A quick guide to vin français
It is said that the Greeks brought wine to France. They began farming in southern France, settling in regions that enjoyed warm sun and fertile soils on the border of the Mediterranean Sea. Everything from grains to grapes flourished.
As wine became more popular, it spread north. With the help of the Roman Empire, wine was transformed into a staple of European culture, especially in France. It was grown and tended to by monasteries from Bordeaux to Burgundy in vineyards thought to be blessed by God for their gift of delicious wines. And it was consumed in so many ways. French inhabitants did everything from mix wine with local honey and spices as an aperitif before dinner, to water it down to dim its alcohol effects for poetic inspiration (one Roman poet said, “When I drink, fifteen poets will come to my aid”).
Even though the French didn’t invent wine, their culture reinvented it, making fermented grape juice something elegant and romantic - something to be enjoyed with all sorts of meals, at any time of day (Champagne with breakfast!), and on almost any occasion. France plays a huge role in the wine world, so a lot of modern wine terms and traditions are in French.
Here’s a quick guide to a few so you’re better equipped to enjoy the delicious drink.
When you think of France, what’s the first grape that comes to mind? It could be Pinot Noir, or maybe it’s Sauvignon Blanc.
Actually, it should be Biturica. It was the first varietal planted en masse in central and northern France as wine spread from the Mediterranean upwards. This grape is an old ancestor of the Cabernet family.
Speaking of, here are some fun facts about a few grapes you may have heard of...
With dark black skins and fresh acidity, Cabernet Franc is the genetic parent of the world renowned Cabernet Sauvignon. Its unique characteristics make it a very versatile grape; it has aging potential and also can be enjoyed young.
Common aromas: Green bell pepper, raspberry, dark mineral earth
Pairs with: Grilled red meat, creamy cheeses, sautéed mushrooms
A dark skinned grape primarily grown in temperate climates like the Rhone Valley. It usually produces medium to full bodied wines with good tannin presence.
Common aromas: Jammy fruits, dried earth, tobacco, peppercorn
Pairs with: Darker braised meats, winter veggies like spiced squash, ratatouille
Perhaps France’s most famous grape, Pinot Noir is lighter skinned and full of juicy acid, creating light to medium body wines with a unique freshness.
Common aromas: Red fruits, raspberry leaf, light mushrooms, cloves
Pairs with: Seared scallops, duck confit, baked cauliflower
The world’s most popular white wine grape born from the region of Burgundy, Chardonnay is adaptable to many climates. Chardonnay is known to ripen early in the season, so the trick is to harvest the grapes at the perfect time when the acidity and ripe sugar are in balance.
Common aromas: Tropical fruit notes, vanilla, citrus
Pairs with: Sautéed white asparagus, chicken piccata
Tip: Chardonnays made with too much oak can cover up the natural expression of the grape. Try finding unoaked chardonnay; it’s such a unique, vibrant experience.
Every French region is known for something special. Discover a few...
The worldwide mecca for Pinot Noir, Burgundy built its reputation with years of hyper small productions from meticulous monasteries. Monks farmed vineyard plots across the region, keeping detailed records of their knowledge in farming and winemaking. “Burgundian” became a moniker of wine quality.
Pinot Noir is the primary red grape in Bourgogne Rouge, while Chardonnay is the primary white grape in Bourgogne Blanc. Both these wines have aging potential, owing to the vibrant acidity that keeps the life of the wines for years.
Light. Juicy. Fruity. These words best describe the style of Beaujolais wines. Made primarily from the Gamay Noir grape (known more simply as “Gamay”), Beaujolais wines are meant to be consumed young and quickly. They generally lack aging potential because of the primary winemaking method used, called maceration carbonique. Carbonic maceration is a winemaking practice where fermentation begins inside intact grapes, without crushing or pressing first, by sealing the fermentation vessel and allowing the buildup of carbon dioxide.
Right on the southern French border with the Mediterranean Sea, Provence often feels more like Italy or Greece than France. With a cultural preference for lighter fare like seafood, cold appetizers, and olive oil instead of butter, the wine of choice is rosé. In fact, over 90% of Provence’s wine production is now rosé, made from southern French red grapes like Grenache and Cinsault.
One of the most fertile parts of France, the Loire Valley is home to dark rich soils on the banks of a 600 mile river with some of the oldest chateaus in Europe. It provides climate for a plethora of grape varieties, including Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne. Perhaps the most deliciously complex wines come from Chinon, a region that gives birth to deep Cabernet Francs with serious aging potential.
Look out for: Pineau d’Aunis, one of our favorite red grapes in the world. It’s extremely rare and its aromatics are incredibly unique, from fresh grapefruit to coarsely ground white pepper.
This is a central idea to our wine philosophy. Terroir is an all encompassing word that describes where wine comes from. It’s not just fermented grapes; everything around the grapes’ home affects the wine’s expression. This includes sun exposure, soil mineral content, elevation, wind, and even the culture of the grower.
This phrase often appears on bottles of sparkling wine. It is the driest designation of bubbles, meaning there is less than 3 grams/liter of sugar in the bottle. By the way, Dry Farm Wines goes a little further, with a maximum of 1 gram/liter of sugar!
A wine professional trained in the art of food and wine pairing, wine service, and general wine knowledge. Not anyone can be a sommelier - it is a specific, specialized training that requires years of experience.
This word describes a certain blend or batch of wine. It comes from the French word “cuve,” which means tank. For example, if a winemaker has two different tanks - one with Gamay and one with Gamay and Pinot Noir - he has two different cuvées.
MIS EN BOUTEILLE
You’ll often see this label on French wine bottles. It means, “Bottled,” and it’s usually paired with “Mis en bouteille au domaine,” which means “Bottled at the winery.”
VENDANGÉ À LA MAIN
This is also found on many wine labels. It means, “hand harvested,” and it’s usually a sign of a small batch production. If a winery doesn’t use machines to harvest their grapes, they typically are not looking to scale their production.
This means simply, “Old Vines.” While there’s no official definition, many growers would agree old vines are above 20-30 years of age. The older the vine, the lower the grape yield. But, older vines often provide higher quality fruit as well.