20 August 2014

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French lessons - three regions in a nutshell


France produces an enormous range of classic wines, but Hamish Anderson singles out three regions that are currently producing some of the best bottles


Key Red Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot

Key White Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon

french vineyard vignes_de_Meursault_opt.jpg Red wines dominate Bordeaux, and the Gironde Estuary that cuts through the region neatly divides the styles. Those on the left bank (as you look out to sea) are dominated by the masculine Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and it’s here that you’ll find the noble, long-lived wines of the Médoc – St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux. To the south of Bordeaux City is Graves, famous for reds and dry whites.
On the banks of the Garonne river lie Sauternes and Barsac where, in years blessed by the Botrytis mould, unctuous, creamy, sweet wines are produced. The right bank is dominated by Merlot, with the stars being Pomerol and St Émilion. These wines are juicier and more approachable in youth than their Médoc cousins.


Key white grape: Chardonnay

Key red grape: Pinot Noir

Burgundy is dominated by two of the world’s key grape varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and it is here that both reach their apogee. The region of Chablis sits on its own to the north; it is cooler and as a result produces Chardonnays that are steely and restrained, with little influence from oak maturation. These are true vins de terroir, tasting not of the grape but of the place itself. The Côte de Nuits, immediately south of Beaune, is red wine country and here, on the Côte d’Or escarpment, Pinot Noir reveals its full spectrum of flavours, from perfumed Chambolle-Musigny to structured Nuits-St-Georges. Côte de Beaune is a white-dominated region where famous villages like Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet produce powerful, dense wines. Further south, the Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais are a source of good-value whites and reds.


Key Red Grapes: Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre

Wine barells - wine barells IMG_8302_opt.jpg Easily the largest wine-producing region in France, Languedoc-Roussillon mainly produces reds, with a style that varies depending on producer and which of the five main grapes (listed above) are used. This is an innovative area, with many estates making varietal wines as well as top-notch experimental blends that appear under the Vin de Pays label. St-Chinian and Faugères benefit from a high altitude and so, by the standards of the region, make for restrained, structured wines. The hotter zones like Côteaux du Languedoc and Corbières tend to be denser and chewier in style. Head west, towards Spain, and you’ll come across the marmalade-infused sweet Muscat whites of Muscat de St-Jean de Minervois and Rivesaltes. The cool heights of Limoux make excellent whites, often from Chardonnay, and fine fizz. Finally, Banyuls and Maury produce sweet, fortified reds – perfect for chocolate puddings.

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Editorial feature from Square Meal Restaurants & Bars 2008

« Wine - France