This year, it will be just a little more crazy - I will be working at the massive Wines of France booth, and this year I'm running the show as the booth's sommelier. I have a total of 19 wines! They told me 18 when I signed up, but what's one more? Also, I only have 1.5 others for help! So, through Friday and Saturday evening, there will be 3 of us pouring 19 wines, and Friday and Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday there will only be 2 of us. Yikes! But please feel free to come and track down my booth, pick my brain, and taste some great wine!
As part of my role this year, I offered to do some information for me and the girls at my booth to use. I created a little quick primer on the French regions to use if people want a little more information, and not just to drink (I have hopes!), which includes all the regions we will be pouring this weekend (no Champagne - I know I cried too). So I'm including my notes to share, so you can show up officially schooled!
I will post notes about the wines after the event - I have only tried 3 of the 19 so far, and I need to give my official position!
Wine Regions of France
Located in the northeast of France on the border of Germany, Alsace has changed hand between Germany and France in the past. As such, much of the grapes that are grown in the region are native to Germany. There are 8 grapes that may be grown in Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Chasselas and the one and only red grape, Pinot Noir. Alsatian wines can range in style from bone-dry to rich and sweet dessert wines and are very versatile for pairing with food such as spicy Asian cuisine. Alsace has 3 appellations: AOC Alsace, Cremant d’Alsace (sparkling wines), and AC Alsace Grand Cru (including 51 grand Cru sites).
Along with Champagne, Bordeaux is one of the most well-known French wine regions. Bordeaux is located around an enormous estuary in the Southwest of France, the Gironde, which has a large influence on the viticultural climate of Bordeaux. 89% of wines produced in Bordeaux are red or rose, and only 11% are sweet and dry whites. Bordeaux has 14 grapes that are permitted in its wines, but the most common are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc for reds, and Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for whites. Bordeaux has 57 appellations, but these can be grouped into 6 major regions: Bordeaux, Graves & Medoc (left bank), Libournais (right bank), The Côtes (hillsides), Dry Whites, and Sweet Whites.
Located in the northern half of France and inland, Burgundy has harsh winter conditions. There are 4 permitted grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, and Aligoté. Burgundy is the region that really developed the style of delicate wines that display “terroir” or the characteristics of the soils and the climates in which the grapes are grown. Burgundy is a region with 1000’s of climates and as such is divided into 100’s of appellations, starting from the 33 Grand Crus and 684 Premier Crus, which are specific vineyards of distinction, to the 6 less specific regional appellations which include Bourgogne, Crèmant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Passe-tou-grains, Bourgogne Ordinaire, and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. All of these appellations can be divided into 5 major wine growing regions: Chablis, Cote D’or, Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, and Beaujoulais.
Technically a region of Burgundy, but also distinct from Burgundy, Beaujoulais is known for producing a younger, fresher, and fruitier style of red wine from the Gamay Noir grape, which is 98% of all grapes grown in the region. Wines from Beaujoulais are typically un-oaked and ready to drink young, although there are some quality Beaujoulais wines that can be aged. This region is also well known for its “Nouveau Wines”, which are released on the 3rd Thursday of November from grapes picked only a few weeks before and represent the first wines from the year’s harvest.
Loire stretches across a large area in the northwest of France, and has a wide array of mesoclimates from the coast to inland. There are 87 appellations currently that can be grouped into 4 distinct regions that are known for specific grapes and styles of wines. Pays Nantais produces sparkling and still wines from the Melon de Bourgogne grape; Anjou-Samur produces red and rosé wines from the Cabernet Franc grape, and sweet and dry whites from the Chenin Blanc grape; Tourraine produces red wines from the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes, and still, sparkling, and dessert white wines from the Chenin Blanc grape; and Upper Loire produces oaked whites from the Chardonnay grape, and very dry white and red wines from the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes.
This area in the south of France along the Mediterranean is the “new world” or France, with all AC’s (except Fitou) established after 1985. This is the largest area under vine in France, with 1/3rd of all French vines, and creates a variety of styles of wines, but usually blended red wines. The main grape variety currently is the red grape Carignan, although this is changing quickly. Next are the grapes Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault, with Merlot and Carbernet Sauvignon picking up popularity. The white grapes are less common but also increasing in popularity, including Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Some other native varietals include Clairette, Picpoul, Aspiran, Mauzac, and Ribarenc.
Rhone is located in the southeast of France, stretching from the Mediterranean towards Beaujoulais. It is divided into 2 main regions, Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône; and 2 lesser regions, The Dios and Ventoux, Luberon, & Grignan les Adhemar. Also, there is a large production of Côtes du Rhône Villages wines, which are AOC wines from throughout Rhône that do not qualify for other specific appellations and are typically from the Southern region. Northern Rhône is known for red wines made only with the Syrah grape, with the Côte-Rotie appellation allowing a small amount of the white grape Viognier to be blended in; the other 2 white grapes are Marsanne and Rousanne. Southern Rhône is mostly known for red wines blended from the grapes Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, with the most famous appellation being Châteauneuf-de-Pape. The Dios is mostly sparkling wine, which the remaining regions are similar to Provence (fruity whites and rosés).
The Southwest of France is just south of Bordeaux, and is a great area to get some Bordeaux-style wines at a great price. The region has 2 major “groups”, which includes the Bordeaux-style appellations, and then the regions produces traditional French county wines from local native grapes. Bergerac and Monbazillac produce Bordeaux-style sweet white wines with the Semillon grape, while Buzet creates Bordeaux-style reds. Some of the traditional style appellations include Cahors, which uses the Malbec grape (known as Côt or Auxerrois locally); Madiran, which uses primarily Tannat to make dark, substantial reds; and Jurancon, which uses Gros Manseg and Petit Manseg to make dry and sweet wines respectively.