France’s Wine Regions and Terroir Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on Mar 2, 2015 in Culture
One of the best (and most fun!) ways of getting to know France is through learning about its terroirs. Terroir is a French loanword in English that you might already be familiar with — especially if you are an oenophile — that loosely translates to a “sense of place”. In other words, terroir is the special characteristics of a particular place that allows it to produce agricultural products like wine, cheese, tea, coffee, etc.
Of course, the term terroir isn’t only applicable to France. But France’s various terroirs are so distinct from one another and so culturally rich that understanding all of its geographical and agricultural diversity will only make you fall more in love with the country.
So today, I’ll be taking you on an introductory tour of some of the most important terroirs in France. And, as an oenophile myself, we will be focusing on the different appellations, or controlled regions, for wine production.
1. Languedoc and Roussillon
These two beautiful regions are on the Mediterranean coast and extend down to the border between France and Spain. Languedoc and Roussillon have been important winemaking centers for centuries, and the region has three times the area of vineyards in Bordeaux! In fact, there is evidence of grapevines in the region that date to the prehistoric era. This region is most famous for its reds and rosés and Roussillon in particular is known for its fortified sweet wines from areas such as Rivesaltes and Banyuls.
Unlike in most other regions in France, wines made in Alsace (on France’s eastern border with Germany) do have the grape on the label rather than just the region. The most famous grapes in the region are Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurtztraminer. Most of the grapes grown in this region are white, although there is some delicious Pinot Noir.
This region is situated in the Rhône River valley in southern France and is divided into the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. Syrah is the grape of choice in the Northern Rhône, while the sunny Southern Rhône section is more about blends of grapes, usually including Grenache. If you’ve heard of the appellations Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage, these are both in the Rhône region.
Need I say more? Not all sparkling wine is Champagne, only the sparkling wine produced in the region of Champagne in the northeast of France. Winemakers in this region use the traditional method, called la methode champenoise, that is pretty labor intense and uses two fermentation processes to create delicious Champagne.
The Loire region follows the Loire River from Nantes on the Atlantic coast to Orléans in northcentral France. Near Nantes, Muscadet is the star of the show, a refreshing white wine. The Central Vineyards of the region are known for their Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre is the most well-known and expensive appellation in the region.
To make it simple: “Red Burgundy” means Pinot Noir and “White Burgundy” means Chardonnay. Burgundy has had vineyards for centuries and the label on a bottle of Burgundy is inextricably linked with a particular piece of land in the region. This means that the land is split up into tiny parcels, owned by separate producers, and that this is reflected in the various labels of Burgundy.
Did I save the best for last? Perhaps. The Bordeaux region is known for producing the fanciest, most expensive, and (yes) most tasty wines in France (although this is debatable to some!). Why? Because Bordeaux first started classifying its wine estates in the region back in 1855 and all “growths” are tied back to this historical moment. This means that the grapevines in Burgundy are old…and expensive. Wine from Bordeaux is almost always made of blends of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.
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