French wines have served as a model for the rest of the fine wines of Europe. Most people, especially in the United states associate the term “fine wine” with French wines due to their long tradition of traditionally making world class wines. Recently, however, the French wine export market has decreased somewhat substantially due partly it’s difficulty to understand. French wine law, although it has served as a model for the EU and other areas in the world, is rather confusing for the average consumer since it authenticates not only wines that originate from places that are stated on the label, but that they also satisfy a whole range of various criteria.
First, you have the longest established and most famous regions where the best quality wines come from individual vineyards that have their own highly restrictive appellations. These are referred to as AOC, that essentially means controlled place name, so the wines that have this designation come from specific zones where the production is regulated by things like the grape varieties, the yield that can be produced, the ripeness level, and specific production methods. Basically all these designations are intended to give the consumer an idea of what they will get in each bottle. Sometimes you will see AOP and AOC used interchangeably, this is a more recent occurrence but they mean the same thing.
IGP is the next category down, standing for Protected Geographical Indication (but of course in French). The zones regulated by this category are larger, where as AOP signified a single vineyard, these are regional wines. Much of the wine in this category is vertietal wine, and the production regulations are less stringent. Last in the order of regulations is Vin de France or Vin de Table. Wines that are in this category can contain grapes from anywhere in France, and the regulations are very few. So basically you don’t really know what you will get with a bottle from this category.
Moving on to the tasting bit:
- 2014 Chateau La Touche, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine “Sur Lie”- Produced in the Loire Valley this wine was made from grapes that were harvested early, so the gapes themselves lend very little flavor to the wine so it was left on the lees, “sur lie”, to add a bit more to the wine. It is a very delicate wine with some sourness. There is definitely a yeasty flavor on the nose from all that lees contact, but it has some nice peach and pear notes that make the toastyness not overpowering.
- 2015 Henri Bourgeois, Sancerre “Les Baronnes”- The area where this wine is produced is historically par of Burgundy, and it has the same soil as Chablis, although it is now part of the Loire Valley. It is a bit of a blend of wine traditions from all over France, since Sauvignon Blanc originated in Bordeaux. It has some grapefruit citrus notes with some ripe pear and maybe a hint of pineapple. A very dry and biting white that has a fair amount of sourness and bitterness that would go well with seafood.
- 2015 Willm Riesling, Alsace-Alsace is quite north in France, making it influenced by Germany in their winemaking, and a bit in their culture as well. The grapes here mature more by light than by heat, since there isn’t much heat. This is a pretty typical Alsace Riesling. It is mostly dry with a hint of sweetness. It has the typical petrol nose with floral and honey notes. It tastes pretty much exactly how it smells, is quite sour and a bit bitter.
- 2013 Zind-Humbrecht, Gewurztraminer- Another German-influenced wine from Alsace, this one is very different than the Riesling with a darker color and far more aromatic. It has notes of vanilla, rose, and tropical fruits. The grapes were quite ripe, producing a wine that is dry, but very high in alcohol that created a viscosity and an astringency that is unusual in other whites. The perfect wine for Thai food (in my opinion because I love thai food).
- 2013 Terres de Velle Meursault Cru AOC- Burgundy is all about place, and farming. The wine producers here place a huge importance on the land and the family farms, unlike some other regions in France that place more weight on the brands. The soil here is limestone which is great for growing Chardonnay. This wine is aged on the lees and in French oak, which brings out more of the wine characteristics than American oak. It has those typical lees aged smells of yeast, butter, toast, and even some carmel. You can also smell the oak in this wine. In the mouth it is a bit like creme brulee, and would be very good with it as well!
- 2014 Ninot, Rully “Chaponniere”- Burgundy is famous for their Pinot Noirs. They hold a lot of finesse, which I think could be a result of the time and effort the winemakers put into the farming process here. It is a light wine that is semi-aromatic with notes of red berries, minerals, a bit metallic, and also a lot of rose type floral scents. In the mouth it is dry, and that is the most prominent characteristic.
- 2012 Chateau Pindefleurs Saint. Emilion Grand Cru- This right bank Bordeaux is a blend of about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Deep ruby in color, and semi-aromatic with a lot of oak on the nose, this wine is big and sumptuous. In the mouth it is acid driven with notes of oak and spice. It makes me want lamb.
- 2010 Chateau Lanessan, Haut-Medoc- To compare, this is a left bank Bordeaux and it has probably about 50% Cabernet Sauvignon in it. It is dark in color, but with less purple undertones than the right bank one. There is more of a Cabernet Sauvignon profile in the nose with some vegetal bell pepper notes, along with some spice. It is dry and very astringent, with a mouth that is much the same as the nose.
- 2013 Ferraton “La Matinirere” Crezes Hermetage- Moving on to the Rhone Valley where Syrah is the mein red grape variety. A defining characteristic of this wine is the “wildness”, meaning that it is kind of animaly in the nose. The pungent notes of leather are quite strong in the nose and even in the mouth, where it is dry and astringent.
- 2013 Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Sinards”- Like most other southern Rhone red blends, this is a Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah blend and grown in sedimentary soil. It is very neutral on the nose, with notes of red berries and spice, a relief after the last wine. The wine is dry and slightly tannic, with a similar mouth to the nose. A lovely way to finish off.