French Wine…where to begin? #Winophiles

Map of French Wine Regions

This month the French Winophiles are diving into a French Wine 101.  It’s timely as we all enter our comments to the government in opposition to proposed 100% European wine tariffs.  (If you have not heard about this, I’ll post some links at the bottom for more information.) We have done a bit of writing on French wines and you will find links to those pieces. Many of these pieces were written in conjunction with the French #Winophiles, which means there is the extra bonus, of each of those pieces having links to other articles written by the rest of the #Winophiles! If you are interested in French wine, you will have plenty of reading available!

French Wine 101

I’m here to rally for French wine.  If you are new to wine, French wine can be a bit overwhelming so let’s start at the beginning.

Old World vs New World

To be sure, when we say “Old World” in reference to wines, we think first of French wines.  But what does “Old World” mean?  From a scholastic point of view: Old world wines are dominated by terroir, they are defined by place.  Typically these wines are more restrained and elegant.  New World wines, on the other hand tend to be reflective of the winemaker’s style and are often more fruit forward and bold.

That is a really broad definition of the differences, and doesn’t always hold true, but when people say “Old World” and “New World” this is what they are thinking.

French wine names

In France, wines are named for the region they come from, not by the variety of grape as we do in the new world.  This takes us back to that idea of “terroir” which is a sense of place, with soil, and climate.  So rather than speaking about Chardonnay in France, you would speak of Chablis or White Burgundy.  Both of those wines are made with Chardonnay, but the wine is named for the region.

When we think of Bordeaux, we think of age worthy reds.  These are typically Cabernet or Merlot based, depending on which bank of the river the region sits.  And you will notice that I said “based”. These wines are blends of the different varieties of grapes that grow best in this region.

There is one exception to this. In Alsace, the white wine region on the German border in the North East of France, wines are often labeled with the variety.  This comes from the German culture and this area throughout the ages, has bounced back and forth between French and German control.

Without going too deep into the wine labels (that’s a rabbit hole best saved for another day), let’s talk about some of the most well known French Wine Regions, and I’ll give you a translation for what varieties you will see from each.

French Wine regions

Map of French Wine Regions
Map of French Wine Regions

I love maps.  It gives you a better sense of the geography and influences on a region.  I could dive into the climates and soils in each of these regions (I do love to get geeky on these things), but this is French Wine 101!  So let’s put together some dots for you, on what varieties you will find in each of these regions and what you might want to eat with each of these wines!

Loire Valley – Val de Loire

Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley

This is white wine country!  You will find a bit of red, but the white wines are likely to be the ones you have heard of.

Muscadet

On the West end of the Loire Valley closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Melon de Bourgogne, which you will hear called Muscadet, is most prevalent here. This is a dry white wine that pairs really well with seafood. You will get citrus, and green apple and pear along with a lovely note of salinity. Go for shellfish with this wine

Chenin Blanc

Moving east Chenin Blanc begins to shine. Vouvray and Saviennières are well known Chenin Blancs from the regions of Touraine and Anjou-Saumur respectively. The two can be very different. Vouvray can be made from dry to semi-sweet to sweet, and you will find you need to do a bit of research to determine which sweetness level you are getting. Saviennières has been called the “most cerebral wine in the world”. These wines have depth of flavor, great acidity and minerality.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc, is mainly found in the Upper Loire, the area furthest east and inland. Here you hear of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are crisp and high acid. Pair them with fish or poultry. With cheeses these are wonderful with goat cheese or other creamy cheeses (think brie).

Cabernet Franc

Not to be overlooked is Cabernet Franc which in this region is the primary red wine. Chinon or Bourgueil in the Touraine region produce elegant Cab Francs. These wines can be slightly spicy with raspberry and violet notes and are a favorite at Parisian Bistros.

For more…

Champagne

Popping a champagne cork!

Well you know what Champagne is!  This region and it’s soil and climate produce some of the world’s finest sparkling wines primarily from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

These wines, while often looked at a just for celebrations or just with the hors d’oeuvres at the top of the meal actually are perfect during a meal. The bubbles and acidity clean your palate making every bite taste as amazing as the first.

There are plenty of classic pairings, but try potato chips, buttered popcorn or fried chicken! The bubbles and acid with the fat and salt are heaven.

For more…

Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France
Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

This region sits on the German border and as I mentioned earlier has bounced back and forth between French and German control. The names and architecture here reflect that mixed heritage and the wines do as well.

These bright aromatic white wines are perfect to keep your nose in all day or dab behind your ears. But…if you must move on to drinking them, pair them with fish, aromatic cheeses, schnitzle, salads…there are so many great pairings. These are also wines known for pairing well with spicy foods like Thai! You will find riesling, pinot gris, muscadet and gewurztraminer lead the pack on varieties.

For more…

There are a few other varieties including Pinot Noir, but you are less likely to run into them.

Chablis

Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse
Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse

Chardonnay

This is Chardonnay land, but not those big buttery California Chardonnays that your Aunt might drink.  These are sharp and bright with great mineral quality! Pair with fish or chicken, oysters or other shellfish, mushrooms or cheese (think goat cheese or Comté). The sharp acid makes this great with creme sauces.

For more…

Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Vignoble de Bourgogne
Vignoble de Bourgogne

Chablis, above, is in Burgundy sitting 80 miles northwest of the rest of Burgundy.  Burgundy is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir

The Côte de Nuits is the Northern part of the Côte d’Or and is the region that Pinot Noir calls home. It ventures further afield, but this is it’s homeland and you will find some of the most expensive Pinot Noirs on the planet, hail from here.

Pinot Noir is perfect for red wine with fish. It is the go to wine to pair with salmon. Many Pinot Noirs also have earthy notes and pair beautifully with mushrooms.

Chardonnay

The Côte de Beaune is dominated by Chardonnay. These are likely to be aged in oak. They will be richer and more buttery than those lean Chardonnays from Chablis, but they are still dry. Try this wine with pasta, chicken, risotto, shellfish or salt water fish and with cheeses like gruyere.

There is more to the region, the Côte Chalonnais and the Mâconnais, but we will leave those for another day.

For more…

Beaujolais

Gamay grapes in Beaujolais
Gamay grapes in Beaujolais

Just south of Burgundy you find Beaujolais.  This is a wine you will know better by the region name than by the grape, Gamay, that it is made from.  Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine released each year on the third Thursday in November.  These early release wines are fresh and fruity, but the region does have other Gamay’s that are meant to be deeper and more age worthy.

Beaujolais Nouveau will be fruit forward and downright perky! Sometimes you will hear people say that they smell bubblegum or bananas in addition to raspberries and cranberry.

Aged Beaujolais might have notes of forest floor, mushroom, violet, tart cherry and smoke.

These are lighter wines and can pair across the spectrum from salmon to barbeque. Visit the Beaujolais site for a great graphic to assist with pairings for all the varied wines from this region.

The Rhone Valley

M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl' Hermitage Rhone valley France
M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl’ Hermitage Rhone valley France

I am a lover of Rhônes. Guaranteed…many of mine come from the Rhône Rangers that you find in California, and many of which were brought from Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Southern Rhône.

The region is broken into the Northern and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône is the land of Syrah and Viognier and typically very pure and expensive versions of these.

Syrah

The Côte Rotie is known for some of the most amazing Syrah on the planet. I’ve heard it described as bacon and violets. Which sounds pretty amazing to me.

Viognier

Condrieu is well known for 100% Viognier. This white wine is full bodied and round with notes of apricot, pear and almonds.

There are other appellations like Crozes Hermitage above and Cornas, there is more to explore here, if you have the budget.

The Southern Rhone is warmer as it heads down the Rhone river to the Mediterranean and you will find blends of multiple varieties.  The famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape is here with blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and more. Wines here lean toward blends.

Red Rhône Blends

These will have berry notes (think raspberry and black berry) baking spice, and maybe some garrigue (think underbrush), lavender, dried herbs. The more Mourvedre, the more likely you will have meaty notes to the wine.

These go well with mediterranean foods, like olives and red peppers, and herbs like rosemary or sage (or herbs de Provençe).

White Rhône Blends

Marsanne, Roussanne & Viognier make up the body of most white wines in this area. These blends are medium bodied and have notes of beeswax (I love that), as well as moderate citrus, like a meyer lemon, then stone fruits like peach and apricot.

Pair them with richer dishes with white meat (chicken or fish or even pork) and perhaps with fruits that are stewed or roasted. Dried apricots are a definite must on a cheese plate with these wines.

For more…

Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

If you have heard of any region in France other than Champagne, it will be Bordeaux. This is the region that Napa Valley wants to be. It is the big daddy of French wine with bottles that can be very pricey and many that need considerable aging. When people pull out dusty bottles from their wine cellar, typically they are Bordeaux wines.

Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)

Red wines here are classified by which bank of the river the vineyards sit on. Left bank wines are west of the river in Médoc and Graves. The reds here are Cabernet Sauvignon based.

Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)

The Right bank wines are on the other side of the river in the Libournais. These wines are Merlot driven. The Entre-deux-mers, the area in the middle between the two, has much more fertile soil producing less concentrated (but more affordable) wines.

The bold reds of Bordeaux are perfect with rich meaty dishes, like a big steak.

Sweet wines of Sauternes

Down in Graves you find the region of Sauternes. These are my friend Corinne’s favorite wines. These are sweet wines made from grapes with “Noble rot”. The botrytis fungus takes hold of the grape and dries them out considerably. They are pressed into tiny amounts of wine that when fermented becomes sweet and delicious. These are wines to pair with bleu cheese or with desserts.

For more…

Provence

Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration rosé from Provençe
Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration. Emotion and Inspiration come from Château de Berne and Urban Provençe is from Ultimate Provençe

Rosé

This is Rosê country, more than 1/2 the output of wine from this region is rosé. The mistral wind that whips down from the mountains keeping the vines in this Mediterannean region dry and free from disease. The landscape is dotted with lavender fields. It’s pretty dreamy.

In addition to those delicate ballet slipper pink rosés you will find Bandol, which is a rich red wine from Mourvedre.

Pair pink with pink. It’s delicious and pretty. Smoked salmon, ham, prosciutto, crab, lobster….you get the picture.

Yes…these wines are great in the summer. Their high acid and bright flavors are perfect to help you cool down on a hot day. But don’t overlook them at other times.

For more…

Other regions

Is there more to French Wine?  Why yes…so much more, there is the island of Corsica, the black wines of Cahors, Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc-Rousillon…and then there are the wines that I have yet to discover!

Oh and did I mention Crémant? That would be sparkling wine from any region outside of Champagne! You want bubbles and value? It’s your go to!

Dive deep into the links and the links in the links and take a little vacay to France sans airfare!

For more…

More from the Winophiles!

There are so many ways to dive into French Wine, I have only scratched the surface. Why not check out the other #Winophiles and their approaches to the subject! You can join us for the conversation on Twitter on Saturday Morning January 18th (8 am PST, 11 am EST) by following the hashtag #Winophiles!

Remember I said I would include more about those potential tariffs.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

An Evening in Burgundy – at home

Burgundy dinner pairing

I have been researching a trip to France for Michael and I and have started looking into a few days in Burgundy. So…Michael and I, who have a supply of beautiful California wines, set out to find a couple of wines from Burgundy. We picked up a 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé Les Galopieres and a 2011 Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour.

Dinner

So what to pair with them? Well both of these wines are great food wines. I had a Delicato Squash from the Downtown 3rd farmers market as well as 2 ears of sweet corn and we picked up some Wild Salmon and scallops.

The squash, Stu had told me could be cooked just like summer squash, “slice and sauté it like you would a zucchini” he said! I love the color and markings on it and was excited to try this! Then…I tried to cut it. I think I was confused by what Stu meant. So after a little online research, I discovered that I needed to peel and seed the squash then cube it for roasting, steaming or microwaving. So… treat it much more like a butternut. We went the microwave route and Michael added an herbed ice cube (olive oil and chives). We nuked the corn also and Stu was completely right on this one…this corn was soooo sweet. Michael grilled the salmon, skin side down on the stove with a little salt and some of the Spanish blend of spices from Spicy Camel Trading Company. He did the same with the scallops. We also had some Spanish cheeses to munch on while things cooked.

Ingredients for a Burgundy pairing

Ingredients for a Burgundy pairing

The pairings

The Puilly-Fusse was bright and made my mouth tingle a little. It was heavier in viscosity reminding us of a Viognier, one review of the wines of this region called the texture “opulent”.  With the cheese it was beautiful, as well as with the scallops. The Pinot was lovely, light and elegant with great flavor and it was perfect with the salmon.

So it was not a typical dinner from Burgundy…being as we had so much seafood with it, but none the less we enjoyed the pairings and the wines and now I am ready to dig further into this area and learn some more.

The Wines – some background

I will admit that I find it very hard to find information on French wines.  I suppose mostly, it is because I look for information like I do with US wines.  I want the story behind the vineyard and winemaker, I want to know what the terroir is like and the climate.  French winemakers don’t market their wines in the same way that American winemakers do, so it’s hard to find this info.  So…here’s a little information.

Burgundy Wines

2011 Pouilly-Fussé and 2011 Bourgogne

Pouilly-Fussé Les Galopieres 2011

The Pouilly-Fuissé Les Galopieres is a White Burgundy or Bourgogne…which translates to Chardonnay. This wine comes from the Maconnais subregion in Burgundy which is in the Southern part of Burgundy just above Beaujolais. The soil here is clay and limestone.  The appellation was instituted in 1936. The area takes in the four villages of Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly, Vergisson and Chaintré.  In Solutré and Vergisson you can see the rocky outcrops of hard fossil corals which have resisted erosion.

2011 Vine de Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour

The 2011 Vine de Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour was labeled – A Beaune – Cote-D’Or – France. It is 100% Pinot Noir from Bourgogne and is aged 10-12 months in stainless steel. The soil here is clay and limestone and the average vine age is 25 years, all grapes are handpicked. Not much cellaring potential…it says 2 to 3 years. This wine is considered by importers to be a classic reliable Burgundian Pinot Noir.

If you find yourself interested in the wines of Burgundy, but like me are having a hard time finding information you can connect with, I suggest renting the movie “A Year in Burgundy”.  This movie allowed me to get to know some of the Burgundian wine makers and their individual styles and gives me a starting point that I can identify with.  So head to your local wine store and take a trip to Burgundy right in your living room.  It’s a great way to travel without having to pack!

Superb Owl Snacks, Chardonnay and Popcorn

Game Day Pairings

Game Day Pairings

It’s Game Day and I’m off.  This is a rare thing for me, typically I would be working on a Sunday, but in Vegas….the only show that goes on today is the Superb Owl!  Michael is working so I have the day to myself.  So game day snacks and a wine pairing seemed in order!  I had a couple of inspirations today.  First was an article by Mark Oldman on Game day snacks and wine pairings 7-pairings-to-supersize-your-big-game-wine-experience.  The second was an article on WineFolly (love her!) on How to Improve your wine smarts in one month.

So…I have been delving into French wines this month, researching and learning more about them and I love popcorn.  I don’t often indulge, but Mark convinced me.  And inspired by Madeline, I will compare a couple wines.  And…to up the ante a little (it is game day) we are inspired by the Judgement of Paris.  If you haven’t seen Bottleshock, you should rent it.  Any way…I am off to find a Chablis from Burgundy and…a Chardonnay from Grgich Hills.  In addition to the popcorn…I’ll search for some other lovely Chardonnay Pairings.

Alright…back from shopping. Here’s what we have.  a 2012 Pascal Bouchard Chablis Le Classique,  a 2010 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay, and a 2010 Chateau de Rully.  My favorite guy at the wine store was in, so while it was crazy, I managed to pick his brain for a moment.  He gave a nod to my Chateau de Rully pick and suggested the Pascal Bouchard Chablis.  While it is unoaked, it has gone through secondary fermentation so it has a richer mouthfeel while still keeping the acid.  I was eyeing the Montrachet, but mentioned that I didn’t think I should invest in that without Michael home and he agreed.  So…Montrachet for another day.

Game Day Chardonnays

Game Day Chardonnays

I headed to the store and picked up some brie, some fontina cheese, peppered goat cheese, green beans almondine, lobster macaroni, popcorn & butter.

So a little about the Wines…where they come from etc and the pairings.

When Michael and I first visited Napa, Grgich Hills was the second winery we visited.  They were warm and friendly and open to educating wine novices, which we were at the time.  If you have not yet seen Bottleshock, and want the suspense, you might skip reading this next part.  Mike Grgich worked at Chateau Montelena as the winemaker in 1973 when that famous Chardonnay was made that beat out the French whites at the Paris tasting.  At 91 he is still active at the winery and in Napa and can be seen sporting his signature beret.

Grgich Hills 2010 Chardonnay

Grgich Hills 2010 Chardonnay

The Grgich Hills 2010 Estate Chardonnay; ($33)  Certified Organic and Biodynamically farmed, the 2010 vintage has good acidity with a definite butteriness from 10 month in French Oak (40% new).  This sits on the high side at 14.1% alcohol.  The butteriness of the wine lent itself to pair nicely with all of the cheeses, adding a depth of richness to the Fontina and Brie and unexpectedly taming the pepper in the peppered goat cheese.  It brought out the richness in the sauce in the green beans almondine.  But the Piece de resistance was pairing it with the buttered popcorn!  Heavenly!

Buttered Popcorn

Buttered Popcorn

Chablis is the northernmost area in Burgundy and they grow Chardonnay almost exclusively here.  Chardonnay’s here you will find unbaked. The soil here is Kimmeridge Clay which is a mixture of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells.  Chablis is so well known for it’s Chardonnay that when vintners in California fist began growing Chardonnay, they actually called it Chablis.

Pascal Bouchard is a family run winery with an Estate that sits in 4 appellations in Chablis : Chablis Grand Gru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablish and Petit Chablis.  They use no new oak here and only the Grand Crus are aged in 100% oak.  The Petit Chablis and Chablis (like the Le Classique that we tasted) are 100% stainless steel.

Pascal Bouchard Chablis

Pascal Bouchard Chablis

The Pascal Bouchard 2012 Chablis; ($23) This wine is clean and bright with pear and fresh cut apple on the nose as well a a bit of chalk and dust.  This made for a bright clean pairing with all of the cheeses, making them feel lighter.  The acid was perfect to cut through the fat.  This wine would allow you to enjoy brie outside on a hot summer day and not have it be too heavy.  This paired nicely with the beans and  with the Lobster macaroni made for a lovely contrast.  The alcohol on this sits at 12.5%.

Chateau de Rully is a 12th century medieval fortress located in Cote Chalonnaise.  The vineyards here are maintained by Antonin Rodet, who sells these wines all over the world.  Cote Chalonnaise is south of Cote d’Or and Cote de Beaune.  The wines here are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Chateau de Rully 2012

Chateau de Rully 2012

Chateau de Rully 2010 ($25) 11-14% alcohol; This wine had acid on the nose than the Grgich with a little effervescence.  I got butter and creme on the nose and a little dust that was not chalky.  Round and mellow on the palate, but with great acid for a wonderful palate cleanser.  This wine brought out the nutty character in the Brie and gave me interesting nuances when paired with the Fontina.  With the goat cheese?  Not so much.  But this was my favorite pairing with the Lobster Mac.  It compliments nicely the dish nicely making everything more aromatic in my mouth.

These three Chardonnays were all very different.  The Chablis was crisp and clean and lighter in color.  The Chateau de Rully has a little butter with good acid and lots of nuance and the Grgich Hills was by far the biggest wine in the bunch and really was a piece of heaven with the buttered popcorn.

Oh..and I did watch a little of the game and some of the commercials.