivery!

Varietal: Napa Cabs under $30

No, no, Winos.  I’m not talking about taxi cabs in Napa Valley…  I’m talking about Cabernets Sauvignons from Napa Valley!  (Wa-ha-ha.)

I came across the Wine Enthusiast’s recent article on 30 Napa Cabs for Under $30. Since Napa Valley’s Cabernet Sauvignons can be quite expensive, I’m happy to have a list to work through that is more within my budget for wine!  I’m personally willing to spend up to about $14 on a bottle I’m unfamiliar with, but beyond that, I get nervous about buying it if I haven’t already heard the bottle is a delight.  So this list will serve as a nice little guide when I feel the need to buy a “special” bottle of Cab that goes beyond my $14 range!  (Note there are a few on the list that are under $14!) Anyway, I figured if this article was something that I’m bookmarking, that some of you might like to have it handy as well!

I have only enjoyed one of the 30 wines on the list… and I have to say, I loved it.  And when I love a bottle, I remember clearly the festivities (major or minor) that surround it… Off of this list, it was the Franciscan – I was with close friends in Jacksonville Beach, FL at Casa Marina Restaurant celebrating a birthday.  All of us around the table were Winos and all of us enjoyed this bottle so much that we got two. (Not that that is all that unusual.) Since that time, I have had it with some of my favorite co-workers/friends (including loyal reader, “CA Wino”) upon visiting the Jacksonville area again at Eleven South Bistro.  So if any of my Jax friends are reading, and dining at these locales, get the Franciscan when you go! I’m sure it is available at many restaurants around the country, but the Franciscan accompanies good memories of great company during my Florida days.  (Note: The Franciscan is available at Costco at a great price – $18.99 – whereas it is normally in the mid to upper $20’s elsewhere.)

Ok, so enough of my oh so happy Wino memories… here’s the list.  The article has some more detail for the first ten Cabs listed, so I highly encourage you to check it out!  The number in front of each bottle is the wine’s rating.  (More to follow on wine ratings on a future Thoroughly Wine Know Thursday posting!) Let me know if you’ve tried any… you may see some of these on Divine Wine Sunday as I work my way through tasting them!!

Wine Enthusiast’s Top 10 Napa Cabs for under $30

93 Conn Creek 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $25

92 Edge 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $20

90 Fuse 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $22

92 B Side 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $25

91 Martin Ray 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $25

91 Franciscan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $27 (again, available at Costco for less!)

91 Robert Mondavi 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $28

91 Black Stallion 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $25

90 St. Supéry 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $30

91 Oberon 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $22

 

20 More Great Values in Napa Cab

90 Buehler 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $25

90 Decoy 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $25

90 Evolve 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mount Veeder). Price: $30

90 Q 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $18

90 Summers 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Calistoga). Price: $26

89 Napa Family Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Best Buy. Price: $10

89 Trailhead 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $30

88 Aquinas 2007 Philosopher’s Blend Reserve Red (Napa Valley). Price: $25

88 Ca’ Momi 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $25

88 Cameron Hughes 2007 Lot 287 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $20

88 Goyette 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $24

88 Mario Perelli-Minetti 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $23

87 C&B 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Best Buy. Price: $12.

87 Cameron Hughes 2008 Lot 290 Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain). Price: $22

87 Heritance 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $28

87 Napa Station 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $22

87 Newton 2009 Red Label Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa County). Price: $28

87 Round Pond 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $30

86 Avalon 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $18

86 Castle Rock 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Price: $18

 

[Source: Wine Enthusiast Magazine]

Wishing for a Wine Thumb

Hey Winos,

It’s been over a week since my last post – my apologies! My “day job” has become a day and night job for the past week, and PowerPoint has kept me from my WordPress page.  My friend/co-worker, CA Wino, and I were chatting today… we agreed that we both wanted to curl up in a ball, hide under the desk, and suck our thumbs to avoid the day’s stress… Today, she added, “if only my thumb tasted like Syrah.”  

One of my friends often reminds me to Dream… and this is something I will Dream often about!  (Though I’ll go beyond dreaming that it tastes like Syrah and go ahead and dream that it pours Syrah.)

Thank you for your patience, fellow Winos… I expect to be posting again tomorrow for Thoroughly Wine Know Thursday!

-Wino