Old World Wines- France

Wine Laws of France

  • First established in early 1900s – modified a number of times.
  • Appellation Controllé (controlled naming) laws – the name of a wine reveals quality – helps prevent fraud & gives authenticity.
  • In 1935 INAO was established.
  • INAO – Institut Nationale des Appellation d’Origine des vins et Eau-de-vis
  • INAO created order out of confusion.
  • The ground rule for naming a wine is basically geographical covering the wine’s area, grape-variety, yield, viticulture, vinification, ageing, alcohol-content and a taste-test.

Gradation of French Wines

AOC – Appellation d’Origine Controllée

  • Highest quality but 25% of all wines.
  • The origins of AOC date to the year 1411, when Roquefort was regulated by a parliamentary decree. The first French law on viticultural designations of origin dates to August 1, 1905.
  • AOC products can be identified by a seal, which is printed on the label in wines.
  • There are currently over 300 French wines entitled to the designation AOC on their label.
  • Often, distinguishing classifications requires knowledge of esoteric label laws such as “Unless the wine is from a ‘Premier Cru‘ vineyard, the vineyard name must be printed in characters no more than half the height of the ones used for the village name”.

VDQS – Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure

  • Created in 1949 – one notch down from AOC.
  • More scopes in choice – grape, yield, etc.
  • Taste-test is a must.
  • 5% of all wines.
  • There were relatively few VDQS as they typically moved on to AOC status after a number of years.
  • VDQS therefore represented a small part of overall French wine production.
  • By December 31, 2011, VDQS was removed entirely from the classification system.

Vin de pay

  • Even wider scopes but specific area.
  • Not much export.
  • Vin de pays is a French term meaning “country wine.”
  • Legislation on the Vin de pays terminology was created in 1973 and passed in 1979.
  • In 2009, the Vin de pays classification was replaced by the new IGP – Indication Géographique Protégée, or Protected Geographical Region – designation.
  • There are three tiers of Vin de Pays: regional, departmental and local.

Vin de table

  • Vin de Table is the name given to the lowest quality of wine produced in France.
  • Intended for everyday drinking and blending, wines of this category have neither an appellation nor a regional designation.
  • Table wines have very few restrictions in terms of grape varieties, yields or vinification techniques, and all existing regulations for this category have been set by the European Union.
  • Vin du Table is produced in virtually every part of France which boasts viticulture, and it accounts for less than 15% of France’s output of wines.

Wine Regions of France

BORDEAUX

  • Name from the principal city of 2,000 years.
  • Probably the most prestigious wine-region.
  • Produces only 5% of all French wines but 25% of all AOC wines.
  • Climate: mild winters & warm summers – ideal.
  • Soil: pebbly & stony, not fertile but rich in minerals – ideal.
  • White Grapes used – Sauvignon  blanc / Muscadelle / Semillon
  • Black Grapes used– Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc / Malbec / Petit Verdot / Merlot
  • Red wines – delicate, light-bodied & dry – very good accompaniment with food.Bordeaux red wines are referred to as claret (French ‘clairet’ – clear-coloured).
  • White wines – more sweet than dry, often golden-coloured.
  • A few rosé wines also.
  • More than 35 districts but the following five are most notable: Médoc, Pomerol, St. Emilion (mainly reds), Graves (both reds & whites), Sauternes (mainly golden-sweet whites).

Médoc

  • With the exception of Château Haut-Brion from Graves, all of the red wines in the 1855 Classification are from the Médoc.
  • Many of the Médoc wines that are not in this classification were classified using the Cru Bourgeois system until 2007.
  • Following legal challenges this category was abolished, and reintroduced in 2010 as an annual “mark of quality” depending on independent annual assessment.

Graves

  • The name Graves derives from its intensely gravelly soil.
  • The Graves is considered the birthplace of claret.
  • In the Middle Ages, the wines that were first exported to England were produced in this area. At that time, the Médoc subregion north of the city Bordeaux still consisted of marshland unsuitable for viticulture, while Graves were naturally better-drained.
  • As with Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant grape, but a somewhat greater proportion of Merlot is typically used in the blend, with smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
  • The dry white wines are a blend of Sauvignon blanc and Sémillon.

Pomerol

  • Heavy-bodied red wines – known as the Burgundies of Bordeaux.
  • The wine produced here, predominately from Merlot with Cabernet Franc playing a supporting role, is also known as Pomerol.
  • Pomerol is the smallest of the major fine wine regions in Bordeaux, covering an area that is roughly three kilometers wide by 4 kilometers long.
  • Best-known wine: Château Pétrus

St. Émilion

  • Saint-Émilion’s history goes back to prehistoric times and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with fascinating Romanesque churches and ruins stretching all along steep and narrow streets.
  • The wines of Saint-Émilion are typically blended from different grape varieties, the three main ones being Merlot (60% of the blend), Cabernet Franc (nearly 30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (around 10%).
  • Since 1955, there has been a classification of Saint-Émilion wine. The classification is updated every 10 years or so, and consists of the following levels: Premier grand cru classé A, Premier grand cru classé B, and Grand cru classé.

Sauternes

  • Most famous for sweet white wines.
  • Frequently attacked by noble rot.
  • The three main grapes are of this are Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle.

BURGUNDY

  • Hard climate: severe winters and hot, unpredictable summers.
  • Wines susceptible to weather → rare vintage years.
  • Early onslaught of winter → early picking → chaptalisation.
  • Too much / too little rain.
  • Hails destroy vineyards in 15 minutes flat.
  • Red wines: robust, full-bodied but smooth.
  • White wines: refined, distinguished, mostly dry.
  • Grapes: Almost all reds from Pinot Noir (ripens early), Gamay in some areas (e.g. Beaujolais). Almost all whites from Chardonnay, some use Aligoté.
  • The 5 most notable districts are: Côte d’Or, Chalonnais, Mâconnais, Beaujolais, Chablis

Côte d’Or

  • Supreme Burgundies but only about 15% of all.
  • Two parts: Côte de Nuit & Côte de Beaunne
  • Côte de Nuit is famous for reds: Chambertin, Clos de Tart, Musigny (all grand cru)

Chalonnais

  • Not much known outside France.
  • The principal grapes of the Côte Chalonnaise are the same major grapes found throughout Burgundy — Pinot noir and Chardonnay.
  • The wines of the Côte Chalonnaise are often very fruit-forward in their youth.

Mâconnais

  • It is best known as a source of good value white wines made from the Chardonnay grape.
  • The villages of Vergisson, Solutré-Pouilly, Fuissé and Chaintré shelter at their feet, and are home to the best wines of the region.

Beaujolais

  • Vast area, wide varieties.
  • Most from Gamay (sandy, granite soil).
  • Short vatting→less tanin→less robust
  • Beaujolais wines are produced by the winemaking technique of semi-carbonic maceration.

Chablis

  • North-west of Burgundy.
  • Very dry white wines – famous throughout the world. Excellent accompaniments with oysters, fish and white meat.
  • The grapevines around the town of Chablis make a dry white wine renowned for the purity of its aroma and taste.
  • Most basic Chablis is unoaked, and vinified in stainless steel tanks.

CÔTES-DU-RHÔNE

  • Rhône river valley – southeast of France.
  • Climate: hot & steady→consistent quality.
  • Rich & hearty wines with higher alcohol.
  • 90% red. Rest white and rosé.
  • Red grapes: Syrah, Grenache Noir, Cinsault
  • White grapes: Viognier, Clairette, Piquepoul

VAL DE LOIRE

  • West of Burgundy – name from the majestic Loire river – flows westward to Atlantic.
  • Probably the most scenic wine region – with historic castles – wine trade is a tourist attraction.
  • Crisp white & golden sweet white wines, fine sparklings, superb rosés (light, fruity & slightly sweet) and a few reds.

ALSACE

  • Very northerly wine region – along the edge of the Alsatian plains where Rhine separates France and Germany.
  • Great sunshine, a little rain – good for ripening of grapes.
  • German occupation for 50 years (freed in 1918). After the phylloxera disaster Germans planted inferior vines. After 1918, the French replanted better vines.
  • Alsace wines are similar to Moselle wines of Germany.
  • 95% are white and dry.
  • Grapes for better wines: Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewürtztraminer
  • Others: Muscat, Pinot, Traminer
  • Generally fermented until dry (Moselle wines are a bit sweeter).

CHAMPAGNE

  • Champagnes are blended in order to produce either non vintage champagnes (blended from different years) or vintage champagne, blended from wines of the same harvest.
  • Possibly the most highly rated of blends is Krug; other well appreciated brands include Mumm, Bollinger and Heidsieck, not to mention the very well known brands of Moët & Chandon and Taittinger.

LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON

  • From Rhone river to the Spanish border.
  • More than 1/3rd of France’s all vineyards.
  • Some wines are: Corbiéres, Fitou, St. Chinion

PROVENCE

  • South of Rhône river – stretching east along the Mediterranean.
  • Most wines are known as: Côtes de Provence
  • Best-known: Cassis (full-flavoured white)
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