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Wines from France

While there are many wine regions within France, the best known are Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace, Loire, Champagne and the Rhone. In the red wines of Burgundy, the two grape varietals used are Pinot Noir and Gamay, the latter of which is used in making Beaujoulais. Chardonnay is the varietal for white Burgundy. Bordeaux produces many more varietals, of which the overwhelming variety for red wine is Cabernet Sauvignon. In the communes of St Emillon and Pomerol, Merlot happens to be the major grape.
Other varietals include, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Bordeaux’s whites include Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. While Alsace and the Loire produce some reds, they are really known for their white wines. In Alsace, Riesling predominates, but there is also a large quantity of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris (formerly called Tokay), Muscat, and Pinot Blanc, while in the Loire it is Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Champagne has three varietals that can be used in the wines of the region, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Finally the Rhone, made up of Hermitage, Condrieu, Cornas, St Joseph, Cote Rotie and Crozes Hermitage in the north, where the main varietal is Syrah and in the south, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras, where a huge variety of grapes are grown, among the best known, Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignane and Cinsault.

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc is one of the major black grape varieties worldwide. Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, making a bright pale red wineand contributing finesse and a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Depending on growing region and style of wine, additional aromas can include tobacco, raspberry, bell pepper, and cassis, sometimes even violets. DNA analysis indicates Cabernet Franc is one of two parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, a cross between it and Sauvignon Blanc.

Where is this variety grown? Bordeaux, Bergerac, Gascony, Val de Loire

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world's most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. Despite its prominence in the industry, the grape is a relatively new variety, the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet franc and Sauvignon blanc during the 17th century in southwestern France. Its popularity is often attributed to its ease of cultivation—the grapes have thick skins and the vines are hardy and resistant to rot and frost—and to its consistent presentation of structure and flavours which express the typical character of the variety. One of the most noted traits of Cabernet Sauvignon is its affinity for oak, either during fermentation or in barrel aging. In addition to having a softening effect on the grape's naturally high tannins, the unique wood flavors of vanilla and spice complement the natural grape flavors of black currant and tobacco.

Where is this variety grown? Bordeaux, Le Midi, Languedoc - Roussillon, Provence, Sud-Ouest, Val de Loire

Carignan is a variety that has suffered greatly from image problems. As it has naturally high yields, it has long been used for mass produced wines and lower quality table wines. Today however, its strengths are coming to the forefront. It is frost-resistant, but must be planted in warm climates as it has a long growing season and may not ripen fully otherwise. It is thus well-suited for the Mediterranean coast. When its yields are kept to 30-70 hl/ha, this Spanish variety, which is still found in Priorat, produces superb wines that add good acidity and depth of color when blended with varieties like Grenache. When produced on the best terroirs, it is a good choice for vineyards with pronounced characteristics such as Fitou in Roussillon, Corbières or Côtes de Provence. It’s also has desirable aromas, offering red fruit, spices and garrigue (Mediterranean brushlands) with supple tannins. With 160,000 hectares in production worldwide, it can be found as far away as Western Bengal.

Where is this variety grown? Languedoc - Roussillon, Provence, Vallée du Rhône

Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc (known also as Pineau de la Loire among other names), is a white wine grape variety from the Loire valley of France. Its high acidity means it can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to well-balanced dessert wines, although it can produce very bland, neutral wines if the vine's natural vigor is not controlled. Loire Valley, Corsica, Languedoc, Charentes, and the Aveyron department.

Where is this variety grown? Val de Loire, Corsica, Languedoc, Charentes, Aveyron department

Cinsaut is a red wine grape. It is the fourth most widely-planted grape variety in France, and is especially important in Languedoc-Roussillon. Often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan, Cinsaut also has been tagged with a poor reputation, as it was formerly produced in mass quantities. Today, Cinsaut is only planted on 45,000 hectares worldwide, of which 30,000 are in France, and its yields are kept low to obtain more fragrant, balanced wines. It is often used in the production of Mediterranean rosés such as those of Provence. Its delicious aromas of peach, raspberry and strawberry are ideal for summer rosés with mellow flavors and a touch of acidity. It delivers its best results on nutrient-poor, dry soils. When blended with Grenache and Syrah, however, it becomes an excellent red variety, included in appellations such as Minervois, Lirac and the famous Châteauneuf du Pape. Wines produced from Cinsaut are not particularly dense in color, but lend suppleness and balance to blends by balancing out the high alcohol content of Grenache and the astringency of Carignan.

Where is this variety grown? Languedoc - Roussillon, Provence, Vallée du Rhône

Gamay is a purple-colored grape variety used to make red wines. Another name for Gamay is Gamay Beaujolais, which is a clear sign that the variety and the region are inseparable. A full 60% of the world’s Gamay is planted in Beaujolais, where it derives excellent expression from the nutrient-poor, acidic granite soils. It is also found in Burgundy and in the Loire Valley, and the northern climates suit it well. Its array of fruity, fresh aromas include blackberry, cherry, strawberry, and gooseberry, and it can be characterized as mischievous, impish and charming. Its light tannins leave its fruit to dominate, accented by a touch of acidity that makes it pleasant to drink cool with everyday meals. Gamay is also the grape of the Beaujolais Nouveau, produced exclusively from the more alkaline soils of Southern Beaujolais. Beaujolais Nouveau is designed to be a wine of pleasure and celebration.

Where is this variety grown? Beaujolais, Bourgogne, Jura - Savoie, Sud-Ouest, Val de Loire

Grenache is one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world. It is one of southern France’s noble grape varieties. As it is susceptible to disease, the windy climates of Languedoc and the Rhone Valley help keep it healthy. It is grown in all of the appellations on the Mediterranean coast. It thrives in warm, nutrient-poor, gravelly soils. Although Vins Doux Naturels (Natural Sweet Wines) are its hallmark due to its naturally high sugar content, it is used to produce numerous Vins de Pays and other designations, often blended to perfection with Syrah. Deeply colored, powerful and generous, Grenache offers aromas of red fruit, plum and spices and with age delivers hints of mocha, chocolate and tobacco.

Where is this variety grown? Languedoc - Roussillon, Provence, Vallée du Rhône

Merlot is a darkly blue-coloured wine grape, that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. A hearty and early-ripening variety, it ripens well in Bordeaux in the deep, cool soils of Libourne. Merlot has many fine points: a beautiful deep red color, a delicious array of aromas, including lightly spiced red fruit and plums, and a powerful but delicate structure with tannins that are velvety, but still present. Considering that it complements Cabernet Sauvignon, and is often blended with that variety, it is clear that Merlot has still has a promising future ahead.

Where is this variety grown? Bordeaux, Charentes, Languedoc - Roussillon, Sud-Ouest

Originating in Provence in the 14th century, this red wine grape variety spread in large quantities to Spain, perhaps because Provence was under Catalan rule. Today, with 7,500 hectares in cultivation in France, it remains an important variety in Provence and Languedoc. As it has a long growing season, and needs warm falls to ripen properly, it is naturally well suited for the coastal vineyards of Cassis, Bandol and Côtes de Provence. Mourvèdre’s yields are low, and it produces concentrated grapes with firm tannins. The variety can be a difficult grape to grow, preferring "its face in the hot sun and its feet in the water" meaning that it needs very warm weather, a low leaf-to-fruit ratio but adequate water or irrigation to produce intensely flavored fruit that is not overly jammy or herbaceous. Thus, it is often used in blends to lend structure. Deeply colored, it has good aging potential that allows certain wines such as the Bandol AOC’s reds to be successfully cellared. Its primary aromas include pepper, game, truffles and black fruit.

Where is this variety grown? Languedoc - Roussillon, Provence, Vallée du Rhône

Muscadelle is a white wine grape variety. It has a simple aroma of grape juice and raisins like grapes of the Muscat family of grapes, but it is unrelated. DNA analysis has indicated that Muscadelle is a cross between Gouais Blanc and an unidentified grape variety. It is a minor constituent in the dry and sweet wines of Bordeaux, such as Sauternes. It rarely makes up more than 10% of the blend, which is dominated by Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Throughout the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century, plantings of the grape were falling. Some sweet wines from Monbazillac, on the other hand, can have a higher proportion of Muscadelle.

Where is this variety grown? Monbazillac, Sauternes

Pinot noir
Cultivated by the Gauls before the Roman invasion, Pinot Noir has always been right at home in Burgundy. It has since been planted in Alsace, Germany and even in the coolest parts of Spain or in the U.S. state of Oregon. Temperamental, frost and disease-sensitive and an early ripener, it is like an exceptionally gifted but difficult child. However, its short growing season is a benefit in northern regions where the warm weather ends quickly. In Burgundy, the climate is ideal for Pinot Noir and it produces spectacular wines that are complex, well-balanced and rich in aromas. It is also the only red variety grown in Burgundy and yields an astoundingly diverse range of expressions. With 25,000 hectares of the 60,000 planted worldwide, France is the largest producer of Pinot Noir. Though its color is not particularly intense, its long-lasting finish and delicate aromas make it a highly sought-after variety. With small red fruit, cherry, kirsch, leather, underbrush and gamy aromas, Pinot Noir is unquestionably a safe bet. Its light tannins and silky, melting texture make it a pleasure to drink, and it can be successfully cellared as well.

Where is this variety grown? Alsace, Bourgogne, Champagne, Jura - Savoie, Val de Loire

Riesling is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed, aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally pure and are seldom oaked. Riesling wines are often consumed when young, when they make a fruity and aromatic wine which may have aromas of green or other apples, grapefruit, peach, gooseberry, honey, rose blossom or cut green grass, and usually a crisp taste due to the high acidity. However, Riesling's naturally high acidity and range of flavours make it suitable for extended aging. Riesling is considered one of the grape varieties that best expresses the terroir of the place where it is grown. It is particularly well suited for slate and sandy clay soil. Riesling is a versatile wine for pairing with food, because of its balance of sugar and acidity. It can be paired with white fish or pork, and is one of the few wines that can stand up to the stronger flavours and spices of Thai and Chinese cuisine.

Where is this variety grown? Alsace