Description 1 of 5
Perhaps no country evokes such strong associations with fine wine as does France. Its reputation has led to worldwide imitation. Many varieties that are now considered international, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, are French, and winemaking pioneers in New World regions such as California and Chile look to the great wines of France as their benchmark.
France has been making wine since approximately 600 BC, and was its largest producer until it was passed by Italy in 2008. With over 800,000 hectacres under vine, it has the largest vineyard area in the world after Spain. It is, however, the world’s largest producer of fine wines. AC wines constitute over 45 percent of its production, compared with 12 to 15 percent of Italy’s, for example.
One advantage France has over other wine-producing countries is the great variety of growing climates it encompasses. Its south has a Mediterranean climate, with a warm sun that can be relied on to fully ripen grapes. Western France, which includes the Loire Valley, enjoys the mellowing influence of the Gulf Stream. In eastern France, the climate is more continental, giving us the great wine-producing regions of Burgundy, Champagne, and Alsace.
Begun in 1935, France’s system of wine laws, the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, or AC, codifies the most important concept in French wine, that of terroir. Terroir refers to the unique combination of geology, climate, and vintage that gives a wine its character. In other words, wine expresses place.
The Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system is overseen by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, or INAO. It regulates the boundaries of each region, as well as yield, winemaking and viticultural methods, ripeness and alcoholic strength, and grape varieties. The goal is typicité -- the achievement of typical expression for a particular appellation.
Most wines imported into the United States from France are at the highest quality level -- the AC. These are wines labeled with the name of their appellation, such as Bordeaux or Champagne. Below this are Vin de Table and Vin de Pays. They are subject to less stringent restrictions than AC wines, but are allowed to make much less specific claims regarding the origin of the wine. Vin de Table may only be labeled with the name of the producer and the name of the country of origin; Vin de Pays can carry the name of the broader region, as well as the vintage and grape variety. Since wine expresses place, the more specific the claim of origin, the greater the prestige the wine has.
France’s viticultural history has not been without its trials. In the early 1860s, the root-feeding aphid known as phylloxera was inadvertently imported from the United States. In just a few years, it wiped out the majority of France’s vineyards. When they were replanted, the French vines were grafted onto American rootstock, which is resistant to the pest.
Today, France is again in crisis. With sharply falling consumption at home and greater competition abroad, France’s vignerons, especially those who make high-production, low-quality wine, have found themselves with a significant surplus -- a “wine lake.” Some solutions have included mandatory distillation and the reduction of vineyard area. Producers from the fertile Languedoc, a traditional source of inexpensive wines, have been hit hardest, leading some to stage protests and sabotage the importation of foreign wines.
France’s great classic wines continue to find an audience, however. The most prestigious Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne continues to command eye-poppingly high prices. And some producers from lesser-known regions have found cult success by increasing the quality of their production. France exports more than 15 million hl of wine yearly, and consumers worldwide continue to discover the vast diversity of wine styles it can offer.
Description 2 of 5
French wine is produced in several regions throughout France, on over 800,000 hectares (over 2 million acres) of vineyards, and in a typical year between 50 and 60 million hectolitres of wine is produced, or some 7 to 8 billion bottles. France has the world's second-largest total vineyard surface (behind Spain) and competes with Italy for the position of having the world's largest wine production. The earliest history of French wine goes back to the 6th century BCE, and many of France's regions count their wine-making history to Roman times.
France is the source of many grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah), several winemaking practices,and the names of many French wine regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are widely known. French wine plays an important role in French identity and pride. The combination of French wine and the equally influential French gastronomy has been an important one.
Over the last decades, however, international competition in the wine industry has become more fierce, and France has been challenged both by winemakers of the New World and by traditional wine-producing countries in southern Europe, while domestic consumption of wine has decreased. Because the French wine industry is heterogeneous and ranges from production of cheap table wine to expensive First Growths and similar "luxury" wines, these changes have had varied impacts on winemakers. Regions plagued with constant overproduction of low-quality wines cannot find buyers, and many smaller growers have an increasingly difficult time making a living; however, many top producers experience high demand and high profits.
Two central concepts to high-quality French wines are the notion of terroir and the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. "Terroir wines" reflect their place of origin, which are specified on labels of French wine, usually in terms of the wine's appellation. Appellation rules closely define which grape varieties and winemaking practices are allowed in each of France's several hundred geographically defined appellations. These rules must be followed by all producers who wish to use an AOC designation for their wines.– Description from Chris Carpita
Description 3 of 5
BEAUJOLAIS Beaujolais lies roughly in the southeast quarter of France, between Burgundy to the north and the Rhone to the south. It is very close to the city of Lyon, which during the late middle ages was home to many silk merchants. For a while Beaujolais itself was also a famous textile center. Its name comes from the house of Beaujeu, a noble family of the region first mentioned in the 900s. Prior to becoming a textile center however, the Beaujolais region was a wine-producing area. Vineyards have been found that date to Roman times. From that point through most of the middle ages, gamay and pinot noir were planted throughout the Beaujolais and Burgundy areas. Gamay produced larger grapes and some people felt that it also produced a less concentrated wine. Therefore, in 1395 Phillip the Bold of Burgundy decreed that only pinot noir was to be planted in Burgundy and the gamay vines were to be pulled out. Because the Beaujolais region was not under his authority, the gamay was left alone there. It is easier and more practical to farm flat land, so for years the gamay vines were planted primarily on the flat land close to Lyon. This allowed for easier farming and transportation to their main market, which was the flourishing city of Lyon. Then in the 1600s a canal was built to link the Loire and the Seine rivers. This canal allowed for transport to the much larger markets of Paris. To meet the demand, production had to increase and growers began to plant vines in the hills as well as on the flat lands. Today Beaujolais grape production covers about 55,000 acres, which makes it quite a bit larger than Burgundy. Approximately 98% of the vines in Beaujolais are gamay; the rest is chardonnay and there is still some pinot noir. The French regions can be somewhat confusing and Beaujolais is no exception - for wine law, Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy but for political matters, it is part of the Rhone department. The River Nizerand divides the area into Haut-Beaujolais in the north and Bas-Beaujolais on the south. Bas-Beaujolais is the flat area, with soil that is mostly limestone and clay. This area also produces most of the wine. On the north, Haut-Beaujolais is hilly with a granite and schist soils that are believed to make better wines. This is the area with the Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 Beaujolais Cru appellations. The region has warm summers and fairly cool winters. While the hills provide a bit of protection from cold, rain and snow, there can be late summer hail storms that will ruin a vintage. In the Beaujolais region there are no large landholders or chateaux as there are in Bordeaux. Instead, there are many small grape growers who sell their grapes to négociants to make the wines. During harvest, the pickers generally use small containers to ensure that the clusters arrive at the winery uncrushed. The grapes have fairly thin skins and the idea is to keep the fruit intact as much as possible. Grapes are put into the fermentation tanks whole and the fruit at the bottom of the tank is eventually crushed by the weight of the fruit above. The Fermentation then commences and the alcohol and CO2 created causes the whole grapes to pop. This method is called carbonic maceration and it is part of what gives the wines from Beaujolais their bright, fresh fruit profile. For wines that will be sold as nouveau, the juice is left on the skins three or four days. For wines that are considered more serious, the skin contact may last a week or more. The wine categories of Beaujolais are: Beaujolais – wines from the southern area, including the nouveau wines. Minimum alcohol is 9% Beaujolais superior - slightly riper than nouveau, minimum alcohol is 10%. Beaujolais villages - made from a blend of any of the 39 different villages. Approx 25% of the region's production. Usually best from 1 to 3 years. Cru Beaujolais - from better sites in the north part of the region. More saturated and darker color, more full-bodied and much longer-lived, some with great aging potential. They usually do not usually show the word "Beaujolais" on the label but are instead named after the respective cru. Some notes on the 10 crus. The first group is what are generally considered the more delicate and fragrant of the crus: St. Amour – 900 acres, the northernmost cru. Soil is granite, sand and clay. Wines can be well-balanced with aromas of spice and red cherries, sometimes apricots and peaches, and sometimes has a floral note. Brouilly – 3000 acres, sandy soil and granite. The largest and highest –yielding of the crus. Vineyards are on the plains around Mont Brouilly. Generally these are the lightest of the cru wines with pronounced "grapey" aromas and flavors. Côte de Brouilly - granite, sand and clay. Rather than on the plains, the vineyards of this designation are on the hillsides of the volcanic Mont Brouilly, rising up to 1585 feet. The wines tend to be floral, with aromas of fresh grapes. They can require some time to develop. Fleurie - 2,000 acres. Granite soil. These wines can have very pronounced floral aromas, and while they can be lighter and less tannic than Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent, at their best they are also very elegant, with flavors of peaches, blackcurrants & red berries and great aging potential. They tend to be the most floral of the Crus Chénas - 650 acres. This is the smallest and rarest cru. Granite soil. The commune of Chènas is actually in Moulin-à-Vent. Some say these wines are not as long-lived as other wines, others disagree and say they are made for laying down. They are generally ruby red with a floral, woody and cherry bouquet. Regnie – 620 acres on pink granite soil. This is the newest cru, only established in 1988. Wines are generally less full-bodied than Moulin-a-Vent or Morgon, but bigger and more robust than a Brouilly. The region is named after a Roman noble, Réginus, who lived there. At their best, the wines are well-constructed with aromas of red fruits like red currants & raspberries, and they can have some firm tannins. Chirobles - 850 acres, highest elevation of crus at approx 400 meters, granite and porphyry soil. This is where they first grafted American rootstock onto French vines to fight phylloxera. Can also be quite floral and distinctive, light and supple in texture, with great aging potential. The following three crus are generally considered to produce the most full-bodied wines, with deeper flavors and more aging potential. This is of course, a generalization and specific examples of all crus can be found that are quite different. Juliênas – 1450 acres on soil is schist, clay and granite These show best after a few years in the bottle. They have bouquets of peaches and strawberries and with time they take on an earthy note. Morgon – towards the south, soil is the most different and unique of the crus, consisting mostly of what the French call "roche pourrie", or rotten rock. The wines are some of the biggest and fullest. Can be fairly dark for Beaujolais, with aromas of cherries and plums and they should be aged for a few years after which they take on earthy, leathery aromas. Moulin-à-Vent – 1600 acres, soil is granite with manganese. Considered the most prestigious and longest lived of the cru Beaujolais. Deep red with aromas of spice & ripe fruit, lead pencil and leather. These wines also have great aging potential and a reputation as some of the best red wines of France – Description from GregT
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