Category Archives: Food and Wine

French Wine Q&A for Beginners, Episode 162

French Wine Questions and Answers for Beginners

French Wine Questions and Answers for Beginners

Wine is even better when you understand it, and French Wine Scholar Dave Walsh comes on the show today to answer wine questions from the Join Us in France Closed Group on Facebook. He makes it fun and simple!

Related Episodes: An Exploration of French Wines, the Wine Museum in Paris, the Saint-Vincent Tournante Burgundy Wine Festival, Saint-Emilion near Bordeaux, French Wine Regions and Loire Valley Wines.

Recommended on today’s Episode: J’aime attendre

French Tip of the Week: “Je voudrais voir la carte des vins”

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

What You Will Learn About in this Episode with Time-Stamps

[00:00] This is Join Us in France Episode 162. The topic of today’s show is French Wine Questions brought by the Join Us in France Community and Answers from French Wine Scholar Dave Walsh. But first, let me introduce myself and little bit. My name is Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the only travel show exclusively dedicated to helping you prepare your big trip to France. I was born and raised in France, went to the UK and the US for college and lived away from France for 20 years of my life. I’ve been back living in France for over a decade now. I didn’t work in the travel industry; this podcast is something I created because, being a bit of a geek and having lived far away from France for so long, I was eager to re-discover my own country and it turns out I also love to talk about France with other people!

[01:37] My occasional co-host and good friend Elyse has had the opposite life-experience: she was born and raised in the US, moved to France to complete college—she’s an art historian– and she has been living in France, and working in the travel industry for a long time. Because Elyse is a professional Tour Guide; we decided to organize small group tours a few times a year. I created a small business called Addicted to France and you can read reviews about Addicted to France Tours on Trip Advisor. To see what tours are available on what dates, go to Addicted to France.com.

[02:19] On the show, you will also hear from different listeners who visited France and want to share how it went, what they learned, they want to give you specific recommendations, they want people who are going after them to learn from their experience. I call those Trip Reports, but I could also have called them Listener Travel Tips, Listener Insider Tips, or Listener Trip Reviews. The point is, YOU get to hear candid reviews of other people’s vacations, you know they are not fake reviews because you can hear it straight from them, and we all help one-another have a better vacation experience in France. At the end of the show you’ll hear how you can contact me if that’s something you’d like to do. And I’m not just looking for glowing reviews, I do ask people to bring up things that didn’t go as well as you had hoped!

[03:11] In today’s episode, I bring you a conversation with Dave Walsh. We’re doing Questions and Answers about French Wines for Beginners. Well, some of this is pretty advanced; this is Edutainment at its finest. All the questions came from the Join Un in France Closed Group and we had a good time asking our questions to Dave Walsh, so stay tuned wine enthusiasts!

If you’re interested in French wines, you should also listen to Episode 158, An Exploration of French Wines, which is the first part of my conversation with Dave, but Elyse and I have also done several food and wine episodes. If you look at the Join Us in France site, under the category food and wine you’ll find 15 of them! I won’t list them all here, but there was episode 124 about the wine museum in Paris with my friend Brenda; Episode 98 about the Saint Vincent Tournante Burgundy Wine Festival with Kelly Kamborian;  Episode 40 about Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux wine country with Elyse, that episode was more about the village than about the wine, but you can’t understand the wine if you know nothing about the village; and episode 28, an oldie but goodie with Elyse on French Wine Regions with a particular interest on Loire Valley Wines. So, you’ve got lots of great listening to do about this topic with our back catalog.

[04:48] Stay tuned after the interview to hear my thanks to listeners who support the show on Patreon, my personal update and what’s happening around me, how to connect with me, any news concerning the show, and the French Tip of the Week.  And now, here’s the interview!

[05:07] Interview with Dave Walsh begins

[05:07] Question: If I like big Napa Valley red wines, what wines in France are most similar to those? Answer: if you like Napa Valley wines, you probably like Carbernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet-Franc and Merlot wines. So, if you look at what French regions use those grapes in France, it leads you directly to Bordeaux. Two other French regions that make big heavy reds, very dark in color and very high profile wines, are found in the South-West of France (Cahors wines) and also the Languedoc wines. These are places where it’s hotter and where they produce heavier wines. You will get better bang for the buck with South-Western wines than with Bordeaux because Bordeaux has gotten quite expensive of late.

[07:29] Lisa wrote: “Since French wines are named by region & not grape, a basic understanding of which grapes are primarily used in a region would be helpful for those of us who know which grapes we like.”

Dave’s Answer: In Episode 158 we went over the regions, look for the table below the fold where you can see what grapes are used in what French wines.

Annie: Yes, but French wines are often blended, aren’t they? So you’re not going to get 100% of a certain grape. You might get a wine with 80% of this and 5% of that, etc. And they don’t even necessarily list it on the bottles!

Dave’s Answer: Sometimes they do list it on the bottle when they import the bottle into the US market. The French term is “cépage” (=varietal).

Annie: When you’re buying a Burgundy wine, you’re buying a Pinot Noir mostly.

Dave: If you’re buying a Northern Rhone, it’s mostly Syrah. Southern Rhone it’s going to be a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

Annie:  If you’re buying a Cahors, you’re buying a Malbec. But Bordeaux and Loire are all blended. Provence is blended also.

Dave: Some places in the Loire will make 100% Cabernet Franc.

[10:00] Dave: We should talk about why France does that because it’s really frustrating for people who come to France for the first time. They wonder why it doesn’t say Cabernet Franc on this bottle of wine. It’s due in part to history and in part to culture. French people who have an interest in wine know what grapes are grown in what regions.

Annie: with French people, if you ask them what wine they like, they will tell you either the name of a region, or the name of a village, or the name of an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). When you go to a French grocery store, you will see the wines organized by regions of France, not by grapes. French people grow up and decide that they like Bordeaux and not Beaujolais for example.

Dave: But knowing that Beaujolais is mostly made with Gamay, then, as a French person you probably don’t know that because you think of the region, not the grape; whereas in the US if you say I’m going to have a great Napa, it could be one of 15 varietals, because that’s what they grow in Napa.  The evolution of these grapes in the regions is important. Gamay was expelled from Burgundy in the 1400s, so the grapes in Burgundy have had a long time to make a home in those regions.

Annie: But your average French person does not know that when they’re drinking a Cahors they’re drinking a Malbec, unless they are a sommelier or something! French people don’t know and they don’t care. That’s why you shouldn’t ask your waiter in a French restaurant to bring you their best Pinot Noir. It’s not that they don’t want to help you, it’s just that they have no idea what you mean. Ask them for a Bourgogne (which is mostly Pinot Noir) and they totally know what to bring you!

[13:08] We have a rosé from the Camague, it is really light in color and we call it Gris. French people will know if they prefer these very light rosés from Camargue or if they want beefier rosés from Corsica. And that’s how we choose at the grocery store.

Dave: In the old world, because we have such a long history with wines, the regions have had the time to develop their characteristics. The region of Burgundy produces a certain style of wine, they don’t need to put Pinot Noir on the bottle because all Burgundies have a lot in common.

[14:30] Annie was raised French but left to live in the US before she was drinking wine. She started to learn about wine in the US. She liked the movie Sideway and so, in France, she went looking for Pinot Noir and couldn’t find it.

Dave: When you grow up in that wine culture you just know that Burgundy = Pinot Noir and if it’s from a place like Meursault it’s a white Burgundy and then it’s  Chardonnay. When you go to Oregon, they grow so many types of grapes (13) that they have to list it on the bottle. In Burgundy it’s one of 3 only.

[17:16] Bob asks: In your opinion, is there some distinctive quality which makes French wines unique and stand out from other wines from other parts of the world.

Dave: Probably France has the widest variety and the highest quality of wines in the world.

Annie:  That’s probably because we have so much history and so many ways to train wine professionals in France.

Dave: every region that makes wine in the world is unique. The Greeks brought the original grape vines to Marseilles, France in the 6th Century BC. In America the yard-stick by which the measure the quality of their wines is they look to quality French wines and want to emulate them.

Annie: There can also be issues with the basic quality of the wine. Some wines, if you take too long to drink them will develop problems with the cork or other things.

Dave: The Syrah made in Northern Rhone need to age for 5 or 10 or 15 years. They are made for ageing. Whereas Provencal rosés are made to drink quickly.

Annie: We have this saying in France, we say “un vin de garde” which means it’s a wine for keeping. At a winery, I will often ask “est-ce-que c’est un vin de garde ou un vin à boire maintenant” (is this a wine you need to age or does it need to be enjoyed soon). And most wine-makers in my region will say “drink it within 3 years.” In the South-West there are few wines that are made to be kept for 20 years. Some people keep the wrong wine for 20 years and when they open it, it’s disgusting! That happens every day in France! I have neighbors and friends who have cellars and they buy wines to keep for 5, 10 or 20 years and sometimes they have a bad surprise. But these are wines that they paid 20 € for and what they hope is that in 20 years it’ll be worth lots more, but it doesn’t happen that often.

[22:21] Dave: knowing which wines can be kept and which ones cannot is important. Wine makers know this because their wines are designed for a specific reason.

Annie: You have a lot of French people who when they turn 52 go buy some cases of wine to keep until their retirement party in 10 years. Or they want to buy some wine for when their kid turns 18. These are people who will go to wineries and tell them that they want to buy a few cases for a special occasion 10 years from now or some such. But that won’t work for most wines of the South-West, to pull it off you have to go to Bordeaux or Burgundy or places like that.

[23:52] Susan asks: How does the French soil impact the wine – as in – how does the same variety differ when grown in the states (i.e WA or CA).

Dave: This is a great question and there are several ressources just dedicated to this subject. Here are some: I’ll Drink to That! Mechanisms of TerroirDiscover The Wines of France’s Bergerac Region. There are people with PhD whose job it is to advise wineries on what grapes to grow in their particular areas. Alsace has 13 different soil types in that small region. If you grow a Riesling on clay, lime stone, granite or slate, the flavor profile flavors are completely  different.

Dave: So it’s hard to say that Cabernet-Sauvignon grown in the South-West is one way but if you grow it in Napa it’s another way because there are other influences such as climate, the wine maker, etc. There is a lot more sunshine in Napa than in the South-West or even Bordeaux and that has a huge influence. In Napa you get a lot more fruit flavor whereas in Bordeaux you get more earthy notes.

Annie: Terroir happens in America as well because terroir is the confluence of your temperature, soil, rain, wind, etc.

[27:22] Jennifer asks: Talk about some French wine areas we don’t see so much in the US such as Muscadet from the Nantes/Loire region, wines from Jura – and of course, go deep on the Rosés we are now finally seeing many more of in the US! Why are these Tavel wines so special?

  • Muscadet – Melon de Borgogne from Nantes/Loire, accents of sea and citrus.
  • Sur-lie aged, they stir the wine, we call that battonage in French. Proteins released from dead yeast impart fuller/rounded mouthfeel, Sèvre et Maine.
  • “Designed” to pair with regional seafood, great QPR ($10-15 in US)
  • Tasted at “Addicted to France” wine tasting in Paris

Annie: There’s no shame in liking what you like and disliking what you dislike. We all know our palate and it’s great to get to know what you enjoy and keep some notes on what you enjoy.

  • Jura – directly East of Burgundy near Switzerland, home of Louis Pasteur, Small region and wines rarely found outside Jura, but are now beloved by sommelier community in the USA. Chardonnay, Savignin Blanc (“Vin Jaune” Yellow wine), Poulsard. Pinot Noir and Trousseau.

Annie: In general, if you pay 10€ for a bottle in France, that same bottle is going to be $20 or more in the US. One exception is Mouton Cadet, for some reason, it’s around 10 on both continents!

[37:00] Dave: Because so many people are involved in wine distribution in America and they all add their markup, it goes up quickly.

Annie: I have an acquaintance that makes a wine called Jurançon from the Pyrenees Mountains and he asked me to help him figure out how to export his wine to the US. It is tremendously complicated and it seems it can only be done by folks whose full-time job it is. As a French resident, if I wanted to ship a bottle of wine to a good friend in America, I probably couldn’t do it! I couldn’t put it in my suitcase and bring it to America, but I can’t ship it there.

Dave: This has to do with laws that date back to the days of Prohibition. They don’t want anyone to have monopoly, so if you’re an importer you can’t be a distributor or a wholesaler. They break up the system and lots of people are involved and they each take a cut.

Annie: Just come to France and here you can enjoy any wine! We have wine producers in France who make a living producing a few thousand bottles per year. They don’t have enough of a production to sell to grocery stores in France either. We have small wine clubs where people go discover wines from all over the country.

[40:14] Dave: Hidden gems: Cotes du Rhone red GSM blends; Dry Sylvaner and Muscat from Alsace.

If you like sparkling wines, look at Cremant from Burgundy, Alsace and Limoux (Roussillon). Blanquette de Limoux is now popular in America. They’re all good except for the crémant made in the Champagne region.

[43:00] Rosé Wines

French people have been drinking rosé in the summer for a very long time. America is just now catching on. All rosé is made from red grapes, color and certain aromas/flavors/tannins from skins. Rosés have a wide variety of color.

  1. Type and quality of the grapes (thick versus thin skinned red grapes)
  2. Temperature control throughout the wine-making process (cold preserves the aromas)
  3. Length of time the nearly colorless grape juice remains in contact with the pigmented skins and seeds (the “skin contact” period)
  • Provence rosés get their unique color and character from this limited time of skin contact, which lasts for only a matter of hours. Red wines are “long vatted” – the skins are in contact with the juice for days, giving the wine a rich, dark color and a more tannic flavor.
  • Rose wines start their life like a red wine (with skin contact) then once the juice is separated from the skins, they continue as a white wine. Fermentation temperature is lowered to preserve the high aromatics.
  • Vatting or Pressing. At this step in the process, the rosé producer chooses between two vinification options: direct pressing, which yields a pale pink wine, or maceration/bleeding, which yields a darker-colored pink wine.
  • Direct Pressing: Used by the majority of Provence producers, yields a rosé that’s light in color, because the dark skins stay in contact with the clear juice for a very short period of time. In direct pressing, the grapes – either destemmed or in clusters – are immediately pressed in a wine press to release the juice. The pale pink juice is then delivered to the fermentation tank.
    or
  • Maceration and bleeding (Saignée):This is a steeping-and-draining process. Crushed grapes soak in a tank for between 2-20 hours at a cool, tightly controlled temperature. As the juice and skins comingle, the skins release their pigments and delicate aromas. The winemaker opens a filter in the bottom of the vat to drain – or bleed – the juice into the fermentation tank using the force of gravity. Exactly how long the vatting time should last is one of the questions that make rosé winemaking so delicate. It must be long enough for the red pigments to give the wine its pink color. But it mustn’t be so long that the tannins in the skins begin to detract from the wine’s lively elegance. Method used in Tavel, Southern Rhone.

[45:58] Tavel Rosés are Dave’s favorite. They are darker in color and have a stronger flavor profile. They are a little bit more expensive than rosés from Provence. The Tavel wines are close to Châteauneuf du Pape and Avignon. You can find them at Costco occasionally.

[48:50] Costco is the biggest alcohol retailer in the US. It’s a huge market for them. They also buy and hold under strict climatic conditions to guarantee the quality of the wine.

[51:06] Do you recommend people get a wine cellar to keep their wine in good condition? Wine doesn’t like large temperature fluctuations, so it depends on where you live. Americans buy wine to consume immediately whereas French people buy to keep. French houses don’t necessarily have a basement, but they often have a wine cellar. If you’re only going to keep the wine for 6 months, you don’t need a wine fridge.

[54:15] Annie: If you care about wine, it’s good to learn about it a little bit, but not so much that you become a snob. Wine is about socializing with people, and you don’t want to turn your nose at something a friend serves you, even if it comes out of a wine box.

Dave: Nobody knows your palette as well as you do, you like what you like and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Annie: Food and wine pairing is the same. If you like a specific with with a specific food, then go ahead and do that.

[55:50] Dave: In general, Americans drink their white wine too cold and their red wine too warm. When they say serve at room temperature, it’s not that warm. You can serve rosé straight out of the fridge maybe, but not white.

Annie: The sommelier at the wine class we offer in Paris as part of the Addicted to France Paris Tours, told us that he serves red wine after putting it in an icy bucket for 10 minutes. When you come to France, bring a cork opener and get daring to try a few wines while you’re here. This is your chance to try things for cheap.

[58:00] Dave: In France, if you try wines under 10€ you can’t go wrong even if you don’t love it.

[64:27] French Tip of the Week: “Je voudrais voir la carte des vins s’il vous plaît” (I would like to see the wine list please)

[65:15] Great website that shows the average wait time and busy days at various French museums and attractions, including Disneyland. It’s called J’aime attendre, which is counter-intuitive because that means I love to wait when most of us do not!

 

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Conclusion

Thanks for asking such good questions, and we hope you’re now ready to face the wine jungle in France. I know, I know, it’s a rough life, but somebody has to do it. And whatever you do, remember this: Pinot Noir = Burgundy and big reds from Napa = Bordeaux!

Continue reading French Wine Q&A for Beginners, Episode 162

An Exploration of French Wines, Episode 158

An Exploration of French Wines, Episode 158


An Exploration of French Wines, Dave Walsh and his family

Introduction

Let me tell you a secret, folks. When you come to France and you go buy some wine, you are going to be surprised! Let’s say you step into a supermarket in Paris on your way back to your hotel one night. You will not find a section for Merlot and a section for Pinot Noir. Nope, what you will see is words like Corbière and Bordeaux and Loire. But what’s in those wines? If you love Cabernet and hate Merlot, how do know which one to avoid in France?

In comes today’s guest: French wine scholar Dave Walsh. “French Wine Scholar” is a certification that he took and it’s pretty clear he is passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. Dave is better than a sommelier because he’s not trying to sell you anything. He is simply trying to help you make sense of it all.

We chat about things like what’s a “terroir”? What does history have to do with wine-making? What are the basics you need to understand? How do you know what wine to pick to match your taste?  And, of course, we chat about the varieties of wines each French region uses.

Also note that below the fold, you will find a table that shows grape varieties used in various French wine regions. Make this your own cheat sheet that shows what French wines you’ll enjoy best.

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

 If you like this episode, you should also check out: Wine Touring in Beaune, Burgundy, the Wine Museum in Paris, French Wine Regions and Loire Valley Wines

What You Will Learn About in this Episode

 

  • 2’30 Guiguettes in Paris this summer.
  • 6′ New cultural center at Boulogne Billancourt
  • 7’30 Wine Scholar Program, why is France such a unique wine country?
  • 11’30 The Wine Scholar Program explains the history of French wines.
  • 14’35 French wine, much like the rest of France, are full of exceptions.
  • 15’30 Wine Folly
  • 16’30 The Champagne Region: labels should say “méthode traditionelle” instead of “méthode champenoise”
  • 19′ The color of the wine comes from leaving the juice in contact with the skin for more or less time.
  • 21′ The sweetness of champagne goes from “brut” (dry) all the way to “doux” (sweet).
  • 22’30 The acidity of the wine balances the sugar. A wine with more acid can have more sugar in it, but you don’t taste it, it won’t taste sugary at all.
  • 24′ Burgundy: high priced wines, renowned wineries. Aligoté.
  • 26′ What the word “terroir” means in French. It’s the growing environment which includes the type of soil, rocky or not, windy or not, dry, wet, etc.
  • 31′ In Burgundy they don’t blend wines like they do in the rest of France.
  • 33′ Movie “Ce qui nous lie
  • 33’30 Bordeaux wines: the history of Bordeaux wines has been tumultuous because Chinese buyers love wines from this region.
  • 36′ Wine blending, why they do it.
  • 38′ South-West wines such as Fronton that most folks don’t know about.
  • 39’30 Annie hates non blended Negrette wines, Elyse doesn’t mind them, but she also thinks Montmartre wine is OK.
  • 41′ Cahors wines are mostly Malbec, Madiran is also a popular grape in the South-West. Corbières wines are also lovely.
  • 42’30 Loire Valley wines.
  • 45’30 Rhone Valley wines; Côtes du Rhône wines are a great value.
  • 48’10 Languedoc-Roussillon makes the most wine by volume.
  • 48’30 The relationship between climate and wine characteristics: in areas that get a lot of sun, grapes tend to thicken their skin when the sun hits them. If the skin is thicker, you will get more color, more tanins, more of certain aromatics. Areas that get less sun have wines with less vibrant colors, and the wine is more delicate. That’s why warmer regions produce beefier, heavier wines.
  • 50′ With its long history with wine-making, France has had the time to stipulate which grapes are grown in specific areas. There were also political considerations. Burgundy was not part of France for a long time and when the French King (Charles the Bald) finally took over, he decreed that they were not to have any Gamay and use Pinot Noir instead.
  • 51’40 The rules pertaining to which grapes are grown in which region are old, but they are also ever-changing. Changes will need to be made to take climate change into account.
  • 52’15 Wines from the Alsace region. This area has a unique history and they also produce a wide variety of (mostly) white wines. 80% of Alsace  wines are not blended.
  • 53’15 Languedoc-Roussillon is a massive wine-growing region that makes 5% of wine production world-wide and 1/3 of France’s production.
  • 54’56 A lot of organic wine is produced in the Languedoc-Roussillon because the wind makes it so they don’t have to spray so much.
  • 55’31 When is it OK to stop by a vineyard and when is it not? Don’t do it in Burgundy, it will only work half of the time in the Bordeaux are, but you can totally stop by unannounced in the Languedoc-Roussillon area.
  • 56’30 Tastings in Napa vs. in France. Depending on the time of year, you may stop in at a very busy time of year. Check the websites. But in the Languedoc-Roussillon, they are casual about visitors.
  • 58’15 Beaume-de-Venise is an example of how wine regions don’t always overlap 100% with geographical regions.
  • 60′ French people do drink a lot of rosé as soon as the weather warms up. We drink more rosé than whites. Not many wines.
  • 61′ Rosé Piscine is very popular in the summer, so are rosé wines mixed with a little grapefruit juice.
  • 65′ Do French people think of wine as a food? Yes, the wine is part of the meal, it’s almost like one block that goes together.
  • 68′ I don’t know if the average Americans drink more than French overall because we don’t binge.
  • 70′ The health message people shouldn’t drink alcohol every day but rather take days off is starting to percolate through to French people. French people are also moving towards higher quality wines.
  • 86′ Feedback from Nancy Caulkins about the Canal Saint-Martin.

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Conclusion

French wines are not rocket science, but they are certainly different from what people are used to in most of the world. I’ve heard people say that soon enough French wine makers will all list varietals on their labels. Really? I’m not seeing that very much. I’ve also heard that American wine makers are trying to brand more by region. Yes, I do think that’s happening actually! I cannot predict the future, but I can tell you that if you remember some of the things Dave shared on today’s episode, the wine section at the French grocery store will now make a lot more sense than it did before!

Continue reading An Exploration of French Wines, Episode 158

Wine Museum in Paris, Episode 124

The Wine Museum in Paris


Is the Wine Museum in Paris a must-see? The Musée du Vin is located near the Eiffel Tower and if you are interested in wine you may want to stop by and take a look around. Or should you skip it? Brenda takes us along and lets us know what she thought so you can see for yourself!

Visiting Paris? Find the Best Deals & Reviews at TripAdvisor.

Places Mentioned in this Episode: Musée du Vin, Paris Wine Museum.
Click here to support the show on Patreon and get access to Lunch-Break French, designed to help you sharpen your French skills before your visit to France.


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Continue reading Wine Museum in Paris, Episode 124