History of French Wines – Part Two

Posted by on September 20, 2011

History of French Wines – Part One brought us from Moses to present-day. In part two, we are going to fly over the many vineyards of France and the region they occupy. If you have not travelled in France, you will recognize many of the names you have read on labels. So follow me on this tour of the wine regions of France. First, we will define the regions that do not produce wine by drawing an imaginary line from Nantes to Charleville. This band covers Brittany, Normandy and Picardy, where they renounced viticulture to devote their efforts towards more profitable cultivation.

Wine Regions of France

Wine Regions of France

Let’s tour the French wine regions:

Alsace… Where dry wines, light and fruity, may be consumed very young, or very aged. They bear the names of their villages, like their cousins, the German wines of the Rhine and Moselle which they resemble. These are the Sylvaner, Traminer, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, to cite a few.

Lorraine… Offers us the Fumey and Bruley of the Cotes de Toul and Moselle. These wines are wonderful when paired with Lorraine’s specialties, notably the traditional Quiche Lorraine and cold cuts.

Champagne…Its rocky soil produces the famous pinots noir, as far as the eyes can see, bringing us the incomparable champagne which sparkles all over the world. We will visit the Champagne region later when I address the process of wine-making.

Bourgogne… The region of Burgundy includes l’Yonne, (the region of Chablis) Cote-d’Or, the (cradle of the Grand wines) Maconnais and Beaujolais. Ah… Beaujolais… it is often said that without Beaujolais, France wouldn’t be France. There are, in fact, twelve Beaujolais wines. In passing, I shall note that Beaujolais is a relatively young wine. It wasn’t born in the Middle ages, at least in its present form, but in the 18th century. Before we leave Burgundy, let’s go up to the Cote-d’Or region and climb the Cote de Meursault and its illustrious white wine. It has been described as fruity, biting, divinely subtle, royal, and triumphant. Its most prestigious labels Romanee Conti and Montrachet are very expensive, but connoisseurs pronounce them absolutely worth it.

Jura… the wine of Arbois, not well known outside of France’s borders, but delicious. Pasteur was born in Arbois. He owned a vineyard there and used it for his experimentations in fermentation. His home is now a very interesting and well visited museum.

Savoie…Its wines presided at the table of Lucullus, the optimum politician of the late Roman Republic (117-57/56 BC). The wines of Savoie are not well known outside of the country’s border, but skiing enthusiasts have enjoyed it tremendously on the slopes’ eateries. Les Cotes du Rhone, which proudly tout their title of the oldest vineyards in France, cover 300 kilometers and give us the marvelous Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape.

Provence…still cultivates the famed Syrah, imported long ago by the Greeks and much enjoyed by tourists today. Provence’s rose wines are quickly surpassing the reds in popularity.
Languedoc-Roussillon… is the largest vineyard in the world, due to popular demand. Its wines are not expensive and delicious on a hot summer day.

Auvergne…It produces modest little wines, mostly consumed by its inhabitants..

The South-west of France… Is a very active wine-growing center, organized by modern cooperatives. Here we find the Bordeaux region which we nearly lost due to a love story. The beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine, in 1152, gave her heart, her lands and her vineyards to her husband Henry II, Plantagenet, king of England. This disastrous passion brought the One-Hundred-Year-War to France (1154-1259) and the seed of the second. But it did result in a passion for the Bordeaux wine by all Englishmen and the establishment of many vineyards to satisfy their demand. Vineyards cover the entire department of Gironde. The greatness of its wine is due to a soil rich in iron and thousands pine trees covering its slopes. Pines trees, they say, contribute to produce a very unctuous wine. Bacchus is often represented with a pine cone in his hand.

There are over three thousands appellations of Bordeaux wines: red, rose, or white, but two bottles out of three are white wine. Unlike the wines of Burgundy, Bordeaux wines offer a variety of labels. In white Bordeaux wines, you find semillon, sauvignon and muscadellle. Among red Bordeaux, you find cabernet, cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Bouchet, Malbec. (The last two not well known outside of France) The wine-makers choose their land. These are the vineyards of Grands Domaines. Vintages are blended. Medoc produces light wines. They age perfectly and are rich in iron. It is the region of France that boasts of having the most centenarian, men, women and bottles. Great wines come from that part of France; just to name a few: Chateau Lafite, Latour, St. Estephe, Margaux, St. Julien, Pauliac.

Here is the region of St. Emillion where you can find delicious sauternes wine. The famed philosophers Montaigne and Montesqieu were wine-makers here; one in his chateau of St.Yquen, the other in his Chateau de la Brede.

Touraine and Anjou …Their vineyards were present in Gaule, before Julius Cesar. The wines produced there were served at the King of France’s table and celebrated by songs and poems by our famous authors. To name a few: Rabelais, Ronsard, Balzac, and Dumas. Among the best wines of that region are Anjou, Saumur and Vouvray.

In closing, let’s mention the vineyards of Charente… they serve to make France’s glorious cognac. It is made by blending several varieties of the best grapes in Charente and allowing them to age in oak barrels for a minimum of twenty-five years before distillation, and then the cognac is aged further.

Knight of the Cross of Burgundy

Knight of the Cross of Burgundy

This concludes our discussion of the varieties of French wines. Our third article about the history of French wine will address wine classifications. As a “Chevalier de la Croix de Bourgogne” (Knight of the Cross of Burgundy,” the author is happy to share her knowledge of French wines with you and hope you will be enticed to open a map of France and follow her on this “fly-over” above France’s wine regions. I am attaching a photo of my Knight of Burgundy certificate which was awarded to me in Dijon, France, by the exclusive Cross of Burgundy Society┬áin August 1990. This society was established centuries ago.

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