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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.     

Articles similaires :

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 great vintages of the Rhône valley

The great vintages of the Rhône valley

 Today we’re taking you on a discovery tour of the grand wines produced in the Rhone valley. Our stroll though the vines will introduce you to both the northern section between Vienna and Valence and the southern wine-growing area between Montélimar and Avignon....

Homage to Paul Bocuse

Homage to Paul Bocuse

 « The truth lays at the bottom of the pot» These well known words welcome gourmet visitors to the Paul Bocuse Tavern in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or.         Exactly a year ago, on January 20th 2018, the great master of gastronomy drew his last. This is an opportunity...

Tu veux en savoir plus sur le vin ?

L’abus d’alcool nuit à la santé.
À consommer avec modération

The great vintages of the Rhône valley

The great vintages of the Rhône valley

Today we’re taking you on a discovery tour of the grand wines produced in the Rhone valley. Our stroll though the vines will introduce you to both the northern section between Vienna and Valence and the southern wine-growing area between Montélimar and Avignon. Both of these valleys deliver exceptional wines which we will begin to review without further ado.

I – Remarkable wine of the Northern Rhône valley

We first set foot on the wine trail near the city of Vienne, at the very north of the region.

         The first vineyard you will run into is also one of the finest: The Côte-Rotie. These wines are made from two grape varieties, Viognier and Shiraz, and as a result they boast a deep ruby colour. Aromas arising from a glass of Côte-Rotie are very fine and yet complex, combining several spices, red and black berries and violets. A well crafted bottle can easily become an exceptional vintage. This vineyard spreads out over 308 hectares and produces purely red wine.

         Further south, the road reaches the famous terroir of Condrieu, famous for its white wines produced from Viognier. These very fresh and fragranced wines have given the terroir its wide popularity. Typical aromas are the floral notes, such as violet, and the fruitier ones like mango or apricot. This vintage will seduce you with its pale gold colour in its youth, a truly irresistible wine but quite sensitive to oxidation. For this reason, you’d better drink Condrieu in its young years, some winemakers manage to age them well but they remain quite rare.

As we continue down the road, we happen upon a small (just 3 hectares!) appellation called Château-Grillet. Here too you will find only white wine, but a divine one which will take you as close as you can get to gustatory bliss. A single producer has the monopoly of this vintage, as a result sampling a glass or two is rather a privilege. Viognier will result in wines with floral notes and aromas of peach, honey and musk, especially as the wine grows older.

 

The next stop is the one and only Saint Joseph, responsible for respectively 88 and 12 percent of the region’s red and white wine production, both resulting in exceptional bottles.  The vineyard was established during antiquity, and is deeply rooted in steep slopes and splendid calcareous terroirs. Nowadays, the region’s red wines are made from Shiraz while the whites come from Roussanne and Marsanne. Shiraz delivers a balanced and indulgent palate, and the whites are recognisable by their sleek straw colour tinted with a green hue. This rich diversity contributes to making this vintage a must on our list. 

         Keep going and you will reach a prestigious vintage: Crozes-Hermitage. This 1683-hectare vineyard is the largest out of the entire northern valley, and it is also one of the rare vineyards to be located on the left bank of the Rhone river. Red wines made here (92% of the appellation’s wines) come out with a beautiful crimson-red colour and aromas both floral and fruity. The red berry aromas are due mainly to Shiraz, but the wines can also be made up to 15% with Marsanne or Roussane. The main qualities of this vintage are finesse and elegance.

         The following vineyard is the famous Hermitage,  an appellation which covers three left-bank municipalities of the Drôme : Tain-l’Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Larnage. It covers 137 hectares producing mostly reds (76%) and exceptional reds at that. Here too the variety used is Shiraz, resulting in deep ruby coloured wines. They tend to age well as they develop new flavours derived from violets, spices and blackcurrants.

         White wines, on the other hand, flow from Marsanne and Roussane grape varieties, and the aromas encountered here are creamy and soft, often of hazelnuts apricots and peaches.

         Overall, Hermitage is one of the legendary vintages from the Rhone Valley, and if you doubt it remember the historical figures who swore by these wines: French kings like Henry the fourth or Louis the thirteenth and authors such as Boileau and Dumas.

         As we cross over to the right bank, we find the vintage of Cornas. This vineyard covers 145 hectares and produces solely red wine with nothing but Shiraz. Indeed, the wines from this appellation are deep red in colour and highly textured. Young wines especially offer beautiful flavours, of chocolate in particular. Other aromas include pepper and truffles.

         Finally, the northern Rhone Valley ends with the vineyard of Saint-Péray. The 85 hectares of land under vine to the west of Valence produce white wine exclusively, known for its unique flavour derived from Marsanne and Roussane. The former results in light wines with soft aromas of apricot, dried fruit, beeswax, acacia and quince, and the latter produces excellent, pale straw coloured wines with excellent ageing potential. All of these remarkable traits are partly due to the unique land which hosts these vines, consisting of four geological layers.

II – Remarkable wines of the Southern Rhône valley

We continue our journey by crossing over to the southern section of the wine country, called the meridional Rhone valley. The first « cru » we encounter is called Cairanne, an appellation famous for its mostly red wine (96%). This vintage is expertly crafted with specific grape varieties which deliver particular flavours. The grapes behind red wine are half Grenache, 20% Shiraz and Mourvedre and 30% others. White wines in turn are made with Clairette, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache and Bourboulenc, and releases subtle aromas of stone fruit, citrus fruit and floral hints.

         A little further south sits the mighty Gigondas vineyard on its 630m high rise. Over 200 million years old, the area was beautifully described by Chef Alain Passard:

“Beneath the lace of Montmirail where the climate and geology are so peculiar, refusing to welcome grapevines would be a sacrilege. Wines over here show truly unique character. This wine calls for communion”

This praise is well deserved by the wine produced here, nearly all red (99%, the rest is rosé) from 1208 hectares of vines. Aromas you will encounter are a blend or red and black berries, which follow through to the palate with coarse fruity and peppery flavours. These flavours come from Grenache (80%) Shiraz and Mourvèdre.

The unique strength of Gigondas is concealed in its subtle flavours, making it a must taste vintage. The terroir also accommodates beautiful white wines, but not under its own appellation since they are not recognised by the INAO. Recently several winemakers have decided to take action in order to amend the appellation. A special edition of Terre de Vins from last October regarding wines from the south studies this issue in more detail.

Now, if there is a local king of the terroirs in this region we have reached it: the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Its history is closely linked to that of the popes who have inhabited the region. The name dates back to pope Jean XXII during the fourteenth century, a great lover of this vineyard. It dominates the valley nestled on a hill 120m high and is blessed with very helpful ground. Indeed, the floor of the vineyard is constituted of round pebbles, which release the heat they’ve soaked up during the day and greatly benefit the vines by helping them ripen to perfection (see our article on ground and climate). The surface under vine is vast, 3134 hectares, and produces 95 000 hectolitres every year. This adds up to 13 million bottles sold, mostly red wine (93%). 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is characterised by spicy, toasted aromas and a hint of chocolate. On the palate the wine comes through with finesse and great power, its firm structure contributes to giving it great length. All in all, this terroir produces one of the most valuable vintages of the French vineyard and is the major vintage of the southern Rhône valley.

         On the other bank of the Rhône, facing Châteauneuf-du-Pape, our journey ends with Lirac. Many people agree to classify this terroir as a rising star in the region. The local winemakers are working hard to perfect the wine’s qualities and fashion it into a prestigious vintage. The originality of this appellation is partly due to the three types of wine it produces: red (87%), rosé (3%) and white (10%). Altogether they cover 771 hectares. The ground contains the same pebbles as its neighbour across the river, as well as clay, and it accommodates several grape varieties: Shiraz, Grenache and Cinsault. All these factors give Lirac special value and contribute to the creation of quality vintages. It is a good choice of wine to age in a cellar for a while.

         The winding road along the Rhone river never fails to astonish and delight wine lovers in every style. From the world famous vintages to the more unique and less distributed local gems, this wine region is a must for both red and white wines. We hope we’ve helped you get a clear idea of the region’s many appellations, stay tuned for similar articles on the rest of the wondrous wine regions! Why not drop us a comment below and tell us what you’d like to read about next…?

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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 great vintages of the Rhône valley

The great vintages of the Rhône valley

 Today we’re taking you on a discovery tour of the grand wines produced in the Rhone valley. Our stroll though the vines will introduce you to both the northern section between Vienna and Valence and the southern wine-growing area between Montélimar and Avignon....

Homage to Paul Bocuse

Homage to Paul Bocuse

 « The truth lays at the bottom of the pot» These well known words welcome gourmet visitors to the Paul Bocuse Tavern in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or.         Exactly a year ago, on January 20th 2018, the great master of gastronomy drew his last. This is an opportunity...

Wanna know more about wine ?

Please drink with moderation.

Homage to Paul Bocuse

Homage to Paul Bocuse

« The truth lays at the bottom of the pot»

These well known words welcome gourmet visitors to the Paul Bocuse Tavern in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or.        

Exactly a year ago, on January 20th 2018, the great master of gastronomy drew his last. This is an opportunity for us to share with you a unique issue dealing with both food and wine, and to walk in the footsteps of the surprising “Monsieur Paul”.

I – The legendary Inn of Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or

Who here has never dreamt of entering this inn to sample its wines and savour its dishes? Indeed, as soon as you set foot in the establishment, the butler joins you and leads you to your table, winding through the rich and beautifully gilded furniture and walking you through all the style and delicacy of the 18th century.
Once you’re comfortably settled in, you are handed the elegant menu, or “carte”, which strikes you with the quality of the wines offered by the sommelier.
Among the many suggestions, you will find white wines, such as a prestige Pouilly-Fuissé – George Duboeuf, a Hermitage “Le Chevalier de Sterimberg” – Paul Jaboulet Aîné, or perhaps a Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru « Les Caillerets » – Jean Marc Morey.

Alternatively, on the next page you can browse the red wine selection, in particular vintages from the côtes du Rhône such as a Côte-Rôtie-Clusel Roch, or un Cornas “Terres Brûlées” -Jean-Luc Colombo.
In addition, in the Pauillac appellation terroir located in the north of Bordeaux in Aquitaine, you will find a Pauillac Château Grand Puy – Lacoste-Grand cru classé.
Finally, you may also opt for sweet wines, such as a Gewürztraminer « Blason d’Alsace » Late Harvest – Léon Beyer, or perhaps a Hungarian wine: A Tokay Aszù 5 Puttonyos – Disznoko

Meanwhile your mouth is already watering at the though of what awaits you on the following page. Paul Bocuse’s cuisine promotes fresh and simple products, like the delectable Poultry from Bresse “Mere FIllioux”, served with Morel mushroom sauce and in-season vegetables. Before you get carried away however, you must begin by selecting an entrée such as a terrine of foie gras or the pan fried variation. If you are more into seafood, we highly recommend the marinated « Bømlo » salmon with its imperial caviar or the lobster “à la française”.

Perhaps you will be more intrigued by the famous VGE soup, which stands for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. This black truffle soup was crafted for the French president in 1975.

And finally, the coup de grace, you will be presented with a cheese trolley and a selection of desserts to conclude your intensely flavoured journey through a masters take on French cuisine. Up until last year, Paul Bocuse himself would stroll among the tables and ensure all his patrons were enjoying their meal.

« Monsieur Paul », also referred to as the chef of the century, will continue to fascinate the world with his cuisine, both refined and traditional and yet original by its simplicity.

The master of gastronomy summarised his art as follows “There is no such thing as great or poor cuisine, there is only good cuisine”. In several interviews he insisted on the importance of cooking with freshly picked and harvested ingredients. This very authentic cuisine has spoken for the French culinary culture way beyond its national borders, as Bocuse eventually became the most famous chef on earth. He was the first to step out of the kitchen in order to give time to the press, and appear with his unique charisma on screens throughout the world.

He would never hesitate, however, to remind his chefs that the time has come to hurry back to their stoves.  Both humble and generous, “Monsieur Paul” represents the excellence to which the region of Lyon owes its renown. We will now take a closer look at the path he followed to reach this goal of a lifetime.

II – A calling for gastronomy

Paul Bocuse was born in his family Inn near Lyon, in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, on February 11th 1926. As he grows up in this environment, he develops strong ties to his region and takes solid roots in his homeland. Indeed, although Bocuse has travelled quite a bit throughout the world, he ended up gladly remaining in his dear Inn. It is there in fact that, exactly a year ago, the great man expired.
How did his passion for gastronomy begin then? Some would say it was written in his DNA. Bocuse was descended from a long line of inn keepers and wine makers. The family’s very first restaurant opened in 1853. The first owner of the family inn was his grandfather, Joseph Bocuse (1869-1942).

However, during the second world war, the young Paul had less concern for cooking and inn-keeping as he enrolled in the French army of Liberation in 1944, under the General de Gaulle. He was part of the first free division of Frenchmen, with which he took part in several battles until he was injured in Alsace and nursed back to health by American soldiers. These soldiers took this opportunity to tattoo a French rooster on his left shoulder, a tattoo which he will proudly wear during his entire life. His involvement in the war effort against Nazi Germany earned him the Croix de Guerre 1939-45.

III – A rising star

After the war in 1946, Paul Bocuse decides to take up his passion once again. He learns the basics and more with a leading figure of Lyon’s cuisine: The Mère (meaning mother) Brazier. If you’d like to know a little more about the context and the story of Lyon’s “mothers”, have a read on our website where you can find our article on Lyon, capital of the gastronomy.
From the years spent in the traditional “bouchons” (restaurants of Lyon), Bocuse receives all the regional heritage he will strive to honour in his cooking for years to come.
A few years later, Paul Bocuse receives valuable training from another key figure of the food scene in Lyon: Ferdinand Point, under whom he will work eight years. Point was the first chef to receive three stars with the Michelin Guide in 1933. He is widely recognised as one of the founding fathers of “new cuisine”.
Confident with the training and experience he has received under the Mere Brazier and Ferdinand Point, Paul Bocuse then decides to go back to Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or. With his fathers help, he takes over the family Inn, which soon earns its first Michelin star. The following year he loses his father, and becomes the true Paul Bocuse.

IV – A meteoric rise to the pinnacleof culinary success

Our man’s destiny took a crucial turn in 1961. It is the year he is given the award and title of “Meilleur ouvrier de France”, meaning best artisan/worker of the country. For a young chef, this prestigious title represents lasting excellence. The president Charles de Gaulle watches as “monsieur Paul” is decorated with the medal of honour at the Sorbonne.

This is no reason for the chef to rest, as he receives his second Michelin star in 1962. He then reaches the summit in 1965 as he finally receives his third Michelin star.

By now the die is cast, and Paul Bocuse is an essential figure of French gastronomy. As such, he receives honours from the French republic in 1975 and the president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing makes him a Knight of the Legion d’Honneur. A lavish reception is pulled together for the occasion, and the freshly knighted Bocuse is in charge of the meal. It is for this occasion that he created his « VGE » soup mentioned above.
The flow of acknowledgements and awards is never ending as Monsieur Paul is decorated again in 1987, by prime minister Jacques Chirac this time, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur. Last but not least, he is made Commandor of the Legion d’Honneur in 2004 by prime minister Jean Pierre Raffarin.

The Paul Bocuse empire lives on from this solid base, expanding through France and beyond.

V – Paul Bocuse and his empire

The fame that followed this chef around led him to open restaurants all over the world. Paul Bocuse restaurants can be found in New York, Tokyo or as far as Disney World in Florida.

He doesn’t forget his dear region, however, as many “brasseries” (French restaurants) appear in Lyon such as the North, the East, the South and the West. There is even a somewhat “fast-food” version of these called the West Express.

This empire is now worth over 50 million euros.

There is even a competition today that lives on from his time, as Bocuse created the Bocuse d’Or. It is one of the most prestigious competitions on the French culinary scene. He actually called this contest the Nobel prize of Gastronomy.

All in all, we can certainly address a word of thanks to the man we now refer to as the Chef of the century, simply for his brilliance. And as Monsieur Paul used to say

“In order to double our happiness, we must simply share it”.

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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 great vintages of the Rhône valley

The great vintages of the Rhône valley

 Today we’re taking you on a discovery tour of the grand wines produced in the Rhone valley. Our stroll though the vines will introduce you to both the northern section between Vienna and Valence and the southern wine-growing area between Montélimar and Avignon....

Homage to Paul Bocuse

Homage to Paul Bocuse

 « The truth lays at the bottom of the pot» These well known words welcome gourmet visitors to the Paul Bocuse Tavern in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or.         Exactly a year ago, on January 20th 2018, the great master of gastronomy drew his last. This is an opportunity...

Wanna know more about wine ?

Please drink with moderation.

Champagne, a wine to celebrate!

Champagne, a wine to celebrate!

Christmas time is often associated to champagne. The joy and celebrations, but also the foods which match perfectly with this wine. (Champagne is indeed a wine). The process of making it, however, is rather elaborate and relies on a technique known to few. The aim of this article is to help you better understand this bubbly wine produced solely in the champagne region.

The French region Champagne is, in turn, often associated to the grand champagne producers (called champagne “houses”), such as Moet&Chandon, Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot… It is interesting to note that only for this region do our minds go straight to brands rather than appellations. There are nonetheless terroirs in champagne, spread out over 4 regions: the montagne de Reims, the Côte des blancs, the Côte des Bar and the Marne Valley. Although Reims remains the historical capital of the region, Epernay is a serious contender to the title. This is partly due to Epernay’s famous avenue de Champagne, the most expensive street on earth because of the millions of bottles nestled underground.

I – The region’s wealth dates back

Long before it even became sparkling, wine from Champagne was already prestigious. Its first vines were planted in roman times. As is the case in many French wine making regions, the romans were the frits to discover its potential despite the relatively cold climate.

Later on, Clovis, King of the Francs, was baptized by the bishop of Reims and chose to celebrate with champagne wine. This tradition was kept up by the 33 French kings who were crowned later on in the Reims Cathedral.

The Duke of Orleans then introduced sparkling wine from champagne to the high society, where it was quickly adopted, and from then on the market skyrocketed.

   Before becoming a world famous brand of Champagne, Dom Perignon was a modest monk. Some say he was the first to master the process of making fine bubbly, although we have no historical proof of this fact. Either way, he played a major role in the wine’s development, and he greatly improved the technique for his Abbey in Hautvilliers. His wine was very reputable and sold at the price of the champagne produced by great houses. Other religious men were involved in this journey towards great Champagne.  

Among the main players of the region, we find famous merchants of the 18th century, in particular Claude Moët and Florens-Louis Heidsieck. The former slipped into the court at Versailles to advertise his wine throughout the world, whereas the latter presented his wine directly to Queen Marie-Antoinette. Both built an empire still standing today, thanks to their wit and creativity. Indeed, they were already excellent at marketing in their time.

We must also mention the women who made history in champagne. The Veuve Clicquot (Meaning Clicquot widow) was a formidable salesperson, who even managed to take over the Russian market. In addition to her commercial success, this very influent woman also invented rosé champagne and the riddling table with her cellar master Antoine de Müller. Also during the 19th century, the Pommery widow marketed the Champagne bearing her name, and did so very successfully as Pommery became on of the big champagne houses. 

Finally, some unexpected factors behind the success of champagne are rappers such as Jay-Z, who partner with certain houses to increase their fame and value, and their sales especially in the states. Several debates ensued on the appropriateness of such an ostentatious message, but it remains undeniable that such associations have boosted the international reputation of champagne houses. 

II – Behind the bubbles

Effervescence was introduced very late. At first, bubbles were undesirable, misunderstood and seen as a flaw in wine. This type of wine wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today, it was even called wine of the devil because of the unfortunate tendency barrels of bubbly had to explode in the hold of ships carrying them. Even once it became a more common style of wine, sparkling wine was much sweeter at its beginnings than Champagne is today.

The elaborate process behind making sparkling wine, which we are about to go through, was developed in stages by several people. There have been many contributors to this process, and each Champagne house has its own history and specificities.  

 

Before bubbles come into the mix, Champagnes is a wine made pretty much like any other. Grapes are harvested and pressed, just as if we were making white wine., and the grape varieties used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These last two are red grapes with white flesh, and so they must be pressed very lightly to result in white wine.  The juice then goes into a vat, and then what we call the “Prise de mousse” (secondary fermentation) takes place in the bottle.

As the wine is bottled, additional yeast is introduced so that it can consume the leftover sugar. This prompts the creation of carbon dioxide, as the wine stays in a horizontal position 9for 12 months at least) and the wine ages on its lees.  There must be at least 15 months between the introduction on of additional yeast and its removal, and this limit increases to 3 years for champagnes wich are “Millésimés” (Vintage). This is the legal framework, but in reality most Champagne makers keep this process going for much longer.

The yeast at work during all this time eventually coagulates into residue which must be removed from the bottle. In order to achieve this, the bottles are turned upside-down very slowly using a riddling table, a process which is often automatic nowadays. The Yeast eventually comes to rest in the neck of the bottle, and is then submerged into a liquid which will freeze the residue. The last step called “dégorgement”(disgorging) consists in opening the bottle by popping out the frozen yeasts.

Before the bottle is corked once again to be distributed, an expedition liquor is added to the wine. It contains wine aged by 2 years at least, sometimes combined with sugar. The quantity of sugar added will determine the flavour but also the category of the champagne. From the driest to the sweetest, these categories are: brut nature (or non dosé), extra brut, brut, extra dry, demi-sec, doux.

Hopefully you now know how champagne is made and prepared for distribution. Once you have your chosen bottle, what will you pair it with? A few pointers to help you out.

III – Food and Champagne pairings

For this purpose, we will separate types of champagne into 4 categories. « blanc de blancs », made only from chardonnay, « blanc de noirs » made only from the red grapes  Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, rosés Champagne, mostly made from a mixture of red wine from the region and champagne, and finally vintage champagne.

« Blanc de blancs » will go well with meals that call for sharper wines. A good example is seafood or oily fish varieties like salmon. You could also think of getting sushi for this type of wine. Another idea would be soft cheese, such as Saint-Félicien.

Regarding « blanc de noirs », their fruity aromas will allow you to venture out towards dishes with more character. It is sometimes even served with foie gras, as mentioned in our previous article. You could also go for white meat dishes, for instance turkey with chestnuts.

Rosé champagne is the only rose wine which is made by mixing red and white wine, it is known and appreciated for its powerful and fruity profile. Rise champagne goes well with meats like duck or lamb, but also with fruit pies. It is sharp enough to cut through pastry, and its fruity flavours complements that of the fruit.

Finally, to find a perfect match for vintage champagne, you can use its slightly oily and powerful characteristics. Don’t hesitate to serve it with ripened cheese, or dishes served with mushrooms. 

Ready to taste ? 

You are now ready to begin sampling different champagnes over the holidays, and try food pairings you might enjoy. So cheers, and make sure you surprise you guests with original and elaborate food pairings. Champagne is a wine to celebrate with, but also and fortunately a wine that can be had at any point during a meal and complement many dishes!

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Come up with the perfect food and wine pairings for the holiday season!

Come up with the perfect food and wine pairings for the holiday season!

Holiday season is most definitely upon us. If you haven’t thought about wines to go with your Christmas dinner, it’s more than time to get cracking. But not to panic, the Décanté team is here to help.
Tis the season to share joy and a good bottle of wine with those you love. Although within the team, impatient or epicurean as ever, there is no need to wait for a festive occasion to crack open a special bottle.
We are well aware that the appellations (AOC, IGP…) can’t aspire to completely defining a wine – a winemaker’s work greatly impacts the wine’s quality and character – however we will use them as reference to tell you all about the wines you could choose to refine your meal. It is undeniable that appellations still stand for quality most of the time.

In order to give you a wide berth, we will go over all the main foods we typically encounter at Christmas. If on a whim you decide to stray towards an ambitiously unique meal, ask your wine merchant for advice as he will surely be delighted to help out.

Here are the keys to setting up for unforgettable evenings around an expertly thought up table.

I – Appetisers and starters 

We’ve selected a few original pairings for your great Christmas classics.

Let’s begin with our oysters. Often Muscadet is associated with them, and for good reason as they do very well together! We can recommend the wines of Jo Landron, the new ambassador of the region. Otherwise you could go for a Chablis, or a Chenin Blanc and play with their sharp and vibrant character. To be even more original you could venture out towards a young Riesling.

Now regarding Foie Gras, have your pick of the litter! You could go with the traditional Sauternes. It can, however, seem slightly sickly to some due to its sweetness. In this case you may favour a semi dry such as Vouvray. It could also be served with Champagne (Blanc de noir, and an old millésime), a Porto, or even an old red Bordeaux from Haut Médoc (but avoid those with a strong woody character).

Now, if you prefer Salmon as a starter, we can suggest a very different type of pairing. We quite like to counter the fatty quality of salmon with some acidity to cut through it. This can be found in several wines, take for example a champagne, ideally blanc de blanc extra brut. If you’d rather steer clear of bubbly, try a Riesling with sharp acidity, from Mosel in Germany or Alsace. We can recommend the Bott Geyl domain, or Achilée in Alsace. Finally for something more traditional but just as pleasing, why not select something from the Sauvignon Blanc variety, like Sancerre.

It would be a shame not to mention Scallops these wonderful shellfish we call Saint-Jacques. You could serve them with a Savennieres, or even a Champagne (extra brut or non-dosé).

Finally, the ultimate starter: Caviar. Enough to make quite a few green with envy, you might as well serve it with Champagne. Don’t hesitate to vary the Champagne according to the types of Sturgeon and their flavour characteristics.

II – Mains

Would it really be Christmas without the classic turkey? It is often served with chestnuts, and would be the perfect match for very fine reds like Burgundy. Our thoughts go straight to Corton Volnay, but you could also pick a Morgon which would suit perfectly. A millésime from a few years ago, ideally. Another option is to aim for wines such as an old Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais). In any case, avoid serving wines with too strong a body and high tannin.

            Another classic, Capon, can be served with wines from the Loire Valley (Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-loire in particular) or a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Truly a match made in heaven. Alternatively, a red Châteauneuf-du-Pape will do very well too.

            Perhaps Christmas, for you, calls for game instead. In this case, we can suggest a wine from Languedoc or from Provence, like red Bandol from a few years ago.  Otherwise why not give Cornas a try, a little gem from the Rhone Valley which we tend to forget. This wine, just like a Côte-Rôtie, would be the perfect escort for quail.

            Holiday season if also a good occasion to share platters of seafood, either as a main or a starter. In this case, white wine from Burgundy is always a good choice: Meursault, or Montrachet in the may variations they come in. Or perhaps the more budget-friendly Givry or Montagny. A more original choice would be white Hermitage, always a pleaser too.

 

            If you’re lucky enough to sample some truffles over Christmas, select your wine depending on what you serve them with. With eggs, in an omelette for instance, go for a red Beaujolais (Cote de Brouilly, or Morgon for a more powerful option) or a wine from Loire like Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil. Served with white meats, a white would be more appropriate for truffles. Hermitage, Saint Joseph or a white from Burgundy.

III – Cheese

Here we are, face to face with our toughest dilemma: red or white with cheese? We won’t attempt to convince you either way, but rather to give you a few pointers.

An old classic consists in serving camembert with cider. Trust us, this will forever be a pleaser. For soft or pressed cheese, you can’t go wrong with a white wine, or even bubbly. They go very well together and light acidity will cut through fatty cheeses. This pairing always goes down well.

It remains difficult to convince those who like red wines with their cheese. In this case, you’d better stick to rather powerful reds such as those produced in the Rhone Valley.

IV – The Christmas Yule log

We did warn you we were going over the classics. What could possibly be a more typical Christmas dessert? Unfortunately, one could easily go wrong in selecting a wine for this delicacy.  Many serve it with champagne, although bitter chocolate doesn’t really go down well with its acidity.

            We recommend having a look at fortified wines. Often we think of Porto – and it does indeed work very well – but you could also choose young wines from Maury or Banyuls, in the south of France. A true delight.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !

And there you have it, the perfect wine for whatever classic you decide to enjoy over Christmas. So don’t hesitate to introduce a little bit of variety and most importantly to share it with your loved ones.

            All of the Décanté team wishes you a splendid holiday season. Make the most of it, and don’t hesitate to share your favourite food and wine pairings for the occasion in the comments. Cheers!

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Soils and climates: how they impact wine

Here are two often underestimated determinants in winemaking, sometimes even unheard of. And yet, they are both key elements in vine growing and understanding wine. Grape vines require specific conditions in order to deliver their very best fruit. Indeed, they will only grow between the 28th and 50th latitudes under relatively temperate climates. Despite the technical feats which have enabled vines to grow in unlikely countries like Thailand or Cuba, they cannot be expected to perform to their best standards under such conditions.

A terroir, combination of soils and climate, can vary enormously between different continents, countries, and regions. Even a difference of few meters can result in notably different grapes and wines! Let us lay out the origins and impacts of soils and climates.

I – Soils and climates, a long path to understanding

Vous l’aurez compris, la vigne, qui a tant fasciné les hommes à travers les siècles et qui a pu être un véritable signe de civilisation, n’a pas pu s’ériger sur tous les sols. Les conditions de culture de la vigne sont relativement complexes. A en croire la diversité des vins, ce n’est pas une chose facile à comprendre. En effet, cela a demandé des siècles et des siècles mais aussi et surtout beaucoup d’acteurs.

As we’ve mentioned, these vines which have fascinated mankind throughout the centuries and have been a true symbol of civilisation were not able to prosper anywhere. The desired conditions for vine-growing are relatively complex, especially when you look at the broad range of wines they can deliver. Indeed, expertise on the subject has required centuries of trial and error and a great deal of contributors.

Vines were firstly cultivated in Iran and Georgia before being propagated by the Greek and the Romans. These folks were able to understand where the vines could settle down and grow. However, monks and and other clergymen were the first to really understand the importance of soils and climate diversity. The first notable distinction took place under Charlemagne, when monks received patches of land it Burgundy and and decided to split them up into smaller plots. They have been maintained in the region and are locally referred to as “climates”. This definition is universally associated to the word “terroir”. From that point onwards, the significant differences between two neighbouring sites have been better understood and analysed.

Even today, experts are still studying these soils and climates in order to increase their understanding of them, but most importantly to better grasp the needs of the grapevine. Whether it took place in plains or on hillsides, domestication has taken a fair amount of time. It’s thanks to this history and experience that enthusiasts are able to craft excellent wines today. It goes without saying that these winemakers have a huge responsibility on their shoulders and sometimes require more than a lifetime to truly understand their land and produce the very best from their soils, depending on the vintage year. Following this logic, we happen upon an essential aspect of winemaking: legacy and passing it along.

II – A very specific environment

Grapevines are quite fussy and call for very specific conditions. Hillsides fulfil these conditions beautifully. They combine several properties which are very advantageous for the vine, the most important being the diversity of the soil. Indeed, on a slope, we can find several different profiles of ground and underground (also very important) between the top and the bottom of the hillside. This multiplicity is very good for the grapevine. In addition, the specific angle of the slope can provide the vines with beneficial sun exposure. For example, in the region of the northern Rhone Valley, the Hill which hosts the Hermitage is the only one facing directly south, one of the factors which make this AOC quite exceptional. This is the beginning of the link between soils and climate.

Grapevines do very well with a constant and low debit water supply. France, however, as opposed to many New World Countries, has banned irrigation. This rule results in fluctuation between different years, as nature reclaims its rights. In order to prevent this, the underground must be a good match with the geographic properties of the soil and climate above.

For example, in climates in which it frequently rains, soils with weak water retention properties will help the vine. Their permeability will let the vine take up the water it needs without drowning it so it can work efficiently. An example of such land would a ground composed of sand and gravel or pebbles. On the other hand, where rain is scarce, land with high water retention will provide the vines with the water it needs during droughts. A good example here would be limestone.
How deep the roots go will also depend on the soil. They will dig deeper in lands with low water retention then those which soak up most of the rainfall.

III –Types of soil and ground 

The vocabulary in this area isn’t particularly straightforward, which is why we won’t delve too deep into it. Mostly so that you’re able to grasp the key concerns without being overwhelmed by the technicalities, also because we are most definitely not geologists!   There are about 30 varieties of terrain in total, which provides us with a broad palette of options to pull together different vintages.

Clay soils are very well-known, especially on the very reputable terroir of Château Petrus (where it’s they are combined with gravel). This soil slows down the ripening process by its relatively cool environment. You may also find it on the right bank of the Bordeaux region.
In Burgundy, and notably in Chablis, we find Calcareous soils.  This type of land is known for producing extremely fine wines, and they make the vine work particularly hard since they do not retain water on the long term.
To the contrary, chalky soil lets rainfall run deep before its absorbed. It then provides the vine with water in a constant, limited flow. Perfect! These soils are very popular for making white wine in the northern regions of France, such as Loire or Champagne.

Marl, or marlstone is a combination of clay and limestone. A match made in heaven which forms the base of exceptional terroirs, where they deliver power and finesse.
Now if we have a look at local terrain, in the Beaujolais and Rhone Valley, we find soils composed of granite. They let indulgent fruit aromas come though as well as high minerality. A little more to the south of the Rhone valley, we happen upon rounded pebbles in the soil. Their number one fan? Châteauneuf-du-Pape of course! They have an interesting capacity to hoard the heat they receive during the day and release during the night. In this type of soil, vines must work hard to retrieve the nutrients required for proper growth.
The “graves” are a type of soil commonly associated to the Bordeaux region, In particular the Left Bank. Its essentially a mix between pebbles, sand and clay and just like rounded pebbles, this soil can save up heat to deliver it at night time.  This ground is known for making wine which can keep and improve for quite a while.

Finally, a terroir mostly associated to the Languedoc-Roussilon is that of rocky schistose soil. You also find them in Côte Rôtie (North of the Rhone Valley), in Loire and in Anjou. This soil provides the vines with a great deal of nutrients.

IV – Climates

Climates in wine regions are a little easier to remember since they share their names with basic geographical climate. The names aren’t specific to the world of wine. That isn’t to say they aren’t just as important and significant. Climate is a key factor, which impacts the selection of grape varieties and the vintages. Droughts, excessive rain, cloudy summers, frost… there are many aspects of climate which can harm a good vintage.  . 

In France you may encounter four main climates. The mountain climate, with very cold winters and cool summers. The varieties cultivated in this environment are quite specific, like in Savoie, Jura or Pyrenees. The continental climate, known for its warm and dry summers which replace a chilly winter season. You may find this climate in Burgundy or the North of the Rhone Valley (The south receives peculiar mistral winds). You might also hear someone mention semi-continental climates, when they are under an Atlantic or Mediterranean influence as is the case for Champagne.
The Mediterranean climate is particularly prone to vine growing. It is found in the touth of France, in Provence or in Languedoc, but also in certain regions of Spain and Italy. Warm summers and soft winters are the main properties of this climate. A little bit more chilly but also quite warm during summer, we have the Atlantic Climate, which is known for having large amounts of rainfall like in the Bordeaux region and Portugal.

These climates differ by their average temperature, their exposure to sunshine (the number of sunny days per year) and rainfall (mm of rainfall per year). Some regions also host different microclimates. They constitute specific terroirs among many others and depend on a different sun exposure, different soils and produce different grapes and wines. In France we call them “Lieux dits”, or as mentioned above “Climats” in Burgundy. If we were to mention only the most famous, we’d specify that Romanée Conti boasts a true microclimate.

           

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Tu veux en savoir plus sur le vin ?

L’abus d’alcool nuit à la santé.
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