TRYING TO WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A BORDEAUX AND A BURGUNDY? READ AHEAD AS JACINTA WALSH EXPLORES THE ORIGIN, DIVERSITY AND UNDENIABLE QUALITY OF FRENCH VARIETALS,SO THAT NEXT TIME YOU WALK INTO YOUR LOCAL LIQUOR STORE,YOU CAN CHOOSE WITH CONFIDENCE.
EUROPE HAS A LONG HISTORY OF VITICULTURE THAT DATES BACK ALMOST SIX MILLENNIA. IN THAT TIME, THE PRACTICE OF WINEMAKING HAS AND CONTINUES TO EVOLVE WITH ITS MAKERS TO REFLECT THE TASTES AND LOCALE IN WHICH IT IS CREATED. COMMONLY REFERRED TO AS A REGION OF THE OLD WORLD, FRANCE IS UNDOUBTEDLY CONSIDERED ONE OF THE MOST PIVOTAL WINEMAKING REGIONS,AND AFTER YOU TASTE ITS PRODUCE YOU’LL UNDERSTAND WHY!
Rich in history, the region has long honed its craft to ensure that it continues to yield some of the best wine in the industry. As one of the top three producers in the world, strict regulations, diverse growing conditions and an obvious love for the craft sets France apart from its competitors.
While a shelf full of similar-looking wines can be a little intimidating, if you look a little deeper, you’ll soon realise the unique ways of growing, harvesting and bottling grapes. So, how do you tell the difference between the abundant offerings? Wineries of South Australia has the answers.
While the Romans are charged with bringing viticulture to what is now modern–day France, over time the French have adopted their own winemaking practices. French wine places importance on terroir, rather than the grape itself. If you haven’t come across this term before, terroir refers to the taste of the place in which the grape was grown. This includes outside influences that impact the vine such as soil type, slope and elevation, as well as the climate and weather of the region.
Strict in its regulations, French wine is split into four tiers of quality. Regional wines form the foundation and are sourced from multiple locations across the country. Quality improves as you move to the second tier, which includes wines specific to one village. The third tier includes premier cru vineyards located within these villages, while top-tier grand cru vineyards are nominated as the very best in the region.
If you aren’t confused yet, you may be after reading the label of a bottle of French wine. Wine terms can be confusing at the best of times, but French wine terms are a whole other story. If your label reads grand vin, this is the wine that its makers consider to be their best. However, if you see the word réserve, don’t be fooled! This term is unregulated and doesn’t necessarily mean that the wine is of high quality.
However, one thing that you’ll often find missing on a French bottle of wine is the name of the grape that was used to make it. Instead, French winemakers put a controlled place name, which appears on the label as the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). These appellations are attached to the piece of land, regardless of who makes the wine. This means that certain pieces of land may have multiple producers who own certain sections of the one vineyard.
To break things down, let’s look at a few popular regions within France to identify their best-selling wines.
Burgundy: Burgundy has five notable growing regions and a focus on two primary exports; pinot noir and chardonnay. Famous for its crisp chardonnay, Chablis is located in the north of Burgundy. Its neighbour Côte de Nuits is home to 24 grand cru vineyards and as a result, some of the world’s most expensive wines. Approximately 80 per cent of wine produced in this region can be attributed to pinot noir, which showcases notes of rich fruit and earthiness. Below this area, the vineyards in Côte de Beaune maintain a south-easterly exposure culminating in fresh and floral chardonnay.
Further south in Côte Chalonnaise, the production of aligoté is almost as devoted as that of pinot noir and chardonnay, and with sweet, citrus and floral notes, it’s the perfect summer wine. Finally, Mâconnais’ soil is full of limestone, which adds structure to its chardonnay.
Bordeaux: While most wines from Bordeaux are a blend of different grapes, the dominant grape will often be selected as a result of where the wine is from. Unlike Burgundy, the classification in Bordeaux is based on the producer, not the land.
Bordeaux is famously separated by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Regions existing on either side of the Garonne river are often referred to as the left and right banks. The left bank consists of the Médoc and Graves regions, which are famous for their bold, tannic cabernet sauvignon. Located on the opposite side of the bank, the red clay soil of Libournais produces bold variations of merlot.
Entre-Deux-Mers is situated between the two rivers, and translates in English to ‘between two tides’. Though the area produces both red and white wine, it is mostly known for its sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Nearby, the Sauternais region borders either side of the Garonne river and is famous for its shrivelled grapes, which produce a sweet wine.
Champagne: A region that perhaps sparks the most debate among sommeliers is Champagne. Until recently, most sparkling wine was often referred to colloquially as champagne. However, new rules state that only wine that has undergone the traditional method – méthode champenoise – in the region Champagne, may be labelled as such. More confusingly, Champagne also produces a variety of other wines, which are not called champagne either!
The méthode champenoise is an intense process that involves fermenting underripe grapes to achieve a still wine that will then undergo a second fermentation in its bottle. In this stage, yeast and sugar are added to be converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide, which remains in the wine in the form of bubbles. Following this, the wine goes through the process of riddling, where the bottles are slowly turned upside down over the course of several weeks, before the tops are frozen and disgorged to remove the dead yeast. The bottle is then topped up with additional wine.
Since the grapes in this region struggle to fully ripen in the cool northern environment, wines are often non-vintage. This means that bottles contain a blend of wine from different years. Due to this extensive process, wine from Champagne comes with a high price tag.
Next time you’re struggling to a pick a wine, take a chance on one of the major players in global winemaking. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing where your wine has come from, so why not test your newfound knowledge on your friends. After all, an educated gulp tastes all the more sweet.
Images courtesy of Jacob’s Creek, Salena Estate & David Franz Wines.