Understanding French Wine+


Okay read for the novice drinker as it says.


from Web 2.0 Blog Posts by Mark T. Norman
Let me start by stating that I am a true fledging in understanding French wine and maybe that is a good reason for me to write this. I am not trying to reach experienced French wine drinkers but rather the novice drinker or even an experienced wine drink that is not familiar with French wine.

Until recently, I was probably like many wine drinkers around the world with little understanding of the world of French wine. Two things changed that. I decided to learn by reading and I was able to try several dozen wonderful wines.

The book, “French Wine” by Robert Joseph is a fantastic introduction to a fascinating country. Not only does he give to terrific insights to each region and the appellations within but often he provides driving tours, examples of the foods of the region, and recommendations on who are good producers.

I love history, geography, and learning bout different cultures and this book gave me all three. The French have a long traditional of winemaking and Mr. Joseph gives you a true sense of this history. In 2000, I took a high speed train from Brussels to Paris and was amazed how much of the French countryside was still devoted to agriculture. I have also watched numerous Tour de France competitions and came away with the same feeling. In this book, Joseph reveals the different landscapes and the underlying soil that makes the French terrior so important in winemaking. Finally, each area embraces its own traditions that create a unique sense of the region.

The second experience I had was tasting old French wine. Two good friends (Scott and Rick) not only shared wonderful wines that were 10 to 30 years old from different regions but they gave me an understanding of this country’s wine industry. I highly recommend that if someone ever offers you the opportunity and you love good wine to try French wines.

I won’t try to duplicate what the book offers in knowledge but I would suggest to anyone interested in learning that they prepare themselves for a long journey. There were a number of significant events that has shaped the current French wine industry. Napoleon introduced a law regarding inheritance that exists today. The result of this law is that many of the vineyards in existence are fairly small in size. It is the local wine merchants that produce the wine, so it is important to learn which producers have a history of making good or great wine.

In 1935 the system of controlled appellations was introduced. These rules were introduced to protect the wine industry so that only the best wines would receive the highest recognition. However, the wine growers are so restricted that they have no real choices in what they can grow. The labels on the wine bottles must adhere to strict standards (some regions are not as strict as others so there can be a lot of misleading information). The system created four levels of quality; the lowest is Vin de Table or Table wine. The next is Vin de Pays or Country wine, which can be as pricey (and good) as the highest level (in a few cases). The next level is VDQS and is a very small category. It is rare to see this designation outside of France. The highest or best level is the Appellation D’Origine Controlle (or controlled appellation). Within this last level there are also more levels denoting the status of the wine. There are Cru, Grand Cru, and (in Burgundy) Premier Cru.

Confused yet?

Another important aspect to learn when drinking French wine is the age of the wine. I believe that most Americans will go to their local retail shop and buy a wine and drink it that night. If this is you with French wine do not be surprised if you are not overly impressed. To quote Mr. Joseph, many French wines are not “overly approachable” in their youth. In other words you need to let the wine mature in the bottle (and mature and mature). He makes recommendations for every appellation within every region but many wines should have at least 5 to 6 years in the bottle and some as long as 20 years. The amount of required storage could be a little staggering!

My best advice is to find and expert who can give you recommendations, hide a few bottles and wait. The results can be simply wonderful!


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