Chapter 5: France.
After reading this chapter, you should be able to
* discuss the grapes, regulations, and wine styles of the six major wine regions of France.
* list the subdistricts (the appellations) of each major region in France and describe the climate and topographic differences among regions.
* describe the concept of terroir and why it is crucial to comprehending French wines.
* explain the French system of Appellation Controlee laws, as well as the heritage, history, and philosophy behind the evolution of this system, what it accomplishes, and how it may affect the future of French wines in the international marketplace.
In addition to producing great wines in nearly every category, France is also the original home to most of the "noble varietals," the grapes from which the best wines are made. Of the twelve most important noble varietals, eight are indigenous to France: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc for whites, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah for reds. Although Riesling is also indigenous to Germany, and the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo of Italy and the Tempranillo of Spain are also counted among the noble varietals, the majority of important grape varietals originated in France.
The French also demonstrated important initiative in the creation of a countrywide system of laws to control viticultural practices and the production of wines, along with a federal-level government agency to oversee the wine trade and enforce the regulations. One of the primary purposes of these laws is to protect the geographic names of the places of origin of specific wines. This protection is very important as French wines (like most European wines) are named for the region where the grapes were grown. This geographic designation of origin is called the appellation of the wine.
The French are passionate about wine, and are understandably proud of the wines they produce. As proof that the French believe in the quality of their wines, one need look at just one statistic: only 3 percent of all wine consumed in France is imported (Osborne, 2004). Although great wine is being produced elsewhere in the world, to truly understand wine, one must understand French wines.
French Wine--Historical Perspective
The history of wine production in France is inextricably intertwined with the politics and sociological development of the country. The first wine grapes were planted in the southern part of what is now France by Greek traders as far back as 600 BC. As the Romans spread into Gaul (as France was then called) and colonized the country, the planting of grapes and the production of wine increased. By the time of the birth of Christ the exporting of wine from Gaul to Rome was well established. When the Roman Empire began to crumble in the second century AD, the expansion of viticulture ceased, although wine continued to be produced, often by the monasteries and abbeys of the Christian Church that had been established in Gaul by the Romans. Barbarians from the North invaded Gaul and caused the collapse of the Roman Empire by AD 400. The Dark Ages set in across Europe. During this time, it was the Christian Church that kept viticulture and enology alive in Gaul and elsewhere in Europe.
Charlemagne brought stability to Gaul during his reign which began in AD 768. He introduced the first laws on wine production. Although he was based in the north of Gaul, in the Champagne region, his influence was felt as far south as the Mediterranean. Charlemagne and his successors encouraged the export of wine (Figure 5-1).
In 1152 Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henri of Anjou. An important trade alliance was established when Henri ascended the English throne as King Henry II. The combination of land owned by this couple and the taxes they collected from their domains on either side of the Channel allowed active exchange of wine and other goods. English entrepreneurs came to France, especially to Bordeaux, and played a crucial role in building a long-lasting English appreciation of the red wines of this region.
In subsequent centuries, the Dutch played an increasing role in the shipment of Bordeaux wines to other Northern ports, like Amsterdam. The production of wine in the Bordeaux region increased considerably over the next two hundred years. In other sections of France, wine production also grew, as did the influence of the Christian Church. As the Church acquired land, often in the form of gifts from wealthy aristocrats, the importance of the monasteries as winemaking centers increased. The monks and priests had the time and resources to develop better vineyards and to perfect winemaking procedures. They also had the ability to record their successes (and failures), thus helping other vintners to learn. Wine was one of France's most important exports during the Middle Ages.
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After the French Revolution (1789-1791) and the rise of Napoleon, the church and the aristocracy lost a great deal of their power. Land was taken by the government and given to the farmers. Large land-holdings that did remain with wealthy families became fragmented over time as the Napoleonic Code did away with the medieval concept of primogeniture; that is, the practice of a rich man leaving all his holdings to his oldest son. Now all children of a landowner, including daughters, inherited equal amounts. Fortunately, the change in land ownership patterns did not adversely affect the quality or the popularity of French wines. The production and exporting of French wines, especially those of Bordeaux, continued to increase until the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s. This insect attaches itself to the roots of a vine and literally sucks the life out of it, eventually causing the vine to die. As discussed in Chapter 2, the epidemic spread throughout the vineyards of Europe before it was eventually halted when phylloxeraresistant rootstocks from North America were grafted to the classic varietals.
Appellation Controlee Laws
As French wine production recovered from the phylloxera epidemic, a new, man-made problem arose: fraud. As certain French place-names acquired panache, the demand in the international marketplace for the products of that region naturally increased. If, as demand increases, the supply remains constant, the natural economic tendency is for price to rise. When the price for a certain wine rose, some wine producers and merchants could not resist the temptation to increase the supply through fraud. Unscrupulous producers simply attached that region's name to their bottles in order to get a higher price. Or producers within a famous region would expand their saleable inventory by buying grapes grown outside the region, blend them with their legitimate crop, and label the whole batch by the regional name.
The need for government intervention to protect the authenticity of geographic names of origin became evident as early as the late 1890s. Fraud became so widespread in France that some place names on bottles became essentially meaningless. The problem was particularly evident in the Champagne region. It has been estimated that by 1911, the Champagne houses were selling at least 11 million more bottles of wine than their region's vineyards could possibly have produced (Kramer, 1989). This blatant fraud caused the Champagne region to explode into violence that year. The grape growers rioted to protest the practice of the large Champagne producers buying grapes outside the region to meet the ever-expanding demand for their product. Angry grape growers rampaged through the street, broke into warehouses, and destroyed hundreds of cases of wine. The country was so shocked by the violence and waste that the government immediately passed legislation defining the boundaries of the Champagne region and decreed that the valuable name "Champagne" on a label could be used only if all grapes used in the production of that batch were indeed grown inside those boundaries. This was the first step towards a system that guarantees the authenticity of specific geographic locations.
At this point it would be beneficial to take a close look at the concept of terroir. The full term in French is gout de terroir, which translates literally as "taste of the soil." However, in the context of wines, the definition of terroir is the unique and distinctive character a specific wine will exhibit due to the fact that it was grown in a specific vineyard. The French place enormous importance on the vineyard, the site where grapes were grown. It is the specific location, with its unique soil, be it limestone, chalk, or slate, as well as the mineral content and drainage capacity of that soil, along with the location's unique microclimate (average temperature, winds, exposure to sunlight, precipitation, etc.) that is the primary influence on the quality of the grapes. As discussed in Chapter 2, the term terroir encompasses the entire physical environment in which the grapes were grown. What the French care about more than anything else in their wine is that it reflect the terroir of its region, that it be typical of that region, and that it be authentic. The importance of protecting the authenticity of wines being labeled with any of the famous wine regions was not lost on the French government, but before the work that began in Champagne could proceed to other regions and a nationwide system of legislation could be created, the First World War intervened.
After the war, in 1923, a revolution took place in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region of the southern Rhone Valley. This incident was similar to, but more orderly than, the uprising in Champagne in 1911. Chateauneuf-du-Pape was famous for its red wine and for its memorable name with a quaint story behind it. The name came about when Bertrand the Goth was elected Pope Clement V in 1305. At the time, the relationship between the King of France and the papacy in Rome was badly strained, and Italy was in political turmoil. Clement chose to stay in France, and established his papal court in Avignon, an ancient city on the Rhone River. His successor, Pope John XXII, improved the papal finances sufficiently to build himself a summer palace outside the city, on the foundations of an old castle (Fig. 5-2). This palace became known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, "the new castle of the Pope." Of course, the old castle's vineyards came with the property and Pope John made sure these vines were well tended so that he could produce his own wines. Thus began the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine-producing region.
By the 1920s the demand for the red wines of this historic region was very high. Fraud in the form of inflated production numbers had been going on for years, and now became widespread throughout the region. A group of producers, under the expert guidance of Baron LeRoy of Chateau Fortia, set out to define their own boundaries and to set prescriptions on which grapes could be used in wine to be labeled as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. They decreed what viticultural practices were to be allowed and spelled out specific techniques that were banned. The vintners also set out strict standards for minimum ripeness of grapes at harvest, minimum alcohol level in wines, and other factors that are critical to quality and authenticity. The system devised by this dedicated group of Chateauneuf-du-Pape vintners eventually became the model for the national system of quality control laws.
In other regions, especially Burgundy, trouble in the form of fraud and blackballing of recalcitrant growers continued for many more years. Most of the wrongdoing was at the hands of negociants, businessmen who acted as the middlemen between grape growers, and the producers and shippers of wine. Due to the Great Depression, demand for wine was down severely, and many growers could not afford to protest against negociants who bought cheaper grapes from outside areas and then sold the wine as something far more expensive than its quality merited. Authenticity and quality took a serious step backward in Burgundy and other premier wine regions of France.
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Finally, in 1935, the French government passed legislation creating the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine des Vins et Eaux-de-Vie (INAO) under the Ministry of Agriculture (Figure 5-3). The charge given to the INAO was to work with local growers, to establish legally defined appellation boundaries, along with a codification of grape-growing and winemaking practices appropriate to each area. The system has continued to evolve and is continually under review.
All wine regions of France are classified into one of four levels of quality. Wine coming from each region also carries that classification. The four levels are, in descending order of quality, appellation d'origine controlee or AOC (higher quality wines from one of the better limited areas of production.); vin delimite de qualite superieure or VDQS (quality wines from a limited area); vin de pays (country wine); vin de table (table wine).
Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC)
In order to carry the name of an AOC region, a wine must meet very specific criteria:
* The wine must be made 100 percent from grapes approved for that appellation.
* The grapes must have all been grown within a limited zone or area of production. In general, the smaller that geographic designation, the better and more distinctive the wine. Some AOC wines attain even higher recognition of quality if the vineyard or estate where the grapes were grown is further rated by the authorities as being a particularly impressive location. Rated vineyards are usually designated as grand cru or premier cru or some comparable term indicating high quality.
* The grapes must have been picked at the minimal level of sugar specified for that appellation. A minimal alcohol content must be achieved after fermentation.
* The amount of grapes harvested must not exceed a certain amount per hectare. In general, the smaller or more specific the area, the smaller the yield allowed. If all the vigor of the vine goes into fewer bunches, those bunches will have more concentrated flavors.
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* The methods used in the vineyard and in the winery must conform to the regulations of the region.
* The wine must be bottled in the same region as the appellation.
* The wine must pass a tasting test by the local branch of the INAO. What the tasters are judging is not the quality of the wine so much as its terroir, that is, they are determining if the wine reflects the character of the appellation. In other words, does the wine have typicality?
Presently over one-third of the wine produced in France is designated as appellation d'origine controlee (Figure 5-4).
Vin Delimite de Qualite Superieure (VDQS)
This designation was begun in 1949. These wines are also produced according to INAO guidelines, and producers are supervised by the local bureau. However, standards are not as strict nor as numerous as at the AOC level. Growers and producers in these regions often aspire to have their area elevated to AOC status. At this time, only about 1 percent of French wines are designated VDQS.
Vin de Pays
Higher yields and a higher percentage of nonindigenous grapes are allowed at this level. Since 1979, wines at this level have been permitted to be labeled by varietal (although region of production must also be listed). Varietal labeling has been a boon to French entrepreneurs wanting to sell their products in the New World, especially the United States. Vins de pays, most of which come from the south of France, differ considerably in quality, style, and price.
Vin de pays regions can fall within three different types.
1. Regional. There are three of these. They are very large, covering wide swaths of land with many different soil types and microclimates.
2. Departmental. This covers an entire departement, the French equivalent of an American state or Canadian province.
3. Zonal. This is the smallest type of region, often just one district or even one town. There are over 100 zonal vin de pays regions.
Today approximately 25 percent of French wine is designated as vin de pays. With the success of marketing these wines into the United States, that percentage may well increase.
Vin de Table or Vin Ordinaire
This type of wine can be made from grapes grown anywhere in France. There are no limits on yield and no specifications on varietals. Wine that is fermented purely for the purpose of being distilled into spirits fits into this category. The European Commission is putting pressure on France to decrease the amount of acreage dedicated to this level of wine, as the glut of bulk wine and wine grapes causes prices to fall.
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Weaknesses of the System
The French system of wine laws is one of the most comprehensive and strict in the world. These laws have done a great deal to guarantee the authenticity of wine names, and thus, to protect the prestige of the finest wine appellations. The purpose of the laws is not to guarantee quality. The government feels that that is up to individual producers, and that the open market will determine a wine's success or failure. Rather, what the wine laws are intended to do is to assure that each wine carrying a region's name will be typical of that region. This way the consumer will know the essential style and character of the wine when purchasing it. In meeting this objective the wine control laws of France are successful. Moreover, the system does rate regions (the highest rating being AOC), and also rates some of the highest quality locations within AOC regions. These ratings also assist the consumer in making purchasing decisions.
However, despite its successes and strengths, the system does have its weaknesses, the worst being that in some of its applications, the system of laws protects the grower and producer more than it does the consumer. Changes advocated by experts, including Clive Coates, a leading authority on French wines, include adding consumer representation to the local INAO commissions. In other words, each tasting panel and regulatory body should have an objective observer, with a vote, who has no direct involvement with any facet of the wine trade, but will speak simply as a consumer, for consumers.
The tasting and analysis of AOC and VDQS wines should be done with an eye to quality, not just to typicality. True, the open market will eventually eliminate low quality wines that are not worth the price being asked, but it seems the authorities should step in before consumers have wasted money on a low quality wine.
Another suggested improvement has to do with the matter of yields. As the law now stands, if a grower exceeds the yield allowed for his appellation, the amount by which he exceeds the allowed amount per hectare has to be downgraded. Logically, the entire crop should be downgraded, for if the yield for a vineyard has been too high, all the grapes from that vineyard will be of inferior quality.
Labeling laws could also be improved. The requirements for the use of words like domaine or clos, and phrases like mis en bouteille a propriete (estate bottled) need to be made stricter so as not to mislead the consumer. Moreover, from a marketing viewpoint, the French authorities and wine producers should expand the use of explanatory back labels. Consumers in the United States like to have helpful information on the style of the wine in the bottle, how to serve that wine, what grapes it was made from, and so forth. Explanatory labels have greatly helped in the sales of Australian and Californian wines. The French should follow suit.
Wine Regions of France
The major wine regions covered in this chapter are Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cotes du Rhone, the Loire Valley, Champagne, and Alsace. These six AOC regions account for less than 20% of France's total wine production, but their wines are the country's most famous and most impressive wines. We will also look at some of the promising regions in the South of France.
Bordeaux is one of the world's largest and most diverse wine-producing regions. There are almost 304,000 acres (123,077 hectares) under vine, and annual production is over 660 million bottles of wine. Fully 22 percent of France's total AOC production is from Bordeaux, a region that produces fine wine in three major categories--red table wines, dry white table wine, and luscious dessert wine. Many of Bordeaux's wines rate among the very best: elegant, complex reds; honeyed sweet whites; and well-balanced, crisp dry whites.
Bordeaux is a city and a wine region as well as the name of a wine. The city of Bordeaux, eighth largest in France and for centuries an important port, is the capital of the departement of Gironde, the largest of France's 95 departements. Excluding a section along the coast, the departement of Gironde essentially encompasses the wine region, or appellation, of Bordeaux. This is a region of large, self-sufficient estates in which the vineyards, the winemaking facilities, and often the owner's house are all under one ownership and located in close proximity. Many of these estates have been under the same ownership for centuries. This uninterrupted proprietorship has allowed development of high quality vineyards, confident winemaking skills, and a pride in name, heritage, and product that results in extraordinary wine repeatably. There is a distinguishable style for each major estate that stays the same year after year.
The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were the period in which many of the great estates developed. Prior to that time, a high quantity of wine was exported, but much of it was not of high quality. After the marriage in 1152 of Eleanor of Aquitaine (which included Gascony, where the city of Bordeaux was located) and Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, the planting of vineyards in Bordeaux expanded. The extent of trade with England also expanded enormously when Henry ascended the throne of England two years after his marriage to Eleanor. However, most of the vineyards were not in the Medoc, which was much too swampy to be useful for growing grapes. The grapes were grown further inland, in the Dordogne region; the valleys along the Garonne, Tarn, and Lot Rivers; and area known as the "high country." Bulk wine was brought into Bordeaux from as far away as Cahors, well to the southeast, to be blended into bottles being sold as Gascon wine.
After the English were expelled from Gascony in 1453, the French kings were wise enough not to disrupt the Bordeaux wine trade. The privileges and favors granted under the English monarchy to Bordeaux wine producers and merchants remained in place. Trade with England continued, and business with the Dutch expanded.
The quality of wine from this area took a major step forward in the seventeenth century due to the ingenuity of Dutch entrepreneurs who had become increasingly involved in the exporting of wine from Bordeaux. Long familiar with marshy low lands, the Dutch businessmen brought in engineers from their homeland who were able to drain the marshes of the Medoc peninsula. This process exposed gentle hills of very gravelly soil, perfect for vinifera vines. Many of Bordeaux's great estates are now located in the Medoc. Winemakers in Medoc and adjacent growing areas took steps to protect their products and passed strict regulations against bringing "high country" wines into Bordeaux.
As the wine trade grew, a new social class emerged and became the new aristocracy. The merchants who attained success in trading and exporting wine began to purchase land and build chateaux. This moneyed class replaced the old nobility. The merchant families invested resources into improving their vineyards. After the French Revolution, some Bordeaux vineyards owned by the church were confiscated by the government and turned over to peasant families. However, many of the wealthy merchant families escaped that fate, and the top properties remained largely intact. Their estates became the great, highly rated estates of modern Bordeaux.
As in other regions of France and Europe, production of wine in Bordeaux was set back by the infestation of phylloxera in the late nineteenth century. By 1869, land under viticulture in Bordeaux had decreased by over a third, with many more hectares dying each year. At a conference called in the city of Bordeaux in 1881 to study the problem of phylloxera, the Bordelais vintners agreed to accept the proposed solution of grafting their vines onto American rootstock.
The process of replanting vineyards proceeded slowly, partly due to a fear on the part of Bordeaux landowners that American rootstock would adversely affect the flavor of their wines, and partly due to an infection of the vineyards by downy mildew, a disease that primarily affects the leaves of the plant. This scourge was quickly eliminated by the spraying of copper sulfate solution. By the early twentieth century, the vineyards of Bordeaux were well on their way to recovery.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the tribulations of the Bordeaux wine region, as was true throughout France, were not at the hands of Mother Nature, as in the previous half century. Rather, the ensuing years saw an unprecedented string of man-made disasters: The First World War, the Great Depression, Prohibition in the United States and, of course, the Second World War. The production of wine fell drastically during World War II and the German occupation, partly due to lack of manpower, and partly to German forces seizing supplies of wine. Many Bordeaux producers used ingenious methods to hide their wine from the Nazis. Fortunately, most of the German occupying forces had the foresight to realize it was in the long term best interest of Germany to allow the Bordeaux trade to remain as undisturbed as possible. When the war ended, they wanted there to be Bordeaux wine to import into Germany (Kladstrup & Kladstrup, 2001).
In the second half of the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first century, the Bordeaux wine trade grew and strengthened. A rising standard of living throughout the Western world, an increasing appreciation for fine wine as an inherent part of cuisine, and the emergence of the United States as a particularly important and sophisticated market for wine have all worked to widen the consumer base for Bordeaux's wines.
Soil and Climate--The Terroir of Bordeaux
The departement of Gironde is located on the west coast of France, on the Atlantic Ocean. Exactly halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, extending about 65 miles (105 km) from north to south and 80 miles (129 km) from east to west, the Gironde is spared any temperature extremes. A thick pine forest along the coast protects the vineyards from cold ocean breezes. The region contains many different soil variations that can nourish a wide variety of grape types. The soil composition is a major factor in deciding which vine shoots will be planted. The style of wine produced within each appellation of Bordeaux is a direct reflection of the proportion of each varietal planted there.
In Bordeaux, the grape varietals allowed by AOC laws are Red White Cabernet Sauvignon Sauvignon Blanc Merlot Semillon Cabernet Franc Muscadelle Malbec Petit Verdot Carmenere
(For regional white wines up to 30 percent of lesser grapes such as Colombard, Merlot Blanc, and Ugni Blanc is allowed.)
From this line-up of varietals, one can easily surmise that Bordeaux wines are not singlevarietal wines. Rather, winemakers are free to blend the allowed varietals together to obtain the most complex and interesting combination possible. French wines made in Mediterraneaninfluenced zones tend to be blends, whereas wines from cooler, continentally influenced regions tend to be single varietal.
In Bordeaux, red varietals take up 89 percent of total acreage, and Merlot is the most widely planted red varietal with 162,000 acres (65,587 hectares) as opposed to 70,000 acres (28,340 hectares) for Cabernet Sauvignon, and 32,110 acres (13,000 hectares) for the third most important grape, Cabernet Franc (Figure 5-5). The lesser red varietals take up only about 5,400 acres (2,186 hectares). Each of the lesser red grapes can contribute necessary characteristics to the final blend. For instance, Carmenere adds deep color, and Malbec adds additional body. Petit Verdot is a late-ripening varietal, and when harvested at the same time as the other grapes, tends to be higher in acidity.
For the high quality, dry white grapes, Sauvignon Blanc is the most important. However, the most widely planted white grape is Semillon (Figure 5-6) (18,387 versus 11,367 acres--7,444 versus 4,602 hectares--for Sauvignon Blanc). Muscadelle is third with 2,341 acres (948 hectares). This grape gives high yields and adds fruity flavors and floral aromas to the wine (Acreage figures courtesy of SOPEXA, August 2004).
Within a region as large as Bordeaux, there are many different terroirs, each favorable to different varietals. In general, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are dominant on the right bank of the Gironde River, in St. Emilion and Pomerol, and Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant on the left bank of the river, in Medoc and Graves.
The Classifications of Bordeaux Estates
The tendency to rank wine-producing estates has become quite prevalent in recent times. During the late nineteenth and on through the twentieth century, as the market for wine became less regional and eventually international in nature, the need arose for a simple and understandable rating for the many diverse wines available. The most famous rating, and the most enduring, was the Classification of 1855 for the wine-producing estates of the Medoc. In that year, the Exposition Universelle (the World's Fair) was to be held in Paris. To be sure that only the very best of France's great wines would be shown to visiting dignitaries, Napoleon III asked the wine merchants of Bordeaux to rank the wine-producing estates of that region. Even before then, there were already several informal rankings of Bordeaux's chateaux by the businessmen and interested connoisseurs (including one listing by the United States' first serious wine collector, Thomas Jefferson). Moreover, the market reflected the comparative worth of different estates' wines by the price consumers were willing to pay. However, what Napoleon III had requested was a formal, quantified ranking of the recognized top estates.
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The merchants (also called brokers or negociants) took their task very seriously, and proceeded to formalize the ranking that they, and the open market, had been using for Bordeaux's wines. Referring back to prices fetched over the previous century, the brokers were able to divide the top Medoc estates into five tiers of quality. They issued their final classification through the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce in time for the Exposition, and it remains the official ranking to this day, with only one change. In the top tier, called first growth or premier cru, there were only three Medoc estates, Lafite, Latour, and Margaux, as well as one estate that, although located in the Graves region, was of such a high caliber and its wines were so highly regarded, that it could not be omitted from this ranking of the Medoc. This estate was Chateau Haut-Brion. In 1973, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was elevated from second growth to first growth. An additional 56 estates from the Medoc were rated at deuxieme cru or second growth, and on down to cinquieme cru, or fifth growth. Since there were thousands of properties producing wine at the time, it is indeed impressive to be included in the Classification of 1855. These 61 chateaux continue to be regarded as among the world's very best wine-producing estates. Even today the classification done so many years ago affects the pricing for Bordeaux wines in the highly competitive international marketplace. Every year, the demand for the 61 classified growths, especially the five premier crus, far exceeds the supply, thus driving the prices up.
In 1855, the wine brokers of Bordeaux also classified the estates of Bordeaux that produced sweet white wines. They ranked these estates into two classes, again based on market demand, price, and quality of the wines. These estates are all within the appellations of Sauternes and Barsac.
The wine-producing estates of the Graves region were not officially classified until 1953 for the red wines and 1959 for the white wines. Both lists consist of one class. It is worth noting that Chateau Haut-Brion is the only estate to be included in three classifications--the 1855 Classification of the Medoc, the 1953 classification of Graves reds, and the 1959 classification of Graves whites.
The estates of St. Emilion on the right bank of the Gironde River were first classified officially in 1955. In an effort to assure that their ranking be always current, the vintners of St. Emilion arranged for periodic reassessments of the classification, supposedly every 10 years. This plan makes sense for, although the vineyards themselves may be immutable, there are often changes in ownership or other human influences that need to be factored in. This system allows poorly managed vineyards to be demoted, while promising, well-cared-for estates can be promoted. The first modification took place in 1969 and was followed by further modifications in 1986. The list was again updated in 1996. The two top estates, Chateaux Cheval Blanc and Ausone are listed as premiers grand cru classe A, while the next 10 (increased to 11 in 1996) are listed as premiers grand cru classe B. Below that level there are an additional 55 estates all listed as grand cru classe. There is considerable variation in quality among these estates. The most recent list of classifications is in Appendix C.
The estates of the other famous appellation on the right bank, Pomerol, have never been officially classified. It is widely accepted, however, that the best wines from this region rank among the world's very best red wines.
The Classifications of Bordeaux estates can be found in Appendices C-F.
THE WINE REGIONS OF BORDEAUX
The Medoc peninsula lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the muddy estuary of the Gironde River. For any wine lover, driving along the D2 highway, the Route du Vin, that wends its way up the peninsula from the city of Bordeaux is a magical experience. The landscape is not particularly spectacular. It is a bit flat, and in the southern portions, there are signs of urban sprawl. What is magical are the names one sees on the signs at the entranceways to the various wine-producing estates along the way. Chateau Margaux, Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Chateau Gruaud-LaRose, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Cos d'Estournel--these are words any wine connoisseur has seen on bottles of extraordinary wines. To see these names on signs designating the vineyards from which the grapes come, and be able to glimpse, across those acres of vines, the facilities where these legendary wines are made, is surreal. Some of the chateaux are simple country homes. Some are large, beautiful mansions (Gruard-LaRose). Some have an unexpectedly exotic look to them (Cos d'Estournel's chai resembles a Chinese pagoda.) There are even former priories (Chateau Meyney). What ties these diverse estates together is the quality of the great red wines made here, in Bordeaux's Medoc region (Table 5-1, page 125).
Most of the very best of Bordeaux's wines come from famous estates in the lower two-thirds of the Medoc peninsula. This subregion, known as the Haut-Medoc, begins in the suburbs just north of the city of Bordeaux, and continues on up the peninsula through the small rural hamlet of Cadourne. This is just over 30 miles (4.8 km) as the crow flies. There are 29 communes (towns or villages) and a total of 25,000 acres (10,121 hectares) of vineyards within the Haut-Medoc. The greatest estates have been classified, that is, officially rated as superior. Most of these classified estates are located within the boundaries of four villages. These villages, listed from south to north, are Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, and St. Estephe. Each of these towns is a separate appellation (as are the villages of Moulis and Listrac.)
One physical characteristic common to great estates throughout the Haut-Medoc is a good balance between water stored in the soil, and the depth of roots. In an article (Smart, 2004), Australian viticulturist Richard Smart refers to the famous study of terroir by Gerard Seguin of the University of Bordeaux. Dr. Seguin found that all the great estates of the Haut-Medoc had water tables within reach of vine roots. The water level drops progressively from spring into late summer. As Dr. Smart explains, by August the water table has fallen below the level at which the roots can reach it, and vine growth stops just as the berries are changing color, a process referred to as veraison. This allows the plants' energy to be concentrated in the berries, producing more concentrated flavors. Despite the similarity of water supply patterns, other factors of soil content and microclimate are diverse within the Haut-Medoc. In general, wines from the southern communes are softer, a bit richer and more accessible than the more tannic, elegant, and restrained wines from further up the peninsula.
Margaux The appellation Margaux actually encompasses five villages: Labarde, Arsac, Cantenac, Margaux, and Soussans. The soil varies considerably throughout the Margaux appellation, but it is essentially sandy gravel, quite thin and light in color. In the town of Margaux, the gravel lies atop a base of clay and marl. (Marl is a geological term for the conglomerate of magnesium and calcium from the shells left behind when the sea water drained out of this part of the peninsula.) In the surrounding villages, the base is sometimes gravel, sometimes ironrich sandstone, and in some places even sand and grit. The percentage of plantings to Merlot is higher in Margaux than in the communes further north in the Haut-Medoc.
The wines of Margaux tend to be raspberry scented, smooth and medium-bodied on the palate, and redolent of rich, ripe berry flavors. The Margaux appellation is home to 20 classified estates, more than any other appellation in Bordeaux. After 20 years or so of declining quality in the 1960s and 1970s, Chateau Margaux, a premier cru estate, began producing stunning wines again. The international wine guru and writer, Robert Parker, has declared the wines of Chateau Margaux from 1978 on to be consistently outstanding (Parker, 1991).
St. Julien North of Margaux there is a wide stretch of land unsuitable for grapevines because the land is too marshy and flat. The next great vineyards appear as one comes into the commune of St. Julien. This is the smallest and most compact of the Haut-Medoc appellations, with only about 2,200 acres (891 hectares) under vine. The average quality of wine in this commune is very high. The vintners of St. Julien take great pride in the quality of their winemaking. Eleven estates in St. Julien are classified (rated).
The soil is gravelly with some clay; the subsoil has more limestone than Margaux's. Drainage is good. The vineyards are planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon such as these being picked in Figure 5-7. The wines of St. Julien have more tannic backbone and are fuller-bodied than those of Margaux, but still elegant.
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Another well-known estate, and justifiably so, is the beautiful Chateau Gruard-Larose. Situated off the main Route du Vin (D2), the stately chateau is surrounded by its meticulously maintained vineyards, 64 percent of which are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines produced here are very full-bodied; "massive" is the word chosen by some wine writers. One must be patient with Gruard-Larose, and not open the wine until years after the vintage, when the tannins will have softened and the fruit developed. Patience will be amply rewarded!
Pauillac This is perhaps the most famous of the communes in the Haut-Medoc. Virtually all of its 2,916 acres (1,180 hectares) of vines belong to or are controlled by its 18 classified estates. The soil throughout has the gravelly composition that permits excellent drainage, and retains the sun's heat and reflects it back on the vines in the cool evening, thus assisting ripening. Despite the relative uniformity of the top levels of soil, the subsoils differ from vineyard to vineyard, thus allowing for noticeable differences in style. In general, however, one can say that the wines of Pauillac tend toward full-bodied, smooth texture, exhibit a distinctive lead pencil/ cedar combination in the bouquet, and are very long lived.
Three of the very top-rated estates are in Pauillac--Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, and Latour (Figure 5-8). Each of these estates has a recognizable style. For instance, LafiteRothschild's vineyards, in the northern part of the appellation, have a limestone base, resulting in a particularly complex bouquet and subtle flavors of currants. Mouton-Rothschild sits on a gravelly ridge looking down on the small town of Pauillac. Its vineyards have more sandstone in their base soil than Lafite, and its wines are more opulent and complex, as well as very structured. (The fact that Mouton uses as much as 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon also contributes to its distinctive style.) Latour, a grand old estate located in the southern reaches of Pauillac next to St. Julien, produces wines that are more supple and open. Latour's vineyards are entirely on loose, fine gravel, affording excellent drainage and heat retention. Latour's style is unmistakable. As Robert Parker succinctly puts it, "Latour is simply Latour, and ... there are no 'look-alikes' in style or character" (Parker, 1991).
The famous trio of top-rated estates (first growths) are just the beginning of great Pauillac wines. Among the second growths, perhaps the most distinctive is Pichon-Longueville-Comtesse de Lalande, usually referred to as Pichon-Lalande. Located next to Latour on the St. Julien border, this estate produces wines that are soft, supple, and full of appealing fruit. An undervalued property that has begun to be noticed more and more by wine aficionados is Grand-Puy-Lacoste. Placed at the fifth level of quality in the official rating, this estate turned out wines in the past few decades of such high quality and distinctive character that some experts say this estate should be upgraded.
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St. Estephe Past Latour over a small man-made drainage ditch, the land suddenly rises in the commune of St. Estephe, perhaps the least lauded of the Haut-Medoc's appellations. There is not as high a percentage of rated estates here, but there are many very fine properties, such as Chateau Meyney, Chateau Haut-Marbuzet and the rapidly improving Chateau Les Ormes-dePez, that, although unrated, produce attractive, agreeable, balanced (and affordable) wines that are deservedly popular in export markets. The style of these wines, as well as those coming from the five rated estates located here, is more tannic and backward than that of other communes. Despite an effort on the part of vintners in St. Estephe to make more approachable wines by increasing percentages of the less-tannic Merlot and by allowing longer ripening and less maceration, the presence in most of St. Estephe of a thick, dense claylike soil with inferior drainage and lower heat retention results in wines that are chunkier, unyielding, more acidic, and a bit awkward compared to wines that come from finer, gravelly soils.
This is not to imply that there are no world-class wines in St. Estephe. Wine experts and consumers agree that Cos d'Estournel is indeed one of the world's great red wines. It is also the first estate one sees after crossing over into the commune from Pauillac. The strange pagodastyle chai (wine-making facility) sits on a slight ridge, overlooking Pauillac's famous LafiteRothschild. Because of the high percentage of Merlot (40 percent) (Figure 5-9), extensive use of new oak, and very careful attention to quality, the wines of Cos are fleshy, full-bodied, and complex. Usually austere when young, they are very long-lived and can be rich and lush with black fruit flavors once they mature.
Impressive wines have also been made for many years at other rated estates in St. Estephe, most notably Calon-Segur. Located on a bed of sandy gravel and iron-enriched limestone in the northernmost reaches of the commune, Calon-Segur is an ancient property. Hidden behind its high stone wall, the chateau is a lovely white building sporting two towers. The unusual drawing of a heart on the label stems from a charming story about the eighteenth century Marquis de Segur who has been quoted as saying, "I make my wine at Lafite and Latour, but my heart is in Calon" (Parker, 1991).
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North of Calon-Segur, the land dips down and becomes too marshy for quality vineyards. This is the beginning of the Bas-Medoc, a low-lying area viticulturally inferior to its famous neighbor, the Haut-Medoc. Much of the land is dedicated to pasture rather than grapes. The soil here is sandy and has poor drainage. There are 14 wine-producing communes within the Bas-Medoc (often called simply the Medoc) and a total of 11,600 acres (4,696 hectares) of vines, mostly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Some very decent and affordable red wines are made in the Medoc, and the adventuresome buyer can be rewarded with some exciting finds from this region.
Unlike the appellations Medoc and Haut-Medoc, which can be applied only to red wine, the appellation Graves applies to both reds and whites. A large area that runs about 34 miles (55 km) along the southern edge of the Garonne River (one of the two tributaries to the Gironde), Graves' 8,255 acres (3,342 hectares) of vineyards are planted 4,540 acres (1,838 hectares) to red wine grapes and 3,715 acres (1,504 hectares) to white wine grapes. Just over 45 percent of Graves' production is white wine. The dry whites of Graves can be among the most elegant, complex, and food-friendly wines based on the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The Semillon that is blended in softens the acidic edge and makes the wines rounder and smoother, as well as adding complexity through complementary flavors. The wines are fragrant with appealing citrus, gooseberry, and fresh grassy aromas.
The best red wines of the Graves region are velvety smooth, full of ripe berry flavors. They are not as full as some Haut-Medoc reds and mature more quickly, primarily because of the good dose of Merlot in most Graves reds. The leading estates are planted anywhere from 25 to 40 percent Merlot and 50 to 65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with the balance being the three lesser varietals (Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot).
The soil of the Graves region is different than in other parts of Bordeaux. The region actually gets its name from the gravelly, pebble-strewn soil (Figure 5-10), the vestige of ancient Ice Age glaciers. This top level of gravel allows for excellent drainage and heat retention that helps the grapes to ripen fully. The gravel sits on base soils of sand and clay. Pine forests to the west afford considerable protection from the ocean's cool winds, just as in the Medoc.
The finest vineyards in Graves are in the communes of Pessac and Leognan in the northern section. The soil here is more alluvial where sediment has been deposited by the river over the millennia. In recognition of the fact that the best reds and the best whites of Graves come from these two towns, they were granted a separate appellation in 1986, Pessac-Leognan. The appellation covers ten communes and essentially divides Graves in two, with all the classified estates being in Pessac-Leognan. The reds from this appellation have complex bouquets of berries, earth, chocolate, and minerals. They feel full and firm, yet supple, on the palate and exhibit delicious flavors of ripe berries.
Among the most acclaimed producers in Graves is Chateau Haut-Brion, located in the commune of Pessac, which is really a bustling suburb of the city of Bordeaux (Figure 5-11). This chateau, now one of the premier wine-producing estates in the world, was purchased in 1935 by an American family, the Dillons. It was the first important Bordeaux estate to be owned by Americans. Because the winery and vineyards were in deplorable condition at the time, the Dillon family had to invest a large amount of money to return the estate to its full potential. The Duchesse de Mouchy, the present proprietor and a Dillon descendent, maintains the highest level of quality to this day.
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Right across the road from Haut-Brion sits its rival, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, an extraordinary property of just under 50 acres (20 hectares). In 1919 La Mission was bought by Frederic Woltner. In the following decades, he and his family oversaw the ascendancy of this estate. Frederic's son, Henri, was widely recognized as one of Bordeaux's leading experts in viticulture and enology. He did invaluable research into varietal clones. His property was famous for both its rich complex reds and its fresh elegant whites. At the time of Henri's death in 1974, management of the property was taken over by Francoise and Francois Dewavrin-Woltner. After less than a decade the decision was made by the Dewavrin-Woltners and the other family members who still had an interest in the estate that, because of many internal disagreements, it was best to sell the property. Their neighbor, the Duchesse de Mouchy of Haut-Brion, purchased La Mission in 1983, freeing up Francoise and Francois Dewavrin-Woltner to pursue their dream of making wine in the New World. Chateau Woltner on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley, California, for many years produced some of that state's most elegant Chardonnays.
South of the busy towns of Pessac and Leognan, the region of Graves becomes more rural and even bucolic. Although not classified-growth territory, many lovely wines are produced in this part of Graves. It is possible to find some attractive, well-made reds, most of them primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, which certainly rival the bourgeois-level Medoc reds. Some of the estates in this part of the Graves making very good (and affordable) red wines are Chateaux Barat (owned by the famous Lurton family), Cabannieux, d'Archambeau, Rahoul, Roquetaillade La Grange, and Sansay.
Many properties also produce clean, fresh white wines. In this southern part of Graves, as is typical in the entire region, almost 45 percent of the wine produced is white. The predominant white grape here is Semillon, taking as much as 70 percent of the acreage at some estates. Many experts feel that Semillon, when handled correctly and allowed a judicious amount of time in oak, can be made into as good a wine as the more illustrious Sauvignon Blanc. Some of the better estates for white wine are Clos Floridene and Chateaux de Carrolle, Roquetallade La Grange, and Sansay.
The appellation of Sauternes is restricted to sweet white wines. The appellation actually encompasses five villages--Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac, and Barsac. Barsac is an appellation in its own right and can be sold either as Barsac or as Sauternes. The communes lie on the south bank of the Garonne River, in the southern part of Graves. The wines from Sauternes and Barsac, which by law must be botrytized, are widely regarded as the most luscious, rich dessert wines in the world. (If there is no noble rot, or pourriture noble, and dry wines are produced, they can be sold only as Bordeaux blanc.)
The appellations of Sauternes and Barsac contain less than 5,500 acres (2,227 hectares) of vines. The grapes planted are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. The most widely planted is Semillon, as it is the most susceptible to the noble rot. The climate here is perfect for the botrytis fungus, as the air is very damp. The vineyards lie along the tiny Ciron River, a tributary of the Garonne. The waters of the Ciron are very cold, and when they flow into the warmer Garonne, a gentle mist rises that often lasts through the morning. The mists create the humidity the fungus needs to thrive. As the fungus grows on the grapes, it causes them to shrivel up and eventually crack. The watery juice of the grapes escapes through the cracked skin, but the grapes continue to hang on the vine and ripen, producing more sugar. When harvested, these shriveled up, fungus-infected grapes have extremely concentrated sugars. The resulting wines are simply ambrosial, redolent with aromas and flavors of dried apricots and clover honey.
The most famous of the estates in the Sauternes appellation is the legendary Chateau d'Yquem. The wines from this property are so extraordinary that a special category had to be created for d'Yquem when the wines of this region were rated in 1855. As the only premier grand cru (first great growth), Chateau d'Yquem is literally in a class by itself. In the next level, premier cru, there are 11 estates, and at the deuxieme cru (second growth) level there are an additional 15 properties. A combination of successful vintages (due to good weather) and increased interest in sweet wines during the decade of the 1980s led to an infusion of badly needed capital into this region. In the subsequent decades, with their newly updated equipment and clean new barrels, the rated estates of Sauternes and Barsac (and some of the as yet unrated estates) have continued to produce lovely dessert wines, rich but balanced.
The Libournais, named for the simple small town of Libourne, lies across the Gironde River from the Medoc and extends along the opposite bank of the Gironde and its tributary, the Dordogne River. This wine-producing region is often referred to as the "Right Bank." This is a very old wine-producing area, steeped in tradition and history. Many of the grape growers here have handed down their land, their expertise, and their way of life from generation to generation. Driving into one of its villages, full of simple stone houses with red tile roofs, ancient little churches, and quaint marketplaces, one has the feeling of having stepped back in time a hundred years or more (Figure 5-12). Because this part of Bordeaux was still isolated and considered a backwater at the time of the 1855 classification, no estates from the Right Bank were ranked. Even though the Libournais may still appear sleepy and dusty, it now produces some of the best red wines of France, particularly from the two most famous villages, St. Emilion and Pomerol.
The soils on the Right Bank are quite different from those in the Medoc, tending more toward clay and limestone. In this soil base, Merlot does very well and is, not surprisingly, the predominate grape planted. The second most widely planted varietal is Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon, which excels in the gravelly soils of the Medoc, does not do well in the clay/limestone combination and is planted in relatively small quantities on the Right Bank.
St. Emilion Archaeological evidence shows that wine was made around the walled village of St. Emilion during Gallo-Roman times. A wine-making history stretching back two millennia makes for a great deal of tradition, and the current day wine producers of this area demonstrate considerable pride in their heritage. The small village has such a medieval air to it that sometimes one gets the feeling the local people are making a conscious effort to maintain a sense of history.
There are few grand chateaux in and around St. Emilion. Rather, this is an area of small properties and unpretentious houses and chais, once owned by peasants and bourgeois families. St. Emilion is one of the most compact and densely planted appellations in France. Close to 13,000 acres (5,263 hectares) of vineyards are packed into a relatively small appellation. The vineyards are planted primarily to Merlot, which ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, and due to its softer tannins, matures more quickly in the bottle. The wines of St. Emilion, in other words, are softer and more fruit-forward than wines of the Medoc. The blackberry aromas are tempered by an appealing violet or rose-petal nuance. The best St. Emilions will age amazingly well, taking on additional complexities as they mature.
From locations in and around the town of St. Emilion come many fine wines, especially from the classified properties atop the large plateau and its slopes south of the town. Here the vineyards look down on the valley of the Dordogne below. The soil is a thin layer of limestone debris on top of a solid limestone rock base. The vineyards receive bountiful sunshine tempered by cooling breezes. Of the 11 estates presently included in St. Emilion's classification, eight have at least part of their vineyards on this plateau and its slopes.
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One of the most famous of these classified growths is Chateau Ausone, named for the Roman poet and statesman, Ausonius, who was rumored to own a vineyard nearby. The caves of Ausone are dug right into the limestone hillside (Figure 5-13), and its vineyards are filled with gnarled old vines of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. There are less than 20 acres (8 hectares) of vines, producing a minuscule 2,200 cases of wine a year. These wines are very expensive and difficult to find commercially.
The other premier grand cru classe A estate is Chateau Cheval-Blanc. It lies to the west of town, near the border with Pomerol. This small section is called the Graves-Saint-Emilion, named for the gravel in its soil. There is less limestone and more sand here than on the plateau above the river. This difference in terroir creates a noticeable difference in the wines of these two great estates. Cheval Blanc is more approachable when young than Ausone, and due to its high percentage of Cabernet Franc (66 percent) the bouquet has none of the floral hints of Ausone, but tends instead towards minerals and spice. The flavors of black fruit are intense and concentrated.
Near Cheval Blanc lies another famous St. Emilion property, Chateau Figeac. Here the vineyards are planted almost equally to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, making a complex wine, quite different from the two A-level grand crus. (Figeac is also a classified estate.) The range of styles among the great St. Emilion estates is impressive. Some of the other best classified estates are Chateaux Pavie, Canon, and La Gaffeliere (all premier grand crus). There are also many very fine, up and coming estates, as yet unclassified, which may well be included in future revisions. Most notable of these is Chateau Tertre-Roteboeuf. (The list of St. Emilion's most recently updated in 1996 classified growths is found in Appendix F.)
Pomerol Pomerol is a much smaller grape-growing region than its neighbor St. Emilion, having only 1,900 acres (769 hectares) of vines versus St. Emilion's 12,800 acres (5,182 hectares). Fully three-quarters of the vineyards in Pomerol are planted to Merlot with Cabernet Franc playing a supporting role. The soils vary throughout Pomerol, with a mixture of sand, clay, and gravel over a base of either sedimentary rock or iron. The presence of iron is one reason the wines of Pomerol are rich and concentrated, with a distinctive aroma of minerals and pencil lead. Pomerol may be the smallest of Bordeaux's important wine regions, but its wines are among the most impressive in the world. They are also among the most expensive because of the combination of superb quality and very limited production. Even though the wines of Pomerol have never been officially rated, their reputation is such that demand will always outpace supply.
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The undisputed star of Pomerol is Chateau Petrus. Some experts will state unequivocally that Petrus is the best Merlot-based wine made anywhere. (Vineyards are planted 95 percent to Merlot). A very small estate, just 28.4 acres (11.5 hectares), Petrus year after year turns out wonderfully rich, smooth, complex wines that spend more than two years in barrels. Demand for Petrus always exceeds supply, making this the world's most expensive wine.
Other notable Pomerol producers are Chateaux La Conseillante, Le Pin, and Trotanoy. Also superb is Vieux Chateau Certan.
Lesser Appellations Beyond the five regions of Bordeaux that produce her undisputed champion wines--the Haut-Medoc, Graves, Sauternes/Barsac, St. Emilion, and Pomerol--several other Appellation d'Origine Controlee districts produce admirable wines. Fully 24 percent of France's AOC-level wines come from Bordeaux.
Entre-Deux-Mers: This fairly large appellation, whose name means "between two seas," lies between the two tributaries of the Gironde, the Dordogne and the Garonne. The appellation is restricted to dry white wine. Any red wine made from grapes grown here can be labeled only as Bordeaux Rouge. Although small quantities of lesser grapes, such as Ugni Blanc and Colombard, are allowed in Entre-Deux-Mers wines, most producers use high proportions of Sauvignon Blanc, which imparts racy citrusy flavors. This region produces large quantities of very affordable, clean, crisp white wine, light in body and straightforward in flavor. Entre-Deux-Mers whites are very food-compatible, particularly good with seafood.
Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux: Stretching along the northern bank of the Garonne for 37 miles, the Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux produces mostly red wine. Due in part to the high amount of gravel in the soil, some of these reds are quite distinctive.
Fronsac: Across the Dordogne River, on the Right Bank, one of the more important districts is Fronsac. The vineyards are west of the commune of Pomerol, mostly on limestone bluffs and are planted primarily to Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon is also found in many of the wines. The result is complex, fruity wine at very reasonable prices. Some of the better wines come from the sub-appellation of Canon-Fronsac.
Lalande de Pomerol: This small satellite appellation lies just north of Pomerol. The wines, understandably, are like lesser Pomerols--full of Merlot, soft, fruity, and approachable even when young. They often represent excellent value.
Bourg and Blaye: On the right bank of the Gironde lie the large region of Cotes de Blaye, and its smaller neighbor, Cotes de Bourg. These appellations are allowed on both white and red wines, but the majority of the production is red (90 percent). Merlot dominates, and the wines are medium bodied, aromatic, and pleasantly fruity.
Bordeaux: The most general appellation, Bordeaux, can be used for white or red wines made from grapes grown anywhere within the boundaries of this large region. This is also the appellation used if grapes from two or more subdistricts of Bordeaux are blended together and for wines that do not conform to the restrictions of the appellation in which the grapes were grown (e.g., red wine from Entre-Deux-Mers). Even at this regional level, the law spells out specific requirements such as minimum alcohol content and yield per acre.
Bordeaux Superieur: Bordeaux Superieur has 0.5 percent higher minimum alcohol requirement that wines labeled as Bordeaux, and must have lower yields. Moreover, lesser grape varietals are excluded whereas in Bordeaux appellation whites, up to 30 percent can be from these subsidiary grapes.
The region of Bordeaux is an immensely complex and varied wine region, with a long history of wine production and a stellar reputation in the international marketplace. The producers of Bordeaux have become fiercely competitive with each other, and with wine producers the world over. They are astute enough to realize that they must maintain high levels of quality if they are to hold their prominent position in the eyes of wine consumers. As observed by the American wine critic, Robert Parker, "never in the history of Bordeaux have so many estates been making so much fine wine" (Parker, 1991).
Burgundy is much smaller than Bordeaux, produces only half as much wine, but is far more complicated. Burgundy is difficult to comprehend because of the plethora of appellations, maze of ownership patterns, and prevalence of negociant labels. The main complicating factor is the pattern of land-ownership. In Bordeaux, the wine-producing estates are self-sufficient entities in that they grow their own grapes, have the winemaking facility and aging caves on the property (and in many cases, the proprietor's dwelling also), and market the wines under the name of the estate. This is not the case in Burgundy. Each village here has its own appellation, and the vineyards within that village may each have their own individual appellations. Those vineyards may have several owners. For instance, Clos Vougeot, a single 123-acre vineyard of high quality, is subdivided into 100 parcels and has 80 owners (Figure 5-14). Moreover, the winemaking facilities are located in the towns, away from the vineyards. The name under which a wine is marketed may be that of a merchant or negociant, who is in no way connected to the owner of the vineyards where the grapes were grown. The negociant buys grapes or juice from several different growers and blends them together, often to the detriment of distinctive character due to terroir.
The effort to learn about Burgundy's wines is well worth it, however. This region produces elegant and complex whites based on the noble varietal Chardonnay and beautiful, refined reds made entirely of Pinot Noir. Sadly, one must shop for Burgundies carefully for despite high prices, due to limited supply and considerable demand, the quality is not consistent. Part of the problem is the northern location of the region, where continental weather patterns can make grape growing problematic. Another important factor, at least for the reds, is that Pinot Noir is a notoriously finicky and difficult varietal to grow. There is real variation from vintage to vintage and from producer to producer. The wise consumer does his homework and buys Burgundies from good vintages and only from reputable producers. Fortunately, in the past few decades, more moderately priced wines of good quality are being produced in Burgundy. The trend is away from selling to negociants and toward proprietaire labels, that is, wines for which the winemaking, bottling, and marketing are all done by the growers themselves.
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The history of wine production in Burgundy precedes the Roman Empire. There is clear evidence that viticulture was well established here by the second century AD. The region survived the collapse of the Roman Empire and the invasion of barbarian tribes with little disruption to wine production. In fact, the name of the region evolved from one of those tribes. The Burgondes were a little-known people who migrated from Germany in the second half of the fifth century and stayed in the area well into the next century. At that time (approximately AD 530), they were absorbed into the Frankish kingdom after being defeated in battle (Coates, 2000). Over the next thousand years, as Burgundy evolved first into an independent kingdom which lasted until the early eighth century, and then an autonomous duchy enlarging its boundaries and its power into the Middle Ages through carefully negotiated dynastic marriages, the most important single factor in the development of the region was the ever-increasing influence of the Catholic Church. In no other region of France did the church play such an important role vis-a-vis wine production. The church's vineyard holdings in Burgundy were enormous. Much of the land owned by monasteries and parishes was acquired as gifts from knights of the aristocracy as they left to fight in the Crusades. The knights' hope was that the monks and priests would pray for their souls should they die in battle far from home.
During the Middle Ages, as its landholdings increased, the church played a crucial role in perfecting techniques of viticulture and winemaking. The Cistercian order, for instance, which by 1336 owned over 123 acres (50 hectares) of prime vineyards in the northern part of Burgundy, did extensive systematic research into the relationship among grape varietal, soil and climate conditions, and the wine that resulted. These monks were among the very first to investigate and define the concept of terroir. From their meticulous work evolved the idea of crus (growths), the dividing of vineyards into sections each with its own distinct character. Many of the viticultural steps now practiced in Burgundy, such as pruning, grafting, and soil preparation, were developed by the Cisterians, as were important wine-making techniques (Phillips, 2000).
The invaluable contributions of the Catholic Church continued, as did the expansion of its landholdings, up to the time of the French Revolution and the abolition of the monarchy, at which time the pattern of land ownership in Burgundy changed. After the Revolution, the new government confiscated the lands of the Church and aristocracy, and sold them to the bourgeois families and to the peasants. Shortly thereafter, in 1790, the Napoleonic Code contributed even further to the fragmentation of landholdings by abolishing primogeniture, the age-old custom of leaving all one's holdings to one's oldest son. All children, including daughters, were to receive equal portions of an inheritance. It did not take many generations for a family's landholdings to become very small indeed. In modern-day France, one individual's holding can be as small as a few rows of vines.
After the Napoleonic Wars came to an end in 1815, and new patterns of land ownership were established, while economic and political conditions stabilized throughout France, wine production in Burgundy expanded. With the rise of the bourgeoisie, France's middle class, a new market for Burgundy's wines opened up. Unfortunately, attention to quality and authenticity was not always maintained. It was not unusual for a vintner to expand his production by blending in juice from grapes grown in inferior vineyards, or even grown outside of Burgundy. This type of fraud became even more prevalent as increasing numbers of negociants emerged. With the completion in 1856 of the railroad line that connected northern France to the Midi in the south, it became even easier for unscrupulous businesses to bring in inferior wines, expanding the amount of wine they had to sell but seriously eroding quality.
Before Burgundy could correct the problem of fraud, the region was hit hard by phylloxera. Many of Burgundy's vineyards were wiped out. The one benefit of the phylloxera epidemic was that, when replanting was undertaken on American rootstock, only the most suitable locations were planted, thus eliminating inferior vineyards. Most vineyards are now on slopes leading up from the river valley. The upper reaches of the hills are too exposed and cold for vines, and the low-lying sites along the valley floor are too alluvial and marshy.
The passage of the Appellation d'Origine Controlee laws in 1935 eliminated the worst of the fraud and gave protection to place names within Burgundy. The AOC laws also established standards of viticulture and winemaking. Since the 1980s, there has been a trend away from small growers selling their grapes to negociants, and instead the number of proprietaire labels has increased.
The Classification System of Burgundy
When learning to decipher Burgundy's classification system, it is helpful to think in terms of concentric circles (Figure 5-15), while bearing in mind our maxim about European appellations: "The smaller and more specific the geographic designation, in general, the better and more distinctive the wine." In the case of Burgundy, the outermost concentric circle is the general appellation, Burgundy. The label will say simply "Bourgogne Rouge" or "Bourgogne Blanc" (Figure 5-16). Grapes for this level of wine may be grown anywhere within the region of Burgundy. Burgundy is a small region, with only 98,000 acres (39,676 hectares) under vines, and the grapes used must be the approved varietals of Pinot Noir (for reds) or Chardonnay (for whites). Therefore, a wine labeled as generic Burgundy can still be quite distinctive (Table 5-2).
The next circle in our hypothetical "target" is that of the regional appellation. For these wines, the grapes must all be grown within a specific subregion of Burgundy. An example would be Cote de Beaune or Cote de Nuits-Villages. Sometimes a regional appellation signifies that grapes from vineyards located in two or more villages have been blended together. The next smaller circle is the commune appellation. A commune is a village or town. All the grapes used in a wine labeled with the name of a specific commune must come from vineyards located within the boundaries of that village or town (Figure 5-17).
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The next two levels are for specific single vineyards, often very small indeed. The vineyards that carry their own individual appellation are those that have been officially rated by the authorities. Only in the best regions of Burgundy are there any rated vineyards. Single vineyard appellations are found only in Chablis and the Cote d'Or. The first level of rated vineyards is the premier cru appellation (first growth designation) (Figure 5-18). The label for premier cru wines will show both the name of the vineyard and the name of the commune in which it is located. For instance, "Pommard (the commune) Epenots (the rated vineyard)" or "Beaune (the town) Clos de la Mousse (the rated vineyard)."
The final level of quality for Burgundy, the "bull's eye" of our concentric circles analogy, is the grand cru appellation, or "great growth designation" (Figure 5-19). The grand cru vineyards have been rated by the authorities as the very best sites for growing Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. These vineyards are capable--due to immutable physical factors such as hours of sunshine, protection from cold winds, drainage, and unique make-up of the soil--of producing, year after year, grapes that are superior to those harvested from other vineyards. Wines from grand cru vineyards carry just the name of that vineyard. An example would be "Grands Echezeaux" or "Le Corton." The commune name is not mentioned. Grand cru wines are the creme de la creme of Burgundy's wines. There are only seven grand cru vineyards in Chablis, and 30 in the Cote d'Or.
These vineyards are small in area and their production limited. Needless to say, grand cru wines are very expensive.
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THE WINE REGIONS OF BURGUNDY
Burgundy is divided into six main regions: Cotes de Nuits, Cotes de Beaune (which together are often referred to as the Cote d'Or), Chablis, Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, and Beaujolais. Chablis lies geographically separate from the rest of Burgundy, some 81 miles (131 km) to the northwest. The remaining regions are spread in a contiguous line along the Saone River valley, from the city of Dijon in the north to the city of Lyon in the south. The vineyards are not contiguous, however. Burgundy is not a tightly planted region, as vineyards are planted only on the slopes where vines can flourish.
Chablis is an appellation restricted to dry white wine. These are among the dryest and most elegant wines made from the Chardonnay grape. The climate here is cool enough that the grapes maintain an excellent crisp acidity. The flavors fully evolve because the grapes enjoy a lengthy ripening period as they hang on the vines into fall. However, the vintners must be constantly alert to the danger of frost.
Chablis is a fairly small region, with fewer than 7,000 acres (2,834 hectares) under vines. The soil throughout Chablis is uniform, a unique mix of chalky limestone and clay. This mixture imparts distinctive aromas (hay, apples, wet slate) and flavors unlike those found in Chardonnay grapes grown even a few miles away. There is a minerally, almost flinty, edge to Chablis that perfectly sets off its subtle flavors and crisp acidity. Visually, Chablis whites have a vibrant yellow color with a touch of green at the edge. These wines are superb companions to a wide variety of foods, especially seafood, poultry or pasta in creamy sauces, and certain veal dishes.
Classification within Chablis In 1936, the French authorities began the process of rating the vineyards of Chablis. The very best vineyard sites, on a slope above the town of Chablis, face southwest, thus benefiting from more sun exposure than other locations. On this slope the soil also has a higher level of fossilized oyster shells, which add a subtle but highly desirable extra dimension of complexity to the wines. In 1938, seven vineyards on this slope were awarded the grand cru rating (Figure 5-20). These seven vineyards are very small, averaging less than 40 acres each. Wines made from grapes grown in these vineyards are labeled "Chablis Grand Cru," with the specific vineyard also listed (Table 5-3).
Next in quality are those vineyard sites designated premier cru (Figure 5-21). The original group of 11 premier cru vineyards were classified in 1967. Some of these vineyards actually encompass several subsidiary vineyards, but the authorities streamlined the original list of 26 vineyard sites down to the more comprehensible eleven. In 1986, an additional seven sites were designated premier cru, while one of the original 11 was absorbed into its neighbor. Consequently, there are now a total of 17 premier cru vineyards. The wines from these sites are labeled as "Chablis Premier Cru," with the specific vineyard also listed (Table 5-4).
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Wine made from Chardonnay grapes grown anywhere else within the official boundaries of the Chablis appellation is simply labeled Chablis. These wines must have a minimum of 10 percent alcohol. Approximately 85 percent of the wine produced in the region is classified as generic Chablis.
Several negociant firms produce consistently fine Chablis. Especially reliable sources include Joseph Drouhin, Henri Laroche, and Christian Moreau. Among the best of the proprietaire labels from Chablis are William Fevre, Rene Dauvissat, and Gerard Tremblay.
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Burgundy's Cote d'Or, or Golden Slope, is widely regarded as one of the world's best areas for growing cool-climate grapes. It is only about 30 miles (48 km) long and less than 2.5 miles (4 km) at its widest. Elevation is between 720 and 1,000 feet (219 and 304.8 meters). The hills protect the vineyards from excessive rain and provide south and east facing slopes which catch more sunlight.
The Cote d'Or is divided into two subregions. The northern portion is the Cote de Nuits (named for the town of Nuits-St.-George). The southern portion is the Cote de Beaune (named for the city of Beaune). In general, the Cote de Nuits is famous for its red wines and the Cote de Beaune for its whites. The reds of the Cote de Nuits are big but not tannic, elegant with solid structure, and incredibly complex. The complex melange of aromas and flavors is all the more surprising when one realizes that the wines are made from only one grape, the Pinot Noir. The bouquet is earthy, displaying enticing aromas of mushrooms, root vegetables like beets, or even the typical barnyard aroma of old manure. The fruit is reminiscent of cherries or strawberries. These wines can be consumed as early as 2 to 6 years after the vintage year, but can age very well, often not reaching maturity until 15 or 20 years old.
The whites of the Cote de Beaune are, in the opinion of many experts, the world's most elegant and complex. Made entirely from Chardonnay grapes, Cote de Beaune whites are noted for their complex bouquets of hazelnuts or blanched almonds, apples, appealing vegetable tones of fresh cabbage, and a hint of toast. The flavors are of ripe fruit and toasty oak, perfectly balanced by fresh acidity. The lesser whites of Burgundy are fermented in stainless steel and bottled young, never spending any time in barrels. But the great whites of the Cote de Beaune are both fermented and aged in oak, which adds to their nutty/buttery richness.
The Cote de Nuits
The Cote de Nuits starts in the north with the village of Marsannay, just south of the city of Dijon and continues for 14 miles (22.6 km). There are small quantities of rose and whites wines made here, but the Cote de Nuits is famous for its world-class reds. The important communes of the Cote de Nuits, from north to south, are Marsannay, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St.-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanee, and Nuits-St.-George.
Marsannay This small village just south of Dijon is famous for its rose, a dry wine made from Pinot Noir grapes. The bouquet is of strawberries, and the flavors are clean and fresh. These wines are best served young. Like all roses, Marsannay roses are very good with salty foods, such as ham or anchovies.
Gevrey-Chambertin The name of this commune reflects a common practice in the Cote d'Or: Hyphenating the name of the commune's most famous grand cru vineyard (in this case, Chambertin) (Figure 5-22) to the original name of the commune. Gevrey-Chambertin is an appellation for red wine only. There are eight grand cru vineyards in the commune. Besides Chambertin, the most famous vineyard is Clos de Beze. (A clos is a small walled-in vineyard. It is a common way of naming vineyards in Burgundy.) The soil of the grand crus vineyards varies depending on how high up the hillside the vineyard is located. The primary component is limestone, mixed with some clay and flint. The amount of clay decreases in sites higher up the hills. Gevrey-Chambertin also has 24 premier cru vineyards.
The wines from Gevrey-Chambertin are among the best of Burgundy's reds. They are fullbodied, smooth and very complex. They can age extremely well, often not reaching their prime until fifteen years after the vintage.
Morey-St.-Denis The commune of Morey-St.-Denis produces primarily red wine. Lying between the more famous villages of Gevrey and Chambolle, Morey-St.-Denis is often overlooked. This is a shame as its wines can be as concentrated and refined as the best produced in either of its neighbors. There are four grands cru vineyards in Morey-St.-Denis (plus a tiny portion of one of the most prestigious of Burgundy's grand crus, Bonnes Mares). Clos de la Roche is considered the best of the four, although it is Clos St. Denis that the village of Morey chose to hyphenate to its name. There are also 25 premier cru vineyards in Morey-St.-Denis, located down the hillside from the grand crus. For the most part these vineyards are very small, averaging under 3 acres (1.2 hectares) each.
Chambolle-Musigny A small amount of white wine is made in Chambolle-Musigny, but the commune is renowned for its great reds. The outstanding characteristic of these wines is their aromatic bouquet, reminiscent of strawberries and roses, as well as their finesse and delicacy. Both of Chambolle's grand crus, Bonnes Mares and Musigny, are of very high quality. The soil in both vineyards contains very little clay, a factor that contributes to the delicacy of the wines. There are also 22 premier cru vineyards in Chambolle, covering a total of just over 150 acres (61 hectares). The best of these vineyards is Les Amoureuses, which is at the northern edge of the commune. Also very good is Les Charmes, further south.
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Vougeot Vougeot is a tiny little village with only a couple of dozen inhabitants. The village is dominated by its one grand cru vineyard, Clos de Vougeot, which, at 124 acres, is one of Burgundy's largest rated vineyards. Clos de Vougeot was originally planted by monks in the early twelfth century, and by 1340, the high stone wall enclosing the vineyard was completed. Fully four-fifths of Vougeot's wine production is red wine from this one grand cru vineyard. Because it is so large and is owned by many different entities, the wines of Clos de Vougeot can differ considerably in style.
A tiny amount of white wine has the commune appellation. The remainder is red wine from the 44 acres of premier cru vineyards. Almost no red wine from Vougeot carries the commune appellation. The reds of Vougeot have a distinctive truffle or mushroom hint to their bouquet, and have concentrated flavors.
Flagy-Echezeaux No commune wine is made in this village. Production is almost entirely from its two grand cru vineyards, Echezeaux and Grands-Echezeaux, which together cover 113 acres (45.7 hectares). The smaller one, Grands-Echezeaux, is regarded as the superior vineyard. In both vineyards there is more clay than in other important Cote de Nuits villages, a factor that gives more weight and density to the wines.
Vosne-Romanee This village produces red wine only. According to some wine experts, the Pinot Noir grape achieves its absolute pinnacle of quality in the grand cru wines from VosneRomanee. There are six grands cru vineyards, all of them famous and justly celebrated. These wines are among the world's most expensive. The grand crus are Romanee-Conti, La Romanee, La Tache, Richebourg, Romanee-St.-Vivant, and La Grande Rue. In 1650, a vineyard formerly known as Le Cloux was renamed Romanee, because Roman artifacts had been found nearby. When the vineyard was purchased in 1760 by the Prince of Conti, it was given the name Romanee-Conti. Lying on the slope right above it is La Romanee (Figure 5-23). In both vineyards, the soil is primarily calcareous with up to 45 percent clay. The resulting wines have a superb balance of concentration and refinement. Fewer than 1,000 cases of wine from these two legendary vineyards are made each year.
In a pattern unusual for Burgundy, several of Vosne's grand crus have only one owner. Romanee-Conti is entirely owned by Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, and La Romanee by the Liger Belair family. La Tache (15 acres/6.1 hectares) is also entirely owned by Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. The tiny vineyard of La Grande Rue (3.5 acres/1.4 hectares) is owned by Domaine Lamarche. More typically, the other two grands crus each have several owners, six in the case of Romanee-St.-Vivant and 10 in the case of the even smaller (22 acres/8.9 hectares) Richebourg.
Nuits-St.-Georges In the industrialized town of Nuits-St.-Georges there are no grand cru vineyards, but there are many fine wines made at the premier cru and village levels of quality. There are an impressive 28 premier crus within the boundaries of the town, plus an additional 13 in the adjoining town that are entitled to use the Nuits-St.-Georges appellation. Many of the premier crus lie north of the town, near Vosne. These vineyards cover a wide swath, north to south, on top of a steep slope. The soil here is primarily iron-rich limestone, like that of the Vosne grand cru vineyards. The best of these premier crus produce elegant, subtle wines similar in character to their grand cru neighbors in Vosne. South of the town of Nuits-St.-Georges, the vineyards are planted on gentler slopes, where the soil tends to have a higher clay content. The wines from these vineyards are a bit fuller bodied and more concentrated.
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Cote de Beaune Since the Cote de Beaune is so famous for its elegant, complex whites--with one exception, all the Grand Cru vineyards are white--it is often forgotten that threequarters of the production here is red wine. These reds are not as full, velvety, refined, and multifaceted, nor as long-lived, as those of the Cote de Nuits. However, Cote de Beaune reds can be very appealing, with vibrant fruit, silky texture, and quiet refinement. The Cote de Beaune is a large region, more than twice the size of the Cote de Nuits, stretching some 71 miles (114.5 km) from north to south. The hills here have gentler slopes and face primarily southeast.
Cote de Beaune-Villages In the French appellation system, the word villages affixed to a regional appellation indicates that the vineyards are of higher quality than those in surrounding areas. Thus, Cote de Beaune-Villages is a more distinctive appellation than Cote de Beaune. In fact, only 74 acres (30 hectares) of vineyards are designated Cote de Beaune, and the wine is not particularly good. Sixteen villages are included in the Cote de Beaune appellation. Many of these villages are of high enough quality that they also have their own appellation, but when grapes from two or more villages are blended together, the only appellation allowed is Cote de Beaune-Villages. Many of these wines, both red and white, represent very good value.
Aloxe-Corton This commune produces primarily reds, but some superb whites are made here. It is home to Burgundy's largest grand cru vineyard, Corton. This famous vineyard, which is spread over three communes, is close to 400 acres (162 hectares) in size. Its ownership is spread among many entities, including the negociant firm, Louis Latour. To further complicate matters, this vineyard produces both grand cru red, usually labeled as Le Corton, and grand cru white, which is labeled as Corton.
The Pinot Noir in the Corton vineyard is planted on heavier soil with a preponderance of clay. The resulting red wines seem to have the heft of Cote de Nuits reds combined with the grace and vibrancy of Cote de Beaune reds. The Chardonnay grapes are planted in higher sections of the Corton vineyard and its adjacent grand cru, Corton-Charlemagne, where the soil is lighter and finer, full of chalk and pebbles. These whites have wonderfully appealing aromas of almonds, fruits, and delicate flowers, and are rich and weighty on the palate.
There is a minuscule amount of premier cru Aloxe produced from the 100 acres (40.5 hectares) so classified. An insignificant amount of commune-level Aloxe is also produced.
Savigny-les-Beaune The commune of Savigny is one of the larger villages in the Cote de Beaune. It has nineteen premier cru vineyards and produces mostly reds that are fruity and charming.
Beaune The city of Beaune is the center of the Burgundy wine trade. It is an ancient walled city with the distinct feel of medieval times, but it is bustling with commerce and wine-oriented activities. The appellation to which the city lends its name is a large one, with 13,300 acres (5,263 hectares) of vines. Over 90 percent of production is red wines with pleasing bouquets of cherry, medium-bodied with lively fruit. There are 42 premier cru vineyards, covering almost 800 acres (324 hectares), but there are no grand crus.
The soil content among these many premier crus is complicated and varied. The soil structure is based on limestone, but to the north, near Savigny, the soil is very thin and the vine roots have to reach deep for nutrients. The result is wines that are intensely flavored and concentrated, with good structure. Among the best of these vineyards north of the city are Marconnet and Bressandes. As one moves into the middle section of premier crus, to the west of the city, the soil becomes more gravelly and less thin. The wines from these vineyards are riper, rounder, and more succulent. The best-known vineyard here is appropriately named Greves, meaning gravel. To the south of the city, the soil has less gravel and more clay. The wines are fuller-bodied, softer and fruitier, and quicker to mature. The best of these vineyards are Clos de Mouche (which produces both whites and reds) and Chouacheux.
Pommard Pommard and its neighbor to the south, Volnay, are home to the best reds in the Cote de Beaune after those from the grand cru, Le Corton. The name Pommard comes from the French word for apple, but there are almost no apple orchards left. All available agricultural land has long been planted to wine grapes. There are 832 acres (337 hectares) of vines, of which 275 acres (111 hectares), or about one-third, are rated as premier cru. The reds of Pommard are among Burgundy's most popular because they are easy to drink, silky and full of fruit, and show lively acidity. They can be enjoyed while still quite young. Among the best of Pommard's premier crus are Epenots and Rugiens.
Volnay The reds of Volnay are justly famous for their charm and seductive fruit. Some writers refer to Volnays as among the world's most feminine red wines. A perfect illustration of the overall quality of Volnay's vineyards is that, of its 527 acres (213 hectares), over half (284 acres/115 hectares) are rated at the premier cru level. Like Pommard, Volnay is well balanced and approachable when young, full of vibrant, berrylike fruit. Of the 34 premier crus in Volnay, the best known are Clos de la Bousse d'Or and Les Caillerets.
St. Aubin This often overlooked village lies to the west of Chassagne and Puligny, up behind a little hill. It is gaining quite a reputation for its wines, especially its appealing whites with their distinctive nutty, appley flavors. These wines are considerably less expensive than the whites of its prestigious neighboring villages to the east. The reds of St. Aubin are pleasant and full of pleasant cherry/berry fruit.
Santenay Santenay is the southernmost village of importance in the Cote de Beaune. It is a fairly large commune with 975 acres (395 hectares) under vine. In most vineyards the soil has considerable marl mixed in with the limestone. There are eleven premier cru vineyards, spread over 346 acres (140 hectares). Santenay's production is 90 percent red. Santenay reds are charming: medium bodied, fruity, and very pleasant, albeit a little more rustic than Volnay. Joseph Drouhin, the negociant, makes a particularly appealing Santenay.
The southern edge of the Cote de Beaune marks the end of Burgundy's prestigious appellations, with its world-class wines. That does not mean, however, that there are no more wines worth seeking out. Many excellent wines are produced in the southern regions of Burgundy. Immediately south of the Cote de Beaune, the region of Cotes Chalonnaise begins. The region is named for the town of Chalone on the Saone River. The vineyards are planted on hillsides a little east of where the vineyards of the Cote de Beaune end. The soil on these hills is similar to the soils of the southern communes of the Cote de Beaune--a mixture of gravel and marl on limestone. The wines of the Chalonnaise lack the elegance, depth, and longevity of those from the Cote d'Or, but they can be charming, balanced, and appealing. These wines are also excellent values.
In the Cote Chalonnaise, there are four commune appellations of particular importance. Moving from north to south these villages are Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.
Rully The village of Rully produces approximately equal quantities of red and white wines. Its vineyards are also a good source for the sparkling wine of the Burgundy region, Cremant de Bourgogne. There are 19 vineyards rated as premier cru. The whites of Rully are fresh and clean with apple flavors, and can be drunk young. Several negociants are using oak aging to round out their Rully whites. One example is Joseph Drouhin, whose Rully Blanc is particu-larly well made. Rully reds are medium-bodied and have strawberry aromas and pleasant fruit.
Mercurey The vineyards of Mercurey begin just south of Rully. There is more clay and iron in the soil here, and the resulting Pinot Noirs are fuller, rounder, and have more cherry/berry nuances than Rully reds. Mercurey was granted AOC status in 1936 and has maintained its reputation for solid, attractive reds that are eminently affordable. They age well and should be allowed to mature before being drunk. Four to eight years after the vintage is recommended. Some white wine is also produced in Mercurey.
Givry This small village, which produces mostly red wine, lies a few miles west of the town of Chalone. The soil here begins to shift away from the clay and marl which sits atop the limestone base of the Cote d'Or. At Givry a sandy, lighter limestone is evident. The Pinot Noirs are simpler than those of Mercurey, but have more depth than the reds of Rully. There are 540 acres (219 hectares) of vineyards in the commune of Givry, one-sixth of which were recently designated as premier cru.
Montagny All wines from Montagny are white. The wines are light to medium bodied, have crisp acidity, and are made to be drunk young. The designation premier cru on a Montagny does not indicate a superior vineyard site, but rather is assurance that the wine has attained an alcohol level of at least 11.5 percent.
The Maconnais region, surrounding the small town of Macon, marks the transition, climatically and geologically, from northern to southern France. Although winters can be very cold and spring chilly enough that frost can be a concern, the summers are sunny and balmy. The limestone base of farther north is still present, but the topsoil is more sandy and less chalky, with patches of granite. The majority of Maconnais wines are white. They are primarily Chardonnay, but another grape, Aligote, is also allowed. Red wines, which represent only about 15 percent of production, are made from Pinot Noir or Gamay. Gamay-based red wines are fruitier, softer, and lighter bodied than Pinot Noirs. The vineyards all lie to the west of the Saone River, which flows south past the town of Macon and through the Beaujolais region.
Macon-Villages Grapes grown in any of 43 villages can be blended together to make Macon-Villages. If a wine is made exclusively from grapes grown in one village, the label can show that village's name (e.g., Macon-Vire or Macon-Lugny). Macon-Villages is a pleasant, light wine, perfect for everyday consumption. Several negociants make nice Macon-Villages, including Louis Jadot, Joseph Drouhin, and Georges DuBoeuf.
Pouilly-Fuisse In the United States, Pouilly-Fuisse is perhaps the most recognized of any Burgundy wine (Figure 5-24). It is now ubiquitous on wine lists and in liquor stores, probably because it is made in large quantities, is affordable, and can be quite distinctive with its nutty aromas, fresh apple/lemon flavors, and good acidity. There are 2,100 acres (850 hectares) in this appellation, and they are planted exclusively to Chardonnay. There are no officially rated premier cru vineyards, although a producer can list a specific vineyard on the label if desired. One of the most renowned producers of Pouilly-Fuisse is Chateau de Fuisse, a proprietaire label.
At the town of Pouilly, the limestone plateau on which all Burgundy vineyards to the north are located starts to level out and disappear. From here on to the south, the base is granite rock, with topsoil of chalk or clay.
St. Veran The appellation St. Veran was approved in 1971. It was carved out of areas that previously made Macon-Villages or Beaujolais Blanc. The soil is chalky. The wine, all white, is light and crisp and best consumed young. St. Veran is very affordable.
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Beaujolais is classified as part of Burgundy, although the climate and soil are different, it is in a different departement than the rest of Burgundy, and the primary grape is Gamay, not Pinot Noir. The style of the wine is entirely different. However, this large region is treated as a subdistrict of Burgundy.
Beaujolais is one of the most popular red wines in many countries around the world. One reason, of course, is that Gamay makes easy-to-drink reds with cherry/raspberry fruitiness, soft tannins, and light body. Another is that it is widely available--12.5 million cases of Beaujolais are produced annually from 49,540 acres (20,057 hectares) of vines. Also helpful is the annual widely publicized release of Beaujolais Nouveau (Figure 5-25), a very light, simple wine that, by tradition, is released by mid-November. Since the wine is only a few weeks old at the time of release, it is termed nouveau, or new. As much as 50 percent of a Beaujolais producer's wine is released as Beaujolais Nouveau, which is helpful to the producer from a cash-flow viewpoint. Most producers export as much as one-half of their nouveau.
The portion of any vintage year's wine that is not sold as nouveau is released starting the next spring. In ascending order of quality, Beaujolais is classified as AOC Beaujolais, Beaujolais Superieur (higher minimum alcohol content; rarely exported), Beaujolais-Villages, and Cru Beaujolais (from specific villages whose vineyards have been judged to be better than those in surrounding areas).
The Winemaking Process in Beaujolais As stated earlier, Gamay grapes make soft, easy-to-drink wines with lots of fresh fruit flavors. However, Beaujolais is even softer and fruiter than Gamay-based wines made elsewhere because of a unique winemaking process employed in this region, carbonic maceration. With this method, whole bunches of uncrushed grapes are placed in a container from which oxygen has been removed by pumping in carbon dioxide. A mini-fermentation takes place inside each berry, producing very small quantities of alcohol while also reducing the tart malic acid and releasing aromatic flavorful compounds. Eventually the weight of the bunches at the top of the fermentation tank will crush the grapes on the bottom, thus releasing their juices. Normal fermentation will commence at that level, while carbonic maceration continues at the upper levels. After a short time, the winemaker will allow oxygen into the tank, and the entire batch will complete the sugartoalcohol fermentation. The portion that went through carbonic maceration allows the whole batch to be softer and more vividly fruity than would have otherwise been the case. The Beaujolais (other than nouveau) is then allowed to age in oak barrels for anywhere from a few weeks to several months before being released for sale.
Cru Beaujolais In the Beaujolais region there are ten villages where conditions are judged to be ideal for Gamay grapes. The wine from these towns is deeper in color, has more weight and substance, and is longer-lived than wine at the other levels of Beaujolais. The soil in these ten towns is granite-schist based with topsoil containing varying amounts of sand, clay, and chalk. The wines from these top vineyards have bouquets of flowers and fresh berries. The color is cherry red with hints of violet. They are fuller bodied and deeper in flavor than other Beaujolais, but still much lighter than Pinot Noir-based wines. A Cru Beaujolais shows the name of the village on the label.
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The northernmost village designated as Cru Beaujolais is St. Amour, only a few miles south of St. Veran in the Maconnais. Its wines are light and pretty. Further south and to the west is Julienas, whose wines are often overlooked, but which can be very good, with strong hints of raspberry in the nose and on the palate. Just south of Julienas is Chenas. Because the soils of these two villages is almost identical, their wines are quite similar in character, with Chenas wines having slightly less weight. Next are the vineyards of Moulin-a-Vent, named for the large ancient windmill nearby (Figure 5-26). The Moulin-a-Vent wines are the most impressive, fuller, more complex, and able to take a surprising amount of aging. They also tend to be the most expensive of the Crus. The next villages south are Fleurie and Morgon, two villages very close to each other, and with similar wines--very fruity and nicely structured. Lying a few miles to the west are the villages of Chiroubles and Regnie. The latter is the newest Cru, having been elevated to that designation only in 1988. South of Regnie is the village of Brouilly, the largest of the Crus. Its wines are the lightest in body and fairly simple. Slightly to the east, on the slope of Mount Brouilly, are the vineyards of Cote de Brouilly. This is the southernmost of the Crus. The wine from these vineyards has pleasant flowery aromas and a bit more heft than Brouilly.
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A comparison of the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy can be seen in Table 5-5.
Cotes du Rhone
The region along the Rhone River in southern France is an ancient wine-producing area (Figure 5-27). It is believed that vines were planted here as early as 600 BC by Greeks. The valley of the Rhone extends from the city of Lyon in the north where it is joined by the River Saone, and extends south for approximately 120 miles (194 km) to the city of Avignon. For much of the length of the river the valley is bursting with commercial activity and is heavily industrialized. The areas down by the river banks are not promising for growing quality grapes. However, if one climbs up the slopes (the cotes) on either side of the river, the topography changes drastically. Along the northern section one discovers open rolling agricultural land, while in southern sections, an ascent of the slopes reveals rugged, dry quiet open spaces of scrub oak and heather. This is where the vineyards are located.
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THE HISTORY OF THE RHONE VALLEY
Although introduced by the Greeks, viticulture did not take hold in the valley along the Rhone until many centuries later, in the early Christian period, when wine was exported to Rome. After the decline of the Roman Empire, winemaking essentially disappeared until the popes moved to Avignon, as discussed earlier in this chapter.
Historically, perhaps the most significant contribution to French wine production to emerge from the Cotes du Rhone is the work done by Baron LeRoy of Chateau Fortia on quality control laws. It was the baron who, after the First World War, led an orderly revolt against the desecration of the appellation Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The region was famous for its big, robust red wines, and the name, with its quaint history of popes and summer castles, was well known and memorable. The temptation to falsely label inferior wine as Chateauneuf-du-Pape in order to receive a higher price was hard to resist. This type of fraud was widespread when the baron assembled his fellow vintners. Under his expert guidance, the group set out to define their own boundaries and to set prescriptions on which grapes could be planted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. They also decreed certain viticultural pratices that they knew worked well in their region. They outlined minimum ripeness at harvest and many other factors that were critical to quality and authenticity. The system of laws and regulations devised by Baron LeRoy's group eventually became the model for the national system of quality control laws adopted in 1936.
THE TERROIR OF THE COTES DU RHONE
Geographically and climatically it makes sense to separate the Rhone into two regions, the Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhone. The entire region is a warm, dry region whose climate is influenced by the Mediterranean Sea. But the North is definitely cooler, and the vineyards there cling to the stony soil of steep hillsides. The narrow northern section extends from Lyon to the village of Valence, a distance of about 45 miles (72.6 km). For the next several miles, there are no vineyards. The soil is not suited for wine grapes. The southern section begins south of the town of Montelimar and continues on south of Avignon, into the delta of the river. The climate is definitely Mediterranean, very warm and sunny and dry. The soil is more alluvial with a complex mixture of gravel, sand, clay, and limestone left as glaciers receded millions of years ago, and then moved and ground up and redeposited as the river changed course repeatedly over the centuries.
There is considerable variation among soil types and climatic patterns in the northern section of the Rhone Valley. In the northernmost sites, vineyards are protected from drying hot winds by tall ridges on the west side of the river. Cooler temperatures make for higher acidity and lower alcohol in the wines. The soil on these sheltering ridges is mostly granite. Further south, the prevailing winds are a little warmer, and the soil less stony, and more calcareous. From vineyard to vineyard, there are varying amounts of sand, clay, and chalk. The differences in terroir come through in the widely varying character of the fine wines made here. In the southern Rhone, there is even more variation among soil types from commune to commune. The principle grape varietals of the Northern Rhone are Syrah for reds and Viognier for whites. The Syrah grape is one of the noble varietals, producing full-bodied wines famous for their deep color, tannic structure, and glorious aromas of blackberries, spice, and tar. Tight and austere when young, Syrah-based reds will open up to show warm, accessible flavors when mature. Viognier is considered by some to be one of the noble white varietals. The grapes are a deep yellow color, and the resulting wines are vivid in color and high in alcohol, possessing an intriguing bouquet of peach, almonds, and spring flowers. The wines are usually very dry and show excellent acidity.
The southern section of the Rhone valley is much larger than the northern one. The total acreage for the entire Rhone appellation is almost 150,000 acres (60,728 hectares). Of that, only 5,900 acres (2,389 hectares) are in the nine communes and crus of the Northern Rhone. The rest is in the very large, highly varied region of the Southern Rhone. The variation in soil among the many communes and individual vineyard sites of the Southern Rhone is tremendous, and will be pointed out in the discussion of appellations below.
The vineyards of the Southern Rhone support a much more complex array of grape varietals. Whereas the wines of the Northern Rhone, both reds and whites, are mostly single-varietal, those of the Southern Rhone are blends of several varietals. In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, for instance, 13 different grapes are authorized. The principle red grape of the southern appellations is the Grenache, a noble varietal that thrives in warm, sunny climates. It produces soft, mellow, round reds with succulent ripe plum flavors and a distinct aroma of fresh-ground black pepper. Other varietals used for blending in the Southern Rhone are Mourvedre and Cinsault, both red grapes, and Marsanne and Roussanne, white grapes. Syrah is also often blended into Southern Rhone reds.
THE APPELLATIONS OF THE COTES DU RHONE
The appellations of the Rhone fall into three quality levels.
Cotes du Rhone: Almost 98,000 acres (39,676 hectares), scattered in peripheral sections of the Southern Rhone, are classified simply as Cotes du Rhone. With 7 million cases of generic Cotes du Rhone produced annually (the vast majority of it red), quality can vary widely. Some wines are heavy, dense, highly alcoholic, and even a bit rustic. This style is disappearing, however, as producers, most of whom are either negociants or local cooperatives of growers, improve their wine-making equipment and techniques and use lower percentages of the coarser local grapes in favor of higher quantities of noble varietals to turn out softer, smoother, classier wines of medium body, good balance, and nice black fruit. The newer style of wine labeled as plain Cotes du Rhone can be an excellent value.
Cotes du Rhone-Villages: The standards at this level are higher, and certain requirements must be met. Most importantly, the yield of grapes per acre must be lower, and the minimum alcohol content is higher. There are 30 villages included within this appellation, sixteen of which are authorized to add their village name to the label.
Commune: The best wines from throughout the Rhone valley carry the name of the commune or village where the vineyards are located. Twenty-five percent of the Rhone's wines are labeled by commune. In some cases, a specific vineyard will also be included. Although there is no system for rating vineyards as premier or grand cru, the very best vineyard sites, especially in the Northern Rhone, are well known, and can be shown on the label, thus adding considerably to the value of the bottles so labeled.
The Northern Rhone
Moving from north to south, the important communes of the Northern Rhone are Cote Rotie, Condrieu, Chateau-Grillet, St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas, and St. Peray (Table 5-6).
Cote Rotie This commune's name translates as "the roasted slope," an apt name as the vineyards here receive excellent sunshine from their southeastern exposure on the steep ridges. The combination of hours a day of sun, stony minerally soil, and moderate temperatures results in the great red wines of unusual power and finesse for which the Cote Rotie is justly famous. The world has discovered these wines, and they are not as affordable as they were 15 or 20 years ago.
The 320 acres (130 hectares) of vineyards in the Cote Rotie are planted primarily to Syrah, with some Viognier also showing up. As much as 20 percent Viognier is allowed to be added to the red wines for aromatics and delicacy. However, most producers add less than that. The wines are typically medium to full bodied, deep in color, redolent of blackberries and currants, and incredibly long-lived. The best of these big red wines will hold their own for 20 years or more. The best-known producer in the Cote Rotie is the Guigal company, now headed by Marcel Guigal (Figure 5-28), the son of the founder, Etienne. Two of the very best vineyards in the region are owned by the Guigals, La Landonne and La Mouline. Some feel that the high quality of the Guigal wines and the great reviews writers have given these wines, coupled with the ener getic and competent marketing efforts of Etienne and his son, were the impetus behind the international rediscovery of the Cote Rotie region in the past two decades.
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Condrieu The elegant, flinty, and highly aromatic Condrieu whites have become some of the world's most expensive dry white wines. This is as much because of scarcity as quality. The Condrieu appellation is small, only 200 acres (81 hectares) of Viognier vineyards clinging to the west bank of the Rhone River. The ripe peach, melon, and honey flavors are held together by good acidity. However, there is not adequate acidity to allow the wines to age well. Therefore, Condrieu whites are best consumed between 18 months and 4 years after the vintage.
Chateau-Grillet Chateau-Grillet is France's smallest appellation (fewer than 10 acres/ 4 hectares) and one of the very few single-owner appellations (the Neyret-Gachet family has owned Grillet since its inception). Chateau-Grillet is an enclave within the Condrieu appellation. Chateau-Grillet's vineyard is a bowl carved out of a granite slope and carefully terraced to afford the Viognier vines a foothold. Chateau-Grillet is somewhat less perfumed and a bit more acidic than Condrieu, and thus can age longer.
This is a fairly large appellation, stretching 40 miles (64.5 km) along the west bank of the Rhone. The production of St. Joseph is 80 percent red wines. These reds, made from Syrah grapes, are medium bodied and full of berry and red currant flavors. Their acid and tannic structure is not adequate to allow long-term aging; the wines are at their best within 3 to 6 years of vintage. The proprietaire Andeol Salavert makes a particularly warm and flavorful St. Joseph.
This is the largest appellation in the Northern Rhone, with just over 3,000 acres (1,215 hectares) of vines. Annual production is over 400,000 cases of wine, 90 percent of which is red. These wines are made from Syrah grapes to which two white varietals, Marsanne and Roussanne, are added to make the wine more delicate. There are 11 communes within this appellation. (The name is from one of these villages, Crozes.) Crozes-Hermitage could be called the poor man's Hermitage, for it is more affordable than its prestigious neighbor. Although lighter than many Syrahs, Crozes-Hermitage can be quite good, with ripe berry fruit mingled with peppery spiciness. Given 5 years to mature, a Crozes-Hermitage can be a fine accompaniment to a fullflavored dinner.
The story behind the name Hermitage is another example of a predilection for folklore, or at best, a tendency to embellish history. Apparently, a French knight who went to fight in the Middle East during the Crusades came home to the south of France in 1220 feeling so guilty about the ravages imposed on the conquered people and their countries that he vowed to spend the rest of his life as a hermit, praying for redemption. He bought some land on the east slopes of the Rhone, built a small chapel (Figure 5-29), and prayed devoutly. Eventually, the hermit wanted wine to drink, so he planted grapevines and began to make very good wine. The peasant families nearby followed suit, and the region around this hermit's chapel eventually became known as Hermitage. In fact, one of the region's better vineyards, now owned by the negociant Paul Jaboulet is named La Chapelle (the chapel).
Regardless of the truth of the legend, it is an indisputable fact that the wine from Hermitage is superb. The hermit chose his site well, for the hill on which he planted is solid granite covered with a thin but complex layer of chalk and decomposed flint. To some connoisseurs, Hermitage is as good, as elegant, as complex and noble as the best reds from Bordeaux or Burgundy. In Hermitage, Syrah reaches its pinnacle of quality. Hermitage is deeply colored, beautifully structured, and full bodied. The nose is redolent of blackberries and raspberries, and on the palate the multiple layers of flavor open. Although the wine is a big, muscular wine, the impression is one of finesse and mystery. Able to age incredibly well, the best Hermitage is not really mature and fully accessible for 20 years or more.
Located south of St. Joseph on the west banks of the Rhone, Cornas has 173 acres (70 hectares) of Syrah planted on steep granite slopes. The hills give shelter from the cold north winds while affording the vines plenty of sun from the southeastern exposure. The terraced vineyards have a top layer of limestone. The best Cornas is deeply flavored, full bodied, and harmonious. It can hold its own against the wines from the more illustrious commune across the river, Hermitage, and is far more affordable.
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The Southern Cotes du Rhone
Whereas the communes and crus of the Northern Rhone are compact and dense, the Southern Rhone's appellations spread out in a huge lopsided circle from the town of Montelimar in the north along the Rhone and its tributaries all the way south to the city of Avignon, with a long bulging arm reaching east and south along the Durance River. In this enormous region of almost 100,000 acres (40,485 hectares) of vineyards, there is tremendous variation in terroir and styles of wine. Approximately 85 percent of the wine made here is red. About 5 percent is dry white. There is also some very good rose made, and very small quantities of fortified dessert wine. From north to south, the most important appellations of the Southern Rhone are Coteaux de Tricastan, Gigondas, Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise, Vacqueyras, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Tavel, Cotes du Ventoux, and Cotes du Luberon.
COTEAUX DE TRICASTAN
This region on the eastern fringe of the Rhone valley produces pleasant reds and dry roses. The reds are blended from the traditional grapes of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and two lesser varietals. Several white varietals are also allowed to be added. The rose is primarily Grenache with white grapes blended in. The climate is decidedly Mediterranean, but because of altitude and exposed terrain, the grapes do not ripen as much as in surrounding areas classified as Cotes du Rhone. Tricastan wines, therefore, are not as forward in their fruitiness, and are more acidic than generic Cotes-du-Rhone.
Located at the foot of the limestone-rich Dentelle mountains, Gigondas produces primarily red wines from its red clay soils. Despite having adopted some of the same stringent requirements as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas spent several decades as part of the general Cotes du Rhone appellation, much to the commercial disadvantage of the district. In 1966, it was elevated to the Cotes du Rhone-Villages classification. Not until 1971 did Gigondas receive its own AOC designation. The regulations stipulate that Gigondas reds can be no more than 80 percent Grenache. The balance is Mourvedre and/or Syrah. Rarely as distinguished a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas can represent good value.
The vin doux naturel Beaumes-de-Venise is one of France's prettiest dessert wines. It is made by arresting the fermentation of the Muscat grapes with neutral alcohol, which kills the yeast cells. The residual, or unfermented, sugars give the wine a delightful natural sweetness. The wine is medium bodied, honeyed, and fairly high in alcohol (15 percent minimum).
Elevated to AOC status only in 1990, Vacqueryas makes reds, whites and rose. Only a tiny portion of the 1,700 acres (688 hectares) is planted to white varietals. The reds are medium-bodied blends with pleasant berry, spice, and floral tones. At least half the blend must be Grenache. Vacqueryas resembles concentrated Cotes du Rhone Villages.
The most celebrated of the Southern Rhone appellations, Chateauneuf-du-Pape has become increasingly popular in the past two decades. Although this is a large appellation--over a million cases each year--the standards are high. The vintners of Chateauneuf imposed on themselves stringent requirements including a very low yield per hectare, a high minimum alcohol content (12.5 percent), and the practice during harvest of the grape-sorting technique known as triage, by which at least 5 percent of the grapes must be rejected before fermentation begins. This way the substandard grapes, whether under-ripe, too ripe, or diseased, never find their way into the final batch. Triage is an expensive and labor-intensive process, but it is helpful in maintaining the highest quality.
The vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are on gently sloping hillsides that provide good drainage and exposure to the sun. The soil of reddish clay is covered with large pebbles that retain the day's heat (Figure 5-30) and reflect it back onto the grapes in the cool evenings, thus helping them to fully ripen. Only 3 percent of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is white, made from white Grenache, Roussanne, and several lesser grapes. The reds are immensely complex wines blended typically from 50 to 70 percent Grenache, 10 to 30 percent Syrah, up to 20 percent Mourvedre and other reds, and up to 10 percent white varietals. These are deeply colored, full-bodied wines with incredible bouquets reminiscent of everything from blackberries, figs, cinnamon, and cloves to tar, coffee, and cedar. Many of the better wines can age for decades.
The producers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are usually self-sufficient estates similar to Bordeaux's, in which the vineyards, wine-making facilities, and aging cave are all at one location and under one ownership. Each of the famous estates has its own recognizable style, some more fruit-driven, some austere and age-worthy. Among the best producers are Chateau Fortia, Chateau de Beaucastel, Chante-Perdrix, Chateau la Nerthe, and Domaine de Mont Redon.
The appellation Tavel is restricted to rose made from Grenache (no more than 60 percent) and Cinsault (at least 15 percent) and several local grapes. The clay-based soil and warm climate produce medium-bodied, flavorful roses. The wine is surprisingly dry and fruity, and a versatile food wine.
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COTES DU VENTOUX
The large sprawling region of Cotes du Ventoux takes its name from the 6,500-foot (1,981meter) high Mount Ventoux which towers over the area. The appellation contains over 18,000 acres (7,287 hectares) of vines, the best of which are on the flanks of the mountain. Elevated to AOC status in 1973, Cotes du Ventoux produces mostly red, plus some rose, wines made from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. A typical Cotes-du-Ventoux is a pleasant lighter wine intended for early consumption. One of the best examples available is the brand La Vielle Ferme which seems to have more extraction and more care in the making.
COTES DU LUBERON
Stretching from the southern boundary of the Cotes du Ventoux to the banks of the Durance River in the south, the Cotes du Luberon appellation was created in 1988 and contains 7,410 acres (3,000 hectares) of vines. The wines are of all three colors. The reds, light and juicy, must contain some Syrah, blended with Grenache, Mourvedre, and other traditional varietals. The whites, dry and clean, cannot contain more than 50 percent of Ugni Blanc (a lesser grape used to make brandy) and can have five other grapes blended in. The roses are mostly Grenache and are soft, fruity, and pretty. Stylistically, the Cotes du Luberon creates a bridge between the wines of the Rhone and those of Provence.
No appellation in the history of wine has been more misused than the term Champagne. Champagne is not merely a type of wine. It is a geographic region in France, and only wine made in a specific method from specified grape varietals grown inside the boundaries of that region is technically Champagne. The Office of Champagne USA, a branch of the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, has devised, with the help of a New York agency, a very clever print advertising campaign to make the point that not all sparkling wine is Champagne. "Valencia oranges from Maine?" asks one of the ads. "Alaska salmon from Florida?" The essential point the ads make is that Champagne is from Champagne. Sparkling wine made elsewhere is not Champagne.
The advertising campaign may be fun and playful, but it does make a solid point: Geographic factors, unique to specific locations, do affect the character of the products raised or captured there. In the case of the Champagne region, the differentiating characteristic are its unique soil, a mixture of clay and chalk, and its climate as one of the northernmost fine wine regions in the world. There is no terroir quite like Champagne's. So although very fine sparkling wines are made elsewhere in the world, they will not be quite like Champagne.
THE HISTORY OF CHAMPAGNE
Champagne was not always famous for its sparkling wine. Rather it started out in the time of the Roman Empire as a producer of still white wines most of which were consumed by Roman legions. After the decline of the empire, communications with other regions deteriorated, commerce was interrupted, vineyards were destroyed, and winemaking disappeared. As Christianity moved into northern Europe, winemaking re-emerged, receiving a huge boost when Clovis, King of the Franks, was converted to Christianity by the Bishop of Rheims, the major city of Champagne. The baptism of Clovis in AD 460 is said to have taken place where the magnificent Cathedral of Rheims now stands. With the support of the church, the vineyards of Champagne flourished, wine-making techniques were perfected, and markets for the wine were expanded. (Paris is only 90 miles, 145 km away.)
It was monks who rescued the vineyards of Champagne, and it was a monk who developed the style of wine for which the region has become famous (Figure 5-31). Dom Perignon did not invent Champagne. What he did do was lend his viticultural genius to sorting out which grapes to plant and how best to tend them, and he perfected numerous wine-making procedures.
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Pierre Perignon was born in 1638 and, at a young age, entered a monastery near Epernay in Champagne, where he stayed until his death in 1715. During his long tenure as cellar master, Dom Perignon greatly improved the quality of the wine made at the monastery. His greatest discovery was a process for capturing effervescence in the glass bottles by allowing a second sugartoalcohol fermentation to proceed. The by-product of fermentation is carbon dioxide, which remained trapped in the bottle. It can not be proven that Dom Perignon was the very first to bottle an effervescent wine, but there is no doubt that he greatly improved the quality of wines from the Champagne region.
The sparkling wine of Champagne did not find immediate favor, but once it was discovered by the fun-loving aristocracy surrounding the royal court in the late eighteenth century, Champagne soon became the wine of celebration. New markets opened in continental Europe, the British Isles, and even as far away as Russia. Over the next 150 years, demand for Champagne increased at such a rate than demand could not keep up. Some producers started expanding production with inferior grapes brought in from other growing areas. Fraud became so widespread that the legitimate growers of the Champagne region revolted in 1911, demanding protection of their place name.
In 1927 the French government did implement laws spelling out the exact boundaries of the Champagne region. With the passage in 1935 of the national Appellation d'Origin Controlee laws, the Champagne name received full protection, as did the quality of the product. In 1941, even with the Second World War raging, the vintners of Champagne formed a trade association, the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), to give further protection to the authenticity and prestige of the appellation. The CIVC remains active today, both in the Champagne region overseeing production and pricing, and in markets around the world, assisting with marketing and promotion.
VITICULTURE IN CHAMPAGNE
Three grapes are allowed in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir. The latter two are red grapes, but the juice of these grapes is white. There are more than 72,000 acres (29,150 hectares) of vineyards, owned by 19,000 individual growers. Physical conditions determine which varietal to plant in each location. Legislation, based on centuries of close observation of weather and soil patterns by vignerons, now dictates what is to be planted in each site. For instance, in the Vallee de la Marne, the hardy Pinot Meunier is widely planted. Throughout the Champagne region, more acres are dedicated to this relatively easy-to-grow varietal than to Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Near the Montagne de Marne, Pinot Noir predominates. The Cotes des Blancs, as the name implies, are exclusively for the growing of Chardonnay.
As stated earlier, the terroir of the Champagne region is truly unique. The most distinguishing characteristic of this environment is the high concentration of chalk in the soil (Figure 5-32). Essentially two types of chalk (which is a form of limestone) can be found in soil. One of these types, belemnite chalk, is found only in Champagne. The topsoil is a thin layer of clay with some chalk. The underlayer of chalk reaches as deep as 800 feet (244 meters).
The roots of the vines can push through the soft crumbling chalk to great depths in order to reach water. Chalk does an effective job of draining rainwater so that it does not pool near the surface, risking rotting of the vines. Moreover, as the water drains downward, the chalk forms natural storage chambers for it, where the deeper roots can reach. A further advantage of heavily chalky soil is heat retention. The warmth of the sun is absorbed by chalk, and radiated back onto the vines in the cooler evenings. Also, the poor nutritional content of chalk discourages the growth of leaves on the grapevines, thus allowing more sunlight to hit the grape bunches, which assists ripening. A meager canopy also allows better circulation by the breezes, which reduces the likelihood of mildew forming on the bunches.
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Soil is only one part of terroir (albeit a critical one). The other determinant is, of course, climate. The climate of Champagne holds many perils for grape growers. Most obvious is cold. Champagne is farther north than any other important wine region, and the damp cold weather patterns of the North Atlantic (only 110 miles, 77 km away) are not blocked by any mountain range or other natural barrier. The average temperatures in Champagne are barely enough to allow grapes to ripen. Acidity levels stay high in such a cool climate, which is desirable in any sparkling wine. However, a minimum sugar level (set by law) must be reached, and if the temperatures stay too cool, the grapes have a difficult time reaching the necessary ripeness. Another constant concern for the vignerons is frost, either in the spring when the vines are budding or in the fall before the grapes are harvested. Growers in Champagne use the method called aspersion to protect their vines. This method, also used in other very cool wine regions, consists of spraying the vines with a fine mist of water which freezes on the buds or the grape bunches, forming a protective shield from the cold.
The weather in Champagne presents still another danger for wine grapes, and that is moisture. Grapes are susceptible to mildew if they remain damp for extended periods. With a high average annual rainfall of 25.6 inches (65 cm), Champagne is often very damp indeed. Fungicides are sometimes employed to decrease this danger. Other potential problems in years of heavy rainfall are swelling of the grapes with too much water and a reduced rate of pollination.
CHAMPAGNE PRODUCERS AND THE STYLE OF THE WINE
There are approximately 110 companies, called houses (or, in French, marques), that make Champagne. Because these companies own only 10 percent of the vineyards in Champagne, they buy the vast majority of their grapes from growers. The oldest, most established houses are called grands marques. They are required by law to maintain a presence in export markets. Exports of Champagne play a vital role in the French economy, accounting for 25 percent of wine and spirits exports.
The various vineyards of Champagne have been officially rated, but these ratings do not show on a label. Rather, the rating of a vineyard was used to determine what price the houses would be required to pay for grapes from that vineyard. The most highly rated sites would act as benchmarks, and once their prices were set, other vineyards' grapes would be priced accordingly. The law was changed in 1990 so that even though prices are still officially determined according to the quality rating of a vineyard, the houses are not required to pay that amount.
Each of the major Champagne houses has a distinct style that it maintains year after year. Champagne is made from still wine that has been fermented dry. (See Chapter 3 for the Winemaking Process.) After malolactic fermentation is complete, the wine is racked, and a careful blending of different batches and varietals (assemblage) is undertaken. The wine is put into thick glass bottles and a second sugar-to-alcohol fermentation is induced by adding the liquer de triage, a mixture of reserve wine, sugar, and cultured yeasts. As the second fermentation occurs, the secondary by-product of carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle, giving the wine its effervescence. After the wine is aged, the yeast cells are removed from the bottle by a careful disgorging (Figure 5-33). The dosage of sugar and water is then quickly added to give the finished product the amount of sweetness its classification requires.
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Other important terms show up on Champagne labels. Most of these types will be made in a Brut style, even if that word does not show on the label.
* Nonvintage: A nonvintage wine is not made exclusively from grapes grown in one vintage year. Grapes from several different years are blended together to get consistency of quality, even in years when weather patterns are less than ideal. A portion of each year's wine is held back for this purpose (Figure 5-35).
* Vintage: When conditions are favorable, the winemaker can choose not to blend in wine reserved from lesser vintages. To be declared a vintage Champagne, the wine must contain at least 80 percent grapes from the declared year. Not every year is a vintage year. The winemaker at each house decides whether to declare a vintage.
* Blanc de blanc: Literally, "white from white" is a Champagne made exclusively from chardonnay grapes. Since only 25% of the vineyards in the region are planted to chardonnay, the grapes are expensive, and therefore, so is this type of wine. These are the most delicate and lightest of Champagnes.
* Blanc de Noir: Literally, "white from black." The wine is made exclusively from the two allowed red varietals. These are the fullest of Champagnes, with considerable fruits and complexity.
* Rose: If some red wine is added to a cuvee of white wine, or if the juice of the red grapes is given some skin contact, the resulting Champagne will be a rose. Most roses are in the brut style and are full-flavored and elegant.
* Tete de cuvee: Most marques have a prestige label, the top of the line. These bottlings are almost always made from vintage brut. Each marque has a name for their tete de cuvee. For instance, Veuve Cliquot names its prestige label La Grande Dame to honor the Veuve ("widow") Clicquot.
Each marque's distinct house style guarantees consistency of quality and recognizable character in every release. This is very important in building a brand and assuring repeat customers that they will get the same Champagne every time they buy a bottle from that house. The factors that influence the distinct style of a Champagne house are numerous. Among them are the proportion of Chardonnay to the red grapes; the vineyard sites from which grapes are purchased; the blending (assemblage); the amount of time the wine spends aging on the lees. The major Champagne houses take great pride in the distinctiveness of their region, and in the quality and unique styles of their companies.
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Some of the major Champagne houses are listed below, with the name of their Tete de Cuvees listed to the right. Champagne House Tete de Cuvees Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Columbus Bollinger Annee Rare R.D. Charles Heidsieck La Royale G. H. Mumm Grand Cordon Rouge Gosset Cuvee Grand Millesieme Krug Grande Cuvee, Clos de Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs Moet et Chandon Dom Perignon Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Florens-Louis Pol Roger Cuvee Winston Churchill Taittinger Comte de Champagne Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame
Two natural barriers define the small region of Alsace. On the west the Vosges mountains separate Alsace from France. On the east, the Rhine runs between Alsace and Germany. Forced by conflicts between these two powerful nations to change political affiliation many times over 1,000 years, the people of Alsace have absorbed the best of each culture. The language, the arts, the cuisine, and certainly the wine of Alsace reflect the best of both French and German influences. For instance, the wine produced here (90 percent of which is white) are named for the varietals, mostly of German origin, from which they are made. But the wines are made in a quintessentially French style, dry and elegant, intended to complement food, never overpower it.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the many conflicts and opposing national pressures, the heritage of Alsace is first and foremost Alsatian. These are fiercely independent people, proud of their heritage and history. There is a historical, medieval look to this region, with its ruined castles and its charming small villages of half-timbered cottages and stone churches, surrounded by bucolic meadows. But winemakers here are thoroughly modern in their approach to grape growing and winemaking. By combining ancient traditions with up-to-date technology, Alsace has emerged as one of the world's premier regions for white wine.
Clovis, King of the Franks, established Alsace as a Frankish territory in AD 496, when Christianity was taking hold in northern Europe. As in other parts of France, the Catholic Church played a crucial role in the wine-making tradition of the region. Monasteries came to own and plant many of the sites best suited to grapevines. The monks and priests produced wine for the sacraments, for use as medicine, and for their visitors.
The first change of sovereignty took place in 843 when Charlemagne's kingdom was divided, and Alsace was ceded to Louis the German. In the seventeenth century, Alsace was annexed to France at the end of the Thirty Years' War. During this time several of the leading families of Alsace started their wine companies--Beyer in 1580, Dopff around 1600, Hugel in 1639. In 1870, Alsace was reclaimed by the new German empire. Soon the plight of phylloxera wiped out the vineyards. The Germans replanted only the easier-to-work sites on the flat plains, with inferior but hardy hybrids to use in blending. Most of the more desirable locations on the rocky hillsides were left fallow. Noble varietals essentially disappeared.
In 1918, after the defeat of Germany in the First World War, Alsace was again part of France. Vineyards, even the inaccessible sites on the steep hillsides, were replanted to noble vinifera grapes, including Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. The quality of the wines increased dramatically. Sadly, Alsace suffered a devastating setback during the Second World War, when the Nazis occupied the region. The oppression of Alsace under the Nazis was far more severe than during the 1870-1918 period. Everything French was forbidden, even the language, and many young men were conscripted into the German army to fight on the Russian front. Exporting was forbidden and all wine produced was shipped to Germany (except the sizable cache that the Alsatians concealed from their occupiers). After the Allied victory in 1945, Alsace returned to France. Again the residents put strong emphasis on quality. The vintners worked with the authorities to forbid inferior grapes, define boundaries, establish regulations, and set quality standards. In 1962, Alsace was granted AOC status.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE: THE TERROIR OF ALSACE
To understand the unique soil composition of Alsace, it is necessary to go back 60 million years to the period when the mighty Alps were forced up out of surrounding waters by the violent collision of tectonic plates. At the same time, the Black Mountains and the Vosges chain were formed, but with a large fault between the two chains. This fault flooded and became a huge inland sea, which was further eroded as glaciers came and then receded. Eons of accumulating sea skeletons, of rocks being pulverized, of deep erosion, of volcanic eruptions, and of geological debris left by the movement of water and ice have given Alsace an incredibly complex pattern of soil composition. There are at least 20 different soil formations in this small area.
The upper steep reaches of the Vosges mountains have thin topsoil on a base of well-worn granite, schist, and volcanic sediments. The gentler slopes further down the hillsides have deeper topsoils derived from the delta of the Rhine, and subsoils of clay, marl, limestone, and sandstone. In general, grapes planted in clay and marl will yield wines with more heft and broader flavors, whereas those planted in the finer soils of limestone and sand will be lighter, more subtle in flavor, and more elegant. The plains below the foothills of the Vosges have alluvial soil, rich and fertile, and better suited to the growing of produce than wine grapes.
Although Alsace lies quite far north (of French wine regions, only Champagne is more northerly), it enjoys a far milder climate than other regions at the same latitude. The warmer temperatures and lower rainfall are due primarily to protection from the prevailing westerly winds by the Vosges mountains. Winters can be quite cold, but spring is mild, allowing for good bud-set, summers are usually warm and sunny, and very importantly, fall stays sunny, dry, and frost-free on into October.
The noble varietals of Alsace (listed here roughly in order of "nobility") are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Chasselas, and Sylvaner. Riesling takes just over 20 percent of vineyard acreage, and that is increasing as Sylvaner, a blending grape, is being removed. Sylvaner still accounts for 20 percent of acreage. Also losing ground is Chasselas, another blending grape. Pinot Blanc is also widely planted, which, along with the lesser varietal Auxerrois, which is sometimes blended into it, accounts for another 20 percent of acreage. Gewurztraminer can be a picky grape to work with, being slow to ripen, but it accounts for 20 percent of the vineyards space. Pinot Gris currently accounts for only 5 percent of acreage, but it is slowly increasing in favor as consumers discover its spicy flavors and crisp acidity. More rapidly increasing in plantings is Pinot Noir, Alsace's only red varietal, which now covers about 5 percent of acreage. The remaining vineyard space is divided among Muscat, Chasselas, and the ubiquitous Chardonnay, not yet an approved varietal.
The great vineyards of Alsace have long been recognized by producers and consumers alike. These vineyards are those with superior terroir. The names of these finer vineyards have traditionally been shown on labels. For two decades after being awarded AOC status, the vignerons of Alsace saw no need for a system of classification of their vineyards. However, in the early 1980s a cooperative effort between the government authorities and landowners to give official recognition to superior properties was begun. Regulations were written requiring that only the four truly noble varietals--Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Muscat--could be planted in classified vineyards; that the yield not exceed four tons per acre; and that wine to be labeled with the classification must be made from one varietal only.
The grand cru appellation was created in 1983, and has been creating controversy ever since. Of the 94 sites originally considered for designation as grand cru, 25 were chosen in 1983. However, other sites continued to be added, and by 1990 there were 50 grand cru vineyards. Some Alsace producers feel standards have gotten too lax in that even mediocre vineyards are now classified. Furthermore, some of the classified vineyards are very large, spreading over differing terrains, and thus possessing several different terroirs. Another problem is that some of these sites are appropriate for only one or two of the specified varietals, but growers want to plant what they think will sell so they plant popular varietals where they do not excel. Moreover, growers do not want to stop using vineyard designations they have used for generations, so they push for grand cru designations for the vineyards they own, whether or not the property is of superior quality.
While the disagreement over the validity of the classification system goes on, some producers continue to use the traditional name for their reserve-level wines while ignoring the grand cru designation. For example, the Beyer family has always labeled its top wines "Comtes des Equisheim." They continue to use that designation, not mentioning the grand cru vineyards they own. The famous Riesling "Clos Ste.-Hune" made by Trimbach is not labeled as Pfersigberg, the grand cru vineyard from which it is made.
Many Americans shy away from Alsace wines in their tall green bottles and Teutonic-looking labels, assuming that the wines are German and will, therefore, be too sweet. People who make that assumption are wrong on two counts: Alsace wines are French in style, and German wines are not all sweet (see Chapter 8). In passing by the Alsace wines, the consumer is depriving herself of an extraordinary experience. The whites of Alsace are fermented dry and are extremely versatile food wines.
* Riesling: Usually bone dry, Alsace Rieslings have superb steely acidity to hold up their flavors of green apple and minerals. When young, the wines often have a floral aroma, which with age (and these wines can age very well), evolves into gunflint and wet slate.
* Gewurztraminer: With its unique nose of lychee nuts and its racy acidity and pronounced spice flavors overlaying ripe forward fruit, Alsace Gewurztraminer is the ideal accompaniment to highly spiced food, especially Asian cuisine.
* Pinot Gris: Traditionally known as Tokay d'Alsace or Tokay Pinot Gris, but since an agreement with Hungary in 1993, now called just Pinot Gris, this is perhaps the most underrated of Alsace's noble varietals. Pinot Gris combines some of the spice of Gewurztraminer with the steely acidity of Riesling. The aromas and flavors are reminiscent of peaches or ripe melon and are perfectly balanced by firm acids.
* Pinot Blanc: Perhaps the lightest and least complex of Alsace whites, Pinot Blanc can nonetheless be a charming and appealing wine. It is clean and dry, with crisp acidity and can be sipped alone or matched to a variety of light, simple dishes.
* Pinot Noir: In vineyards this far north, red grapes have a hard time fully ripening. Rouge d'Alsace has traditionally been light in color and body, full of young strawberry aromas and flavors, and soft on the palate. These are pleasant quaffing wines.
There are other styles of wine produced Alsace in addition to the dry table wines described above.
* Cremant d'Alsace: Based primarily on Pinot Blanc, with Pinot Noir and Riesling sometimes blended in, Alsace's sparkling wine is made in the methode champenoise. It now accounts for about 10 percent of total production in the region, and that number is increasing as the wine achieves commercial success. The wine is fairly light in body, has excellent mousse (fizziness) and pleasant fruit, and is quite dry.
* Vendage Tardive: The French term for these wines means "late picked." Left on the vine to develop additional sugars, these grapes result in delicious wines, usually off-dry in style. The flavors of late-picked wines are very rich and deep. To be labeled as vendage tardive, a wine must be from one vintage of the approved varietals--Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, or Pinot Gris--and cannot be enriched with additional sugar. The grapes have to be picked on a date set by the authorities, when the natural sugars have reached a specified level. They do not have to be botrytized.
* Selection de Grains Noble (SGN): Wines at this level almost always contain some grapes infected with botrytis, the noble rot. This makes them sweeter, richer and heavier than vendage Tardive wines. SGN wines are made from the same four permitted varietals as vendage tardive. A rich, unctuous SGN with just enough acidity to hold up its complex melange of apricot, ripe peaches, and honey can be an unforgettably ambrosial wine. A good Selection de Grains Noble is extremely difficult to make, but when done well, it can be superb.
The Loire Valley
There is a large, regional appellation of the vin de pays level that encompasses all of the Loire Valley and some of its surrounding areas: Vin de pays du jardin de France, "Wine from the Garden of France." This is a beautiful name, and an appropriate one. The region is truly beautiful, like one very large, plentiful, and well-tended garden. The Loire Valley used to be the center of power in France, for it was in this wealthy, bountiful region that the French royal family had its roots. The region reached its pinnacle of power and influence in the late 1400s to early 1500s. In 1589, Henri IV moved the royal court, and the sphere of influence shifted to Paris and its environs. Wine had been produced along the Loire River for centuries but the region's wines sank out of favor when the Court moved. For hundreds of years, Loire valley wines were not seen outside of the area. Only in the past 50 years have the Loire's more important appellations been rediscovered in Europe, and only in the past 20 years have Loire wines been widely available in the American market.
The Loire is a very long river, the longest in France. It starts in the south and flows north for 635 miles (1,024 km) before spilling out into the Atlantic Ocean. The Loire and its tributaries drain a quarter of the land mass of France. The jardin de France is a huge area, where a variety of fruits and vegetables is grown, livestock and dairy cows graze, and a total of almost 440,000 acres (178,138 hectares) of grapevines is planted. However, the fine wines of the Loire AOC appellation are found only in the final third of the area, after the river takes a turn and starts its westward journey to the sea.
Along the Loire River stand numerous ruined fortified castles, staring down from rocky precipices at the river far below. These once-magnificent chateaux were the homes of powerful aristocratic families that exerted considerable influence on the royals who ruled the country. Culturally, the Loire Valley was a trendsetter in the arts, in architecture, and in cuisine. Most important for French cuisine was the arrival of Catherine de Medicis when she married Henri II. She brought Italian chefs with her who taught the basics of fine cooking to the French. The heyday for the Loire was the period of the later Valois kings from the ascension of Charles VIII in 1483 to the assassination of Henri III in 1589. His successor, Henri IV, moved the court to Paris; the Loire's period of decline began.
Viticulture in the Loire Valley has been traced back as far as the eighth century AD. Many of the aristocrats who built their chateaux along the river during the next several hundred years also planted grapevines. By the late eleventh century, the wines of the Loire were highly regarded in France. That fame soon spread outside of the country, and exportation to northern markets was simplified by the ease of transport by boat along the river itself and its tributaries. Demand for Loire wines was particularly strong in the cities of Flanders. Some wine was shipped even farther, to England. Commerce in the fine wines of the Loire continued to grow and its reputation spread until the move by King Henri IV to Paris. The royal trendsetters turned their attention to other wines, and Loire wine production was cut back. Most wine was consumed locally.
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GEOGRAPHY AND SOIL: THE TERROIRS OF THE LOIRE
The Loire River stretches for such a long distance that no generalizations can be made about the appellations along its bank (Figure 5-38). Viticulturally it makes sense to divide the Loire into four distinct regions. First is the Upper Loire, where the river makes its jog to the west. The climate is continental, with cold winters and hot dry summers. The primary grape is Sauvignon Blanc. Moving down river into the Central Loire, the climate becomes gradually more temperate, and the soil less rocky. In the two subregions of the Central Loire, Anjou/Saumur and Touraine, the principle white grape is Chenin Blanc. Some red grapes are also planted--most importantly, Cabernet Franc. Here spring frost can still be a problem, as can drought. In the westernmost reaches of the river valley, the Loire is joined by its tributaries, the Sevre and the Maine, near the city of Nantes and soon spills into a bay of the Atlantic. The climate has a maritime influence, warmed by the Gulf Stream and more humid than farther upriver. Occasionally the weather is too damp and overcast, hindering efforts to ripen the grapes.
The appellations of the Loire are not divided into levels, but rather are characterized solely by location (Table 5-7).
The Upper Loire
The majority of wine made here is dry, zesty white made entirely from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Many culinary experts believe that Sauvignon Blanc is the most food-friendly white because of its excellent clean acidity and restrained citrusy fruit. A little red wine is made from Pinot Noir. Appellations are the names of individual communes.
Pouilly-Fume: The village of Pouilly-sur-Loire dates from Roman times. Its wine is named Pouilly-Fume, not because there is a "smoky" component to the bouquet, as some have believed. Rather, fume refers to the grey-green nuances of color on the ripening Sauvignon grapes (Coates, 2000). The area received AOC status in 1937, and today there are close to 1,600 acres (648 hectares) of vines, virtually all Sauvignon Blanc. Most vineyards are owned by farming families. There are few large land-holdings. The soil is mostly a clay-limestone mix. The wines are very dry and have forward grassy bouquets with often a whiff of what the French call pipi du chat. The acidity is crisp and clean, the flavors of citrus fruit.
Sancerre: Across the river from Pouilly lies the village of Sancerre. In 1936 the white wines were granted AOC status, but it was not until 1959 that the Pinot Noir-based reds and roses achieved equal status. Most of the 5,800 acres (2,348 hectares) of vineyards are held by small growers, with some families owning plots as small as six acres (2.4 hectares). The vineyards, mostly on limestone mixed with some clay, are on gentle slopes facing east, south, and west. The white wines are very similar to those of Pouilly, perhaps a bit more pronounced in their aromas and flavors and showing a little more finesse. The reds are light in body and color, with strawberry aromas and flavors.
Menetou-Salon: Located just 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Sancerre, the village of MenetouSalon was granted its own appellation in 1959. The wines are similar to Sancerre, but even more focused and elegant, with a slight floral hint to the bouquet.
Quincy: Twenty-five miles (40.3 km) southwest of Menetou-Salon, across a tributary river, the Cher, is the town of Quincy. Its chief claim to fame is that it was the second appellation in France (after Chateauneuf-du-Pape) to be granted AOC status in 1936. The soil here is a little more calcareous than in other villages, the average temperature is a little cooler, and frost is more of a problem. The wines are very racy and zesty, and in some years, can taste a bit unripe.
Reuilly: This is a small appellation, only 150 acres (60.7 hectares) of vines, very near to Quincy. The soil and climate are essentially the same. The wines are quite austere and very dry.
Named for the city of Tours, this region is home to a variety of wines--white, red, rose, and sparkling. Wine made from approved varietals grown within the boundaries of the Touraine region, but outside any of the commune appellations, or a blend of grapes from two or more communes, is given the generic appellation of Touraine. This appellation can be applied to both white and red wines, which are produced in almost equal quantities. The name of the varietal can show on a generic Touraine label. There is also a small amount of Touraine Mousseaux made primarily from Chenin Blanc.
Vouvray: In the commune of Vouvray, the Chenin Blanc grape reaches its zenith of quality. There are 5,000 acres (2,024 hectares) of vines in Vouvray, virtually all of them Chenin Blanc. This lovely varietal is often overlooked, but with its delightful aromas of ripe pear, its round mouthfeel, and its smooth but lively acidity and ripe fruit, Chenin Blanc is capable of making delightful wines in a wide variety of styles. In some cases, Vouvray is dry and crisp. Sometimes it is made off-dry (demi-sec) with a hint of residual sugar complementing the ripe pear nuances. Vouvray can also be sweet, in which case it is labeled as Vouvray Moelleux. Chenin Blanc is also made into a sparkling wine, Vouvray Mousseux.
Chinon and Bourgueil: The commune of Chinon and its neighbor across the Loire to the north, Bourgueil, are the two major regions for red wine within the Loire. The wine is primarily Cabernet Franc, although Cabernet Sauvignon is also authorized. Loire reds can be described as charming--light, pleasant, fruit-forward, soft, easy to drink, and easy to like. These are not wines made to age or to seriously contemplate. The wines from Bourgueil are a bit fuller in body, since the soil in that commune contains more clay, whereas the soil of Chinon is mostly lighter sand and gravel.
The large province of Anjou contains nineteen appellations at the AOC level, including generic Anjou (Figure 5-39) and generic Saumur. The vineyards of Anjou cover 35,600 acres (14,412 hectares). A variety of wines is made here, including dry whites, reds, roses, sparkling wine, and sweet whites. Rose d'Anjou is made in copious quantities from a lesser grape. Much better are the dry and semisweet roses, Cabernet d'Anjou and Cabernet de Saumur, which must be made from the Cabernet Franc varietal.
Also prevalent are Saumur Mousseux (also called Saumur d'Origine) and Anjou Mousseux, sparkling wines made in the methode champenoise. The variety of grapes allowed is impressive. For both the rose and white styles, red grapes can be used: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, and three others. The white grapes allowed are, naturally, Chenin Blanc, but also small percentages of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The wines are usually made in the brut style, although Loire bruts are sweeter than those of Champagne.
Savennieres: This elegant Chenin Blanc-based wine is a rarity among Loire whites in that it is made to age. When young, the wine is austere and closed, very dry. Given time, Savennieres can evolve into a complex, full, round wine with delicious flavors of Bosc pear, lime, and hints of honey. Savennieres is on the north bank of the Loire, where weather is cool enough that keeping the grapes on the vines longer into the fall in order to fully develop that panoply of flavors is sometimes risky due to frost. One of the more important producers of Savennieres is Nicolas Joly of Chateau de la Roche-aux-Moines (Figure 5-40). Mr. Joly is one of France's leading advocates for the concept of biodynamic viticulture, a totally organic and natural way to care for the vines in harmony with Nature's cycles. Another source for consistently high quality Savennieres is Clos du Papillon, owned by the Baumard family.
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Coteaux du Layon: This is an appellation restricted to sweet and semisweet wines based on botrytized Chenin Blanc grapes. The wines are rich and honeyed, but never cloying, thanks to their acidity. These wines can age for many years and gain further complexity and fullness. The dessert wines of Coteaux du Layon are among Europe's best, and are comparatively affordable.
Quarts de Chaume: This is a tiny appellation within the Coteaux du Layon. It is essentially a single-vineyard appellation that is rated as one of the best sites for the sweet, honeyed, floral botrytized wines. The standards, including yield, sugar content, and alcohol level, are more stringent than for Coteaux du Layon.
Bonnezeaux is another enclave within Coteaux du Layon that is allowed to use its own appellation. Larger than Quarts de Chaume but with similar standards, Bonnezeaux is not yet as well known as its neighbor to the northwest.
The Nantes, or Atlantic region, of the Loire is home to the bone-dry white wine, Muscadet. There is more Muscadet made each year than the wines of Touraine and Anjou combined. The grape, which has come to be called Muscadet, is actually Melon de Bourgogne. This varietal was brought to the Nantais region of the Loire from its native home of Burgundy in the eighteenth century by Dutch traders. The grape is easy to grow, has high yields, and produces a clean, fresh, uncomplicated wine that perfectly complements the seafood, shellfish, and freshwater fish that are such an integral part of the diet of the Atlantic section of the Loire.
Over three-quarters of Muscadet comes from vineyards in the Sevre et Maine district, named for the two rivers that flow through it to join the Loire. The soil here has a good amount of clay mixed in with the sand and gravel, so its wines are a tad less tart than wine labeled as Muscadet. Sur lie is a technique widely used in Muscadet. In this process, the wine is left on the lees until it is ready to be bottled, rather than being racked to an interim container. The time on the lees gives the wine a prickly feel and adds complexity.
Muscadet is now widely distributed around the world, where it has found favor in many markets, including the United States, as a refreshing aperitif and a perfect companion for light seafood dishes.
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The South of France
Having covered the six major wine regions of France, where her world-class wines are made, we have touched only one-third of the AOC production, and barely 15 percent of total wine production, for the country. There are a great many other regions producing very nice wine. Many of the best of the lesser-known appellation d'origine controlee regions are found in the South of France. In the past the south was known for rugged, sometimes coarse wines, mostly red, made from indigenous varietals like Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan. In the past several decades, however, there have been remarkable improvements in the quality of wines. Part of the reason is a trend to planting more of the noble varietals that can survive the heat and small amount of rainfall, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. These are being planted on superior, cooler sites farther up the hillsides. The best of these face north or east so that exposure to sunlight is reduced, thus lessening the chance of over-ripening. Another important change has been the modernization of winemaking techniques. For instance, many winemakers are now fermenting at cooler temperatures in stainless steel tanks; this protects the aromas and natural flavors of the grapes. In the South of France, one can now find some impressively elegant and balanced wines.
In southeastern France, Provence extends from the delta of the Rhone east to the border with Italy (Figure 5-41). This is beautiful, rugged country, extremely hot in the summer and rather desolate in the winter, but fertile and well suited to the vine. For decades, Provence was known for its large quantities of light rose made from the high-yielding Carignan and some Grenache. Production is still 60 percent rose, but the percentage of Carignan has decreased, and the wines have more depth. Reds account for 30 percent of production and are made with Mourvedre, along with increasing percentages of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. White wine is also made in Provence, but native varietals like Ugni Blanc and Clairette are being replaced with Semillon.
There are seven AOC appellations in Provence, two of which, Bellet and Palette, are so small as to be inconsequential. There is also a large section, the Coteaux Varois, which is rated VDQS.
Cotes de Provence: With 44,500 acres (18,016 hectares), most of them in the easternmost section of Provence, this is the largest of the three generic AOC appellations. Production is mostly red wine, which typically is a blend of Carignan (no more than 40 percent by law), Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Several of the better producers are giving their red wine more time in new oak barrels, which allows the wine to mellow out and become smoother than was previously the case.
Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence and Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence-les-Baux are the other two generic AOC appellations. They encompass 10,550 acres (4,271 hectares) of vines in the western section of Provence and are named for the city of Aix-en-Provence. The wines, mostly red, are similar to those of Cotes de Provence.
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Bandol: The old fishing port of Bandol is right on the coast of the Mediterranean and is now a popular tourist destination. It is also home to the best and most interesting wines of Provence--big, structured, and full reds based on Mourvedre (by law at least 50 percent) blended with Grenache and Cinsault. The regulations also allow up to 20 percent white varietals to be blended in. Bandol reds have a unique spiciness sprinkled in with the ripe plummy fruit flavors. They can age for at least a decade. Some whites are also made from local varietals, with Sauvignon Blanc adding additional acidity.
Cassis: Not to be confused with the black currant liqueur of the same name, Cassis is a small region unique in that it is more famous for white wines than red or rose. The production of Cassis is 75 percent white, whereas in most of Provence, indeed, in most of the south of France, reds or roses predominate. The 400 acres (162 hectares) of vines, protected from the mistral winds by a massive stone cliff, are planted to indigenous white varietals like Ugni Blanc and Marsanne with some Sauvignon Blanc. Very little of this perfumed, sprightly wine ever makes its way to export markets as the influx of summer tourists consumes most of it.
The very sizable region of Languedoc-Roussillon, also known as the Midi, is a popular tourist destination on the Mediterranean. The region produces ever-improving wines as investment in the area and awareness of its wines in foreign markets have increased. This varied region reaches from the western side of the Rhone delta along the coast to the border with Spain at the Pyrenees. The Midi was long famous for its simple, rustic table wines, and though quality of many of its wines has certainly improved, the Midi is still the source of much of France's vin ordinaire, as well as copious quantities of vin de pays. Eighty percent of the country's vin de pays is from this area. Languedoc and Roussillon contain 40 percent of the vineyards in the nation of France, yet account for only 10 percent of AOC production.
Throughout the Midi, the climate is Mediterranean with mild winters and warm, sunny, dry summers, perfect for ripening a wide variety of varietals, from Chardonnay to Viognier, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah. The soils are consistently limestone-based, with enough variation in topsoils to allow discernible if subtle differences in terroir among the regions.
The largest vin de pays appellation is the regional Vin de Pays d'Oc, and its subregions. Other important vin de pays appellations include l'Herault and Aude. The trend in these and other vin de pays regions within the nearby departements of Gard and Pyrenees Orientales is toward varietally named reds and whites, produced by large international negociant firms that have invested considerable amounts of capital to replant vineyards with noble varietals, install giant stainless steel fermentation tanks, and equip their caves with oak barrels for aging the wines. These mass-produced, computer-monitored wines can be quite pleasant and very affordable. Fortant de France, a brand owned by the Kobrand Corporation of New York, is one of the betterknown brands. Also successful in the United States market are brands like Domaine de la Baume (previously owned by the Hardy's company of Austalia), Val d'Orbieu (originally launched by importer Martin Sinkoff of Dallas), and Reserve St. Martin (also part of the Sinkoff portfolio).
AOC Appellations of the Midi
Cotes du Roussillon, Cotes du Roussillon-Villages: Between them, these two appellations cover 19,000 acres. The smaller one, Cotes du Roussillon-Villages, is located in the northern portion along the Argly River and its tributaries. The vineyards here are superior, with a complex mix of topsoils (schist, sand) on limestone. Regulations require a lower yield in villages-level wines, and a higher minimal alcohol level. Twenty-five communes are included in this appellation. The wines of both Roussillon and Rousillon-Villages are primarily red, blended from Syrah, Cinsault, and Grenache. They show considerable depth and character.
Corbieres: Corbieres is the largest appellation in the Midi, with over 35,000 acres (14,170 hectares) of AOC-rated vineyards (Figure 5-42). This is primarily a red wine appellation, although a small amount of rose and a minuscule amount of white are also made. The reds are solid, perhaps a bit dense, but with appealing aromas of lavender and plum. They are widely available in the United States, and are affordable everyday wines.
Minervois: Just northwest of St. Chinian, across the valley of the Aude River, lies the Minervois. There are 45,000 acres of wine grapes, but only a small percentage of these vineyards (11,500 acres/4,656 hectares) are rated at the AOC level. The remainder are vin ordinaire or vin de pays. The AOC vineyards, on terraced slopes in the eastern part of the region, are planted mostly to red varietals. The wines produced have a definitive acidity to them and are medium bodied and fairly fruit-forward.
St. Chinian: Once a commune within the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation, St. Chinian received AOC status in 1982. This appellation can be applied to red and rose wine only. Noble varietals--Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre--are slowly displacing the rougher Carignan as the maximum amount allowed of this traditional grape is decreased. These red wines are similar to those of the Minervois, but with more weight and depth.
Banyuls: Banyuls is one of six appellations for vin doux naturel within the Midi. Vins doux naturel in the Midi can be made from either Muscat, like Beaumes-de-Venise in the Rhone, or for the delicious richly flavored red vin doux naturel, from the Grenache grape. Banyuls is a red vin doux naturel, which by law must be 50 percent Grenache. The wine spends many months in oak barrels. It is aromatic, rich, intensely fruity, and ages very well.
The other Midi vin doux naturel appellations are Muscat de Frontignan, Rivesaltes, Muscat de Lunel, Muscat de Mireval, and Maury.
Coteaux de Languedoc: The vineyards of Coteaux de Languedoc lie on the hills that run in a line behind the city of Montpellier. From vineyards on the lower levels, where the soil is alluvial and fertile, come vast quantities of vin ordinaire, most of which will be distilled into spirits. Further inland, as elevations increase, the soil becomes rockier. From these better vineyards come the wines, predominately red, that are labeled with the AOC Coteaux de Languedoc. (The name comes from the time this land was inhabited by a people whose language was Occitan. In that ancient language, oc was the word for "yes," hence langue d'oc.)
Large quantities of vin de pays wine is produced in Languedoc, much of it under the regional vin de pays appellation of Vin de Pays d'Oc. Some of these wines are very good indeed, but cannot carry the AOC appellation because they are made from noble varietals not authorized for this region.
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The quality of both the vin de pays wines and the AOC wines is increasing steadily in this huge, wild region of small family growers and large cooperatives. As outside investment continues to grow, and better viticulture, more noble varietals and more modern equipment result, the wines of the Coteaux de Languedoc will become substantially more attractive while maintaining, one hopes, their eminently affordable prices.
The catchall term "the Southwest" encompasses a huge part of France, including all viticultural areas south of Bordeaux and east of the Midi. In such a large area, there is obviously a huge variety of terrains, microclimates, soil types and wine-making preferences. Of the 70,000 acres (28,340 hectares) of vines in the Southwest, only about half produce AOC wines (Table 5-8).
Madiran: In the extreme southwest, the most important appellation is Madiran. The principle grape is Tannat, which is made into big heavy complex wines, quite tannic (the name of the grape derives from the same root as the word "tannin"), and, therefore, age-worthy. In many Madiran reds, Tannat makes up 40-60 percent of the blend, the balance being Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and a lesser red grape. One of the most exciting producers in the region is Chateau Montus, where Alain Brumont, one of France's leading enological consultants, is in charge of winemaking.
Bergerac: Just east of France's largest fine wine region, Bordeaux, in the departement of Dordogne lies Bergerac, with vineyards planted along the banks of the Dordogne River. Source of a variety of wines--dry whites, reds, rose, sparkling and sweet whites--Bergerac has long been eclipsed by its more prestigious neighbor. This is a shame, for there are some splendid wines being produced here. The varietal mix is the same as in Bordeaux. The reds are of medium-to-full body, fresh and nicely balanced. The whites have lively citrus and herbal aromas and flavors and sprightly acidity. Roses are fruity and pretty. One of the premier producers of Bergarac appellation wines is Chateau de la Jaubertie, near the tiny town of Colombier. Bought by Englishman Nick Ryman in 1973, and raised by him to high standards of excellence, the estate is now run by Mr. Ryman's son and various partners.
Within Bergerac are several subdistricts of AOC status.
Monbazillac: Located on the south side of the river, Monbazillac produces a sweet wine, made in the same manner as Sauternes and from the same grapes. It can be delicious, if well made, with just enough acidity to hold up the lush honeyed flavors. Unfortunately, many producers in Monbazillac do not leave the grapes on the vine to become fully botrytized for fear of losing them to a killing frost. If vignerons would take that risk, the wine would be even richer and more ambrosial.
Pecharmant: North of the busy market town of Bergerac lies the region of Pecharmant, home to some of Bergerac's best red wines. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec, Pecharmant resembles a lighter St. Emilion.
Montravel: This region produces Bergerac's best dry whites from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle. Similar to Entre-Deux-Mers, these can be pleasant everyday whites.
Cahors: South of Bergerac, where the small Lot River flows into the Garonne, is the old town of Cahors, an important trading center in the late Middle Ages. The town lends its name to the surrounding wine-producing area. The principle wine is a big, deeply colored (almost inky), tannic but balanced red made from the Malbec grape, mellowed with the addition of some Merlot and Tannat. Not a wine to be drunk young, it needs time for the plumlike fruit to open up and the fierce tannins to soften.
The island of Corsica, off the coast of southern France, has always produced wines. By some accounts, Corsica is Europe's oldest wine-producing region, dating from 570 BC when Phoenicians first settled there. This mountainous island in the Mediterranean is actually closer to Italy than to France, but has been under French jurisdiction since 1768.
Corsica produces a wide variety of wines--red, white, rose, still, sparkling, and sweet. Most is vin de pays and vin ordinaire. Very little Corsican wine, even the minuscule amount that is AOC, is exported off the island.
The incredible variety of wines from France is quite mind-boggling. Although the task of becoming familiar with France's many different wines may seem daunting, it is worth the effort. The best of French wines will provide a benchmark against which all other wines can be measured. Moreover, an understanding of France's Appellation d'Origine Controlee laws is helpful in understanding the quality control laws of other European wine-producing countries, as most of them modeled their systems on the French system.
appellation Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) blanc de blanc blanc de noir brut carbonic maceration clos cru cuvee demi-sec doux extra brut extra dry moelleux mousseux negociants noble rot or pourriture noble (Botrytis cinerea) phylloxera proprietaire sec terroir tete de cuvee triage vin delimite de qualite superieure (VDQS) vin de pays vin de table vin doux naturel vintage
1. What are the varietals allowed in red Bordeaux wines? What varietals are used to make white Bordeaux?
2. Name the six subdistricts of Burgundy.
3. What was the Classification of 1855?
4. What is la methode champenoise? Are all wines made by this process entitled to be called "Champagne"?
5. What is the dryest style of Champagne?
6. Are dry white wines the only style of wine made in the Loire Valley?
7. What is the most important grape in Alsace? In that region, what does the term Vendage Tardive mean?
8. What was the primary purpose of the Appellation d'Origine Controlee laws enacted in 1935?
9. What is the principal red varietal of the Northern Cotes du Rhone?
10. What is Beaujolais Nouveau?
The Classification System of Burgundy
Burgundy has five different levels of classification, the top two of which are relevant only to Chablis and the Cote d'Or. These quality levels are:
1. Non-specific general appellation with no geographic definition, i.e., Bourgogne.
2. Regional appellation. Usually a blend of one or more commune wines made by a merchant, or negociant.
Example: Cote de Nuits-Villages.
3. Commune appellation. All the grapes used in the bottle were grown within the boundaries of one town, or commune, but not from vineyards that are rated as superior by the authorities. Example: Vosne-Romanee.
4. First growths (premier cru). The label shows the name of the commune and the name of the rated vineyard. Example: Vosne-Romanee "Les Malconsorts."
5. Great growths (grands crus). These are the very finest vineyards. The label will show the name of the vineyard only. Example: La Tache.
In Chablis the label will say Chablis Grand Cru, followed by the name of the rated vineyard, e.g., "Blanchots."
These are the 14 most important communes of the Cote d'Or, moving from north to south. The best-known grand cru vineyard of each commune are also shown. Cote de Nuits:
1. Fixin. Red wine only.
2. Gevrey. Red. Eight grand crus, two of which are extraordinary:
Clos de Beze
3. Morey-St.-Denis. Red.
Bonnes Mares (a small portion)
4. Chambolle-Musigny. Mostly red.
5. Vougeot. Mostly red.
Clos de Vougeot
6. Vosne Romanee. Red only.
7. Nuits-St.-George. Mostly red.
Cote de Beaune:
8. Aloxe-Corton. Some white; mostly red.
Le Corton (red)
9. Pommard. Red only. No grand crus. Six premier crus.
10. Volnay. Red. No grand crus. Thirteen premier crus.
11. Beaune. Red and white. No grand crus. 34 premier crus.
12. Meursault. White only. No grand crus. 17 premier crus.
13. Puligny-Montrachet. Mostly white; some red.
14. Chassagne-Montrachet. Mostly white; some red.
Classification of Champagne Styles
Extra Brut: Bone dry. Residual sugar is less than 0.6 percent per liter. At this level there is usually no dosage.
Brut: This is the most common classification, and forms the backbone of any house's line. Residual sugar is 0.5-1.5 percent per liter (Figure 5-34).
Extra Dry: These Champagnes are off-dry, with residual sugar 1.0-2 percent.
Sec: Although sec means "dry," these Champagnes have noticeable sugar--between 2 and 3.5 percent. They are rarely seen in the United States.
Demi-Sec: The literal translation is "off-dry" but these Champagnes are quite sweet. The dosage causes residual sugar to be between 3.5 and 5 percent. These Champagnes are meant to be served with dessert.
Doux: The sweetest form of Champagne has a minimum of 5.5 percent sugar, and in some cases contains as much as 8 percent.
[FIGURE 5-34 OMITTED]
THE HOUSE OF LEON BEYER:
Fifteen Generations of Winemakers
When it comes to the wines of Alsace, Marc Beyer has many strong opinions. He is entitled to speak out on this topic because his family has been growing grapes and making wine near the village of Equisheim since 1580. Presently Marc is the President of the house of Leon Beyer, and both his father, Leon, and his son, Yann, are also involved with the business (Figure 5-36).
One topic about which Marc Beyer has strong opinions is what he terms the "classic style" of Alsace's wines--dry and elegant. He regrets the recent trend among wine producers in Alsace (and elsewhere in France) to leave residual sugar in the traditionally very dry white wines. In the opinion of Mr. Beyer and his father (both of whom are widely recognized experts in gastronomy), wine's raison d'etre is to complement food. As Marc puts it, "We believe that the best way and the most frequent way to enjoy wine is in partnership with food." The Beyers believe that wine complements food best when there is no residual sugar in the wine to fight with the flavors of the dish it accompanies. For this reason, all Beyer wines are fermented entirely through to dryness (except Vendage Tardive and Selection de Grains Noble). Marc Beyer makes the analogy between a sugary Alsace wine and a woman who is overly made-up with rouge, lipstick, etc., which creates only the illusion of beauty while hiding the woman's natural loveliness. Marc Beyer surmises that some producers are leaning toward increased sugars not to improve their wines' ability to complement food, but rather to win additional points in blind tastings by judges and journalists. "A classic Alsace white wine has structure, body, alcohol, acidity, and complexity of flavors, but not sugar," says Mr. Beyer.
[FIGURE 5-36 OMITTED]
Another issue on which Marc Beyer has expressed heartfelt opinions is that of the classification of his region's vineyards. The process of officially declaring Alsace's best vineyard sites to be grand cru vineyards, which began in 1983, is superfluous, according to Marc. His objections are myriad. First, many of the grand cru vineyards have several noble varietals planted in them, as many as six to eight different grapes. A site that is excellent for one varietal may produce only mediocre specimens of another varietal. Second, with 50 vineyards already approved, and another 40 or so under consideration, there will soon be too many vineyards in a relatively small region for the designation to carry much validity. Third, and perhaps most important, the array of soil types within Alsace is extremely varied. Within one vineyard, there could be dozens of different terroirs. As Marc Beyer says, "We would need over 500 grand crus to demarcate every site in Alsace that has a unique terroir."
THE HOUSE OF LEON BEYER:
Fifteen Generations of Winemakers
Marc Beyer's advice to consumers of Alsatian wines is to become familiar with the styles of different houses, as one would when buying Champagne (Figure 5-37). When you find a style you like, stick with that producer and do not worry about vineyard designations or sugar levels. He advises, "Stick with the producers who allow the varietal character and the natural terroir to speak for themselves."
[FIGURE 5-37 OMITTED]
Table 5-1 Appellations of France: Bordeaux REGION SUBREGION PRINCIPAL VARIETAL * Haut-Medoc Margaux Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot St. Julien Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot Pauillac Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot St. Estephe Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot Libournais St. Emilion Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon (The "Right Bank") Pomerol Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon Graves Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon Pessac-Leognan Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot Sauternes/Barsac Semillon (botrytized) Entre-Deux-Mers Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc Medoc Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot * The varietal mentioned first is the prevalent one for that region. Remember, all Bordeaux wines are blends. Table 5-2 Appellations of France: Burgundy REGION SUBREGION PRINCIPAL VARIETAL * Chablis None Chardonnay Cote de Nuits Fixin Pinot Noir Gevrey Pinot Noir Morey-St. Denis Pinot Noir Chambolle-Musigny Pinot Noir Vougeot Pinot Noir Vosne-Romanee Pinot Noir Nuits-St. Georges Pinot Noir, Chardonnay Cote de Beaune Aloxe-Corton Pinot Noir, Chardonnay Pommard Pinot Noir Volnay Pinot Noir Beaune Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Meursault Chardonnay Puligny-Montrachet Chardonnay Chassagne-Montrachet Chardonnay Cote Chalonnaise Rully Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Mercurey Pinot Noir, Chardonnay Givry Pinot Noir Montagey Chardonnay Maconnais Pouilloy-Fuisse Chardonnay St. Veran Chardonnay Macon-Villages Chardonnay Beaujolais Morgon, St. Amour, Fleurie Moulin-a-Vent, Brouilly, Gamay Cote de Brouilly Julienas, Chenas, Regnie Beaujolais-Villages Gamay * Burgundy wines are not blended. The grape mentioned for each village indicates whether that village produces red wine or white. When both varietals are mentioned, the one shown first indicates which type of wine the village is more famous for. Table 5-3 Grand Cru Vineyards of Chablis Bougros Vaudesir Preuses Grenouilles Valmur Les Clos Blanchot Table 5-4. Premier Cru Vineyards of Chablis CLASSIFIED IN 1967 Fourchaume Montee de Tonnerre Monts de Milieu Vaucoupin Les Fourneaux Beauroy Cote de Lechet Vaillons Montmains Vosgros Melinots (absorbed into Vaillons) CLASSIFIED IN 1986 Vaudevey Vau Ligneau Cote de Vaubarousse Chaume de Talvat Les Landes Les Beauregards Berdiot Table 5-5 Comparison of Bordeaux and Burgundy BORDEAUX BURGUNDY Size Very large; 304,000 acres Small; 98,000 acres Climate Warm and dry, good for Cool and moist, perfect early-ripening grapes for late-maturing grapes Viticulture Red: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir Merlot, plus three others White: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay Semillon Winemaking All wines are blends No blending Landownership Large, discrete, self- Many small holdings. Few sufficient properties proprietary bottlings Classification General appellation General appellation Regional, e.g., Graves Regional, e.g., Cote de Beaune Commune, e.g., Margaux Commune, e.g., Volnay Single estates, non-rated Rated vineyards: premier cru Classified estates grand cru Styles Whites: Very dry, crisp, Whites: elegant, complex, herbaceous bouquet dry, nose of nuts/ butterscotch/fruit Reds: Full-bodied, tannic, Reds: Medium-bodied, very complex; nose of elegant, earthy nose, cedar/ coffee/blackberry strawberry/cherry flavors Bottle Shape Shoulders Sloping sides Table 5-6 Appellations of France: Cotes du Rhone REGION SUBREGION PRINCIPAL VARIETAL Northern Rhone Cote Rotie Syrah Condrieu Viognier Hermitage Syrah Crozes-Hermitage Syrah St. Joseph Syrah, Viognier Cornas Syrah Southern Rhone Coteaux du Tricastin Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre Chateauneuf-du-Pape Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Marsanne, 5 others Vacqueryas Grenache, Cinsault Gigondas Grenache (red and rose) Tavel Grenache, Cinsault (rose only) Beaumes-de-Venise Muscat (sweet only) Cotes du Ventoux Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre Cotes du Luberon Grenache, Syrah (reds), Ugni Blanc, Marsanne (whites), Grenache (rose) Table 5-7 Appellations of France: Loire Valley REGION SUBREGION PRINCIPAL VARIETAL The Upper Loire Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc Quincy Sauvignon Blanc Pouilly-Fume Sauvignon Blanc Menetou-Salon Sauvignon Blanc Reuilly Sauvignon Blanc Touraine Vouvray Chenin Blanc (dry, semi-sweet, and sparkling) Chinon Cabernet Franc Bourgueil Cabernet Franc Anjou/Saumur Savennieres Chenin Blanc Coteaux du Layon Chenin Blanc (sweet and semi sweet only) Quarts de Chaume Chenin Blanc (sweet and semi-sweet only) Nantes Muscadet Melon de Bourgogne Table 5-8 Appellations of France: The South REGION SUBREGION PRINCIPAL VARIETAL Provence Mourvedre, Cinsault, Grenache Languedoc-Roussillon Corbieres Mourvedre, Cinsault, Grenache, (The Midi) Carignan Minervois Mourvedre, Cinsault, Grenache, Carignan Banyuls Grenache (vin doux naturel only) The Southwest Madiran Tannat, Cabernet Franc Bergerac Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc Cahors Malbec
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|Title Annotation:||SECTION II: Wine Regions of Europe|
|Author:||Henderson, J. Patrick; Rex, Dellie|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 4: Tasting wines.|
|Next Article:||Chapter 6: Italy.|