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Discover the wine making region of France

Discover the wine making region of France

Bordeaux, Savoy, Rhône, Burgundy or Alsace… all are inimitable and incomparable wine regions. France is blessed with a mosaic of complex and fine terroirs which produce a wide range of contrasting wines.  In an attempt to fully grasp the variety and potential of the French vineyard, a little bit of groundwork can’t do much harm.

The purpose of this article is to take you on a tour of the main winegrowing regions which convey, and are at the heart of, the French art de vivre.

I – Vineyards in the North of France

Let’s begin our trip in Lorraine. It is the northernmost vineyard in the country as well as one of the smallest covering just 115 hectares. It was once much larger, but today there are two main appellations in the region: Côtes-de-Toul gris and Moselle. The Alsace region is located a little to the east. Here we find many more varieties, such as Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sylvaner, and no less than 12 appellations. If you were to try only one, we would recommend the AOC Alsace Gewurztraminer. Although Alsace is also the number one producer of Cremant in France, something quite different to try.

 

        Further to the West of Alsace and Lorraine we find ourselves in the heart of the famous region of Champagne. Probably one of the most prestigious and well known wine regions in the country, it produces nearly exclusive Champagne wine (90%), which you may know under names such as Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Bollinger or Möet. This 33 000-hectare vineyard covers four counties and consists of three grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. If you visit this compelling and unique region, we recommend having a sip of rosé Champagne, one of the region’s many jewels.

 

More towards the centre we reach the region of Burgundy, which also covers about 30 000 hectares. Here you will find red wines crafted from the tricky Pinot Noir and whites made with Chardonnay. Every year, about 200 million bottles are produced, 60% of which are whites. These bottles come from one of the 34 Grand cru appellations and the 84 AOCs, making Burgundy a first rate region for exports. AOC Chambertin, Clos-de-Tart, Musigny, or perhaps Clos-Vougeot are names of vintages you may have heard about which bring great pride to the region. It is worth mentioning that Burgundy benefits from peculiar climatic influences which contribute to the creation of unique wines in its terroirs. More on this in our article on wine and climate here.

Now let’s adventure ourselves across the country towards the immense Loire Valley. This 70 000-hectare vineyard benefits from a range of climates to ripen its many grape varieties. White wines are made with Chenin, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne whereas reds are mainly composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Other varieties are planted to a lesser extent, such as Gamay, Pinot noir and Grolleau. This region is popular thanks to its well known appellations, AOC crémant de Loire among others.

Going South east from here we happen upon two smaller vineyards: The Beaujolais and the Lyonnais. Red wine lovers will be in good hands here, were they can explore important vintages like Moulin-A-Vent or Juliénas. Most wines here are made from Gamay and nearly all are red. The Beaujolais’ yearly production reaches over a million hectolitres regularly, half of which is exported beyond national borders. To learn more about this beautiful and surprising region, head to our website and have a look at our article on the subject.

            As we continue our path towards the east we reach the region of Savoie and Bugey. This mountainous terrain boasts three appellations, AOC vins de Savoie, AOC Roussette de Savoie and AOC Seyssel. The best wines the region has to offer are probably the whites from Chignin-Bergeron and reds from Savoie Mondeuse. Again, more on this in our article on the local food and wine, very popular throughout the country especially around the winter holidays:

            Finally, if we head up north a little bit we land in  the Jura wine country. Here we can find Chardonnay, the variety behind the regional white wines, and Pinot Noir, Poulsart and Trousseau which are used in making red wines. Altogether the vineyard has six AOCs regrouping red, white and rosé wines including two appellations, Côtes-du-Jura and Arbois.

 

II – Wine regions from the South of Francce

We now head south and continue our travels, starting with the beautiful Rhone Valley. It is the second most important wine making region in France after the Bordeaux area. The Rhone boasts a very diverse climate and a variety of soils and ground compositions, which may sound trivial but are a crucial factor in the making of local reds, whites and rosés. This results in beautifully crafted and very well-known vintages, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage. More on this in our article on the Rhone Valley.   

As we keep going down the sunshine road, we eventually reach Provence. The climate here is Mediterranean and sunny, and allows for the production of varied wines in 10 AOCs. The three key appellations of the region are Côtes-de-Provence, Coteaux-d ‘Aix-En-Provence and Coteaux-Varois. The local wines, particularly rosés, are famed beyond the national borders and should be opened and enjoyed expeditiously. 

Our next stop is the Languedoc-Roussillon region, known for its wide range of grape varieties and ground conditions. This results in a plurality of appellations, ranging from natural sweet wines like Maury or Banyuls to popular reds like Corbieres and Fitou. You may be familiar with the names of the great vintages of this region: Château Cabezac, Château de Gourgazaud and the Domaine de l’Oustal Blanc. You should also go and visit the region South West where you can taste wonderful Malbec (named locally Côt).

Finally, we reach the south west of France which hosts the county’s greatest wine making region around the city of Bordeaux, called the Bordelais.  Exceptional vintages from 38 appellations come from this 110 000-hectare vineyard. Some of the famous and popular appellations are Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, Magaux and Saint Julien. You may also have heard of names from different styles, such as Yquem, Latour or Petrus.

We have been all over the country but there is always the option to hop on a boat over to Corsica and discover the Island’s vineyard. Here, the Mediterranean climate with its mountainous influence enables the production of red, white and rosé over a cultivated area of 7 000 hectares. The local AOC Vin de Corse refers to wine produced all over the island.

As our discovery trip comes to an end, we can conclude that the main vineyards out of all the exceptional areas we’ve covered are the Bordelais and the Rhone valley. This is relative to their size and production; however, your top French regions may be quite different according to your preferences. The only way to find out is to go out there and taste all these delicate, flavorful wines, which we warmly encourage you to do at every opportunity or excuse.     

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Wine, cheese and cuisine of Savoy

Wine, cheese and cuisine of Savoy

In the midst of this chilly season of snowfall and winter sports, we’ve decided to concentrate on a region which offers many comforting and heart warming foods: Savoy. This region has welcomed many first generation ski stations (such as Val d’Isere) and was then caught up in the wild growth of “white tourism” (linked to snow sports). Its culinary culture is rich and wide, attracting skiers and holidaymakers everywhere. In fact, skiing is often associated to cosy and warm evenings spent in the chalet, watching the snow fall outside while thinking about the delicious fondue planned for diner…

            But Savoy has many delicious tricks up her sleeve to welcome you to the mountains. Read on to learn all about the typical dishes from the region, but also about the local products to try, wine and cheese in particular.

I – Classic for a cold winter evening 

            Tartiflette, one of the most comforting of winter dishes, calls for Reblochon cheese melted over a « gratin » of potatoes, lardoons and onions. White wine is sometimes added as well. Although tartiflette is a well known and popular mountain dish, the term was only coined recently from the word tartiflal, meaning potato in the Savoy dialect. An interesting alternative you may have heard of, the morbiflette, is worth a try. You must simply replace the Reblochon with Morbier, that delicious and distinctive semi-soft cheese with a characteristic black line running across the middle. Another variation you may find in Savoie is called the croziflette. Here the potatoes are replaced with little square « crozons ». They are made from wheat, quite like a type of pasta, and produced in Chambery.

Tartiflette could be served with a variety of Côtes-du-Rhône wines, such as a Châteauneuf du pape or a white Crozes-Hermitage. (more on this in our article on wines from this region) If you’d rather stick to local produce, why not have a little bit of Roussette with your tartiflette?

 

            Another meal which will draw friends and family to the table in an instant is the famous raclette. This easy to make dish isn’t from Savoy but from the Valais, in Switzerland, but it can just as successfully be made with cheese from Savoie. This cheese is simply heated, melted and scraped onto your plate where a pile of potatoes and cold cuts await. A true raclette is quite impressive, since it uses a huge half block of cheese which becomes less and less intimidating as the meal goes. Thankfully the more common little raclette machines which are placed in the centre of the table and used for melting small pieces of cheese will deliver a delicious dish as well. 

You can choose to rave a raclette with or without any meat. Without meat, you could serve it with a dry white wine, but not excessively so or it won’t go too well with the oily mouth feel of the cheese. White Cotes du Rhone like Roussane would be a good match, or a Pouilly-Fuissé from Burgundy. For a raclette with meat, a good match would be red wine from the Beaujolais like the particularly smooth, fruity vintages from Morgon or Moulin-a-vent. If you would like to know more about the beautiful vineyard of the Beaujolais, have a read here)

We’ve covered raclette parties, now a few words about fondue parties. These come with a higher level of risk, since the first to fail at the art of eating a fondue traditionally recieves a dare. This dish is a true delicacy of the Savoie region, in fact its full name is really the “fondue savoyarde”. Its made by melting a selection of cheeses together (often comté, beaufort and/or gruyere) and a little white wine in a pan called a “caquelon”. This pan is placed in the middle of the table and everyone uses a long fork to dip pieces of bread into the delightful mixture. This is where you risk losing your little bit of bread in the battle and receiving a dare… When there is nearly no cheese left, you can even break and egg or two in the warm pan and finish wish a tasty variation on scrambled eggs.

            Again, this kind of cheese based meal would be most enjoyable with a dry white wine such as those from Savoie Bugey. Chautagne blanc, Rousette de Savoie or Seyssel are all good options here. 

            The last classic ski holiday meal was also conceived in Savoy, we call it a cheese « croute », meaning crust. It’s also made with our two favourite Savoyard products: wine and cheese. Take stale bread, soak it in white wine and cover it with cheese before popping it in the oven. You can also add cold cuts or an egg, serve it with gherkins and little onions and voilà!

            Finally, if you have any room left, you can try some of Savoy’s most famous desserts. The brioche de Saint-Genix, for instance, is a brioche cooked with red pralines which give it a particular flavour and a characteristic look. It was invented at the end of the nineteenth century in the little village from which it got its name, by a pastry chef called Pierre Labully. You can still find his shop in the village today. A lighter alternative to end your meal: The Savoyard cake. The recipe dates back to the fourteenth century and calls for egg whites beaten into snow and lemon, and it results in an airier and lighter cake.

II – Wine of Savoie

            This regional delicacy has been produced in the city since antiquity. In fact, we know the famous gastronome Brillat-Savarin, native to the region, used to own grapevines here. Savoy now produces wine in AOC under 16 geographic appellations.

            Local red wine is made from three main grape varieties: mondeuse, pinot noir and gamay. Mondeuse is a local variety which results in structured and tannic reds with aromas of red and black berries. Gamay, on the other hand, is a typical variety of Burgundy which was introduced in Savoy after the Phylloxera epidemic of the nineteenth century. Wines made from it are a little less tannic, quite light and share berry and spice aromas. Finally, Pinot noir expresses itself differently on this terroir than in other French vineyards. It covers only 40 hectares in Savoy, where it makes powerful and complex wines.

There are a few more grape varieties to play with in white wine crafting in the region. Again, several varieties come from Burgundy, like Chardonnay and Aligoté, but the most common are Jaquère, mondeuses blanche and altesse. This last one comes from Savoy and produces fragrant and floral whites. Jaquère is an even older variety originating from the region, where it was planted during the thirteenth century. It covers a much larger area of the region’s wine land, nearly 1000 hectares. This represents 55% of the wine land, against just 15% for altesse.

            It is not uncommon that food and cuisine from a region are a perfect match for its wines. It’s certainly the case in Savoy where we can find a series of local wine and cheese pairings, which will also give you a few examples of great bottles from the region’s vineyard. Wine shops and cheesemongers agree on a few pairings with which you cannot go wrong.

III – Savoyard Cheese

You may also discover all of the region’s agro-pastoral potential by sampling the different cheeses it produces in geographic nominations.  There are 7 apart from the raclette cheese mentioned above.

            First of all, there are two cheeses in the cooked pressed paste category to try, Beaufort, with its fruity and floral flavours made high up in the mountains and Emmental de Savoie, the fruitiest of all the French Emmentals. This particularly tender and fruity Emmental is the perfect match for a local wine called Roussette de Savoie, made from Altesse and known for its floral and spicy notes.

            Another lovely pairing to try out is Beaufort and Chignin Bergeron. This wine is made from roussane, a variety which covers only 80 hectares of land. The smooth texture and complex flavours of Beaufort go very well with the wine’s rich but delicate fruity aromas.

            Abondance is a similar type of cheese but only half cooked, meaning it is suppler and more melt-in-the-mouth. Its name comes from a breed of cows from which the milk is obtained, but it is also the name of the valley in which the cheese is made. This cheese typically has light aromas of hazelnut, pineapple or citrus fruit. You could select either a red or a white wine to have with this cheese. White wine from Chasselas Ripaille will do very well, or perhaps red wine ideally made from Gamay.

            The remaining cheeses are from the non-cooked category. The Tome des Bauges, the Tomme de Savoie, the Reblochon de Savoie (used in tartiflette, typically creamy with a touch of hazelnut) and Chevrotin. This last one is hand made and uses only goats milk.

Regarding wine pairings, here’s one for those who prefer to drink red wine with their cheese: Tome des Bauges with Mondeuse. This particular wine shows woody notes and flavours of blackberry and violet, which soften the cheese’s lactic and green flavours. Make sure you remove the cheese’s crust here, since it will not interact nicely with the tannins present in red wine.

            You are now fully prepared to face a harsh winter with comforting foods and wine. Whether you go to the mountains of stay in the city, nothing stops you from exploring these indulgent dishes and sharing them with friends or family. There’s a little something for everyone in Savoy, for all tastes and for even the biggest of appetites!

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