France’s wine roots go back to the 6th century BC where vines were introduced by Greek settlers in Southern Gaul. The wines of the region became the world standard and during the Roman empire, these vineyards saw great expansion in the areas we now know as Bordeaux, Alsace, Languedoc, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire Valley and Rhône. During the Middle Ages it was the Monks that maintained many of the vineyards. This period also cultivated wide-spread trade of French wines to other European countries which helped France begin their long-standing reign of producing some of the world’s finest wines. Since then, winemaking in France has developed into a fine art and in doing so, has raised the bar for other wine producing nations.
In 1935 the system of Appellations was introduced as a way of protecting the quality of French wine. This French wine law, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, stands firmly today, continuing to regulate grape growing regions and maintain the high standards of virtually every detail that goes into winemaking. There are even classifications (Premier cru - first growth, or Grand cru - great growth) that top vineyards or groups of vineyards are given, recognizing not only the high quality terroir but also the wineries and/or wines produced by these designated vineyards. Depending on the region, the classification could differ slightly. Originally the meaning of the French word ‘cru’ translated to ‘growth’ which closely relates to the term and the idea of ‘terroir’. Terroir is a wine term that is deeply embedded in French winemaking culture in the sense that the terroir, or the terrain, has significant influences on the characteristics of the finished wines.
Today, France is still the world’s top producer of wine, with wine growing regions throughout the country producing seven to eight billion bottles a year. The major wine growing regions include: Alsace, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Brittany, Burgundy, Champagne, Normandy, Rhône Valley and Provence among others. Each of these regions are known for their unique growing conditions and terroir which is why you will see French wines labeled as their region, such as a Bordeaux rouge or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, rather than the grape varietals that we are used to in the States.
Although the wines are not typically labeled with their varietals, there are certain regions that have become associated with particular varieties, for example, Chardonnay in Bourgogne, Riesling wines in Loire and Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux. France is also home to considerable number of other varietals including but not limited to, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Pinot noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cinsault, Merlot and Syrah.
We have featured a wide variety of elegant French wines in our International Wine Club and Pinot Noir Wine Club, as well as classic and outstanding Champagnes for our annual Champagne Special during the holidays.
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