An Exploration of French Wines, Episode 158
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.
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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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!