Select These Wines When In France

Posted on: 21 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Find the best wines from five unsung French wine regions.


French wine is produced in several regions throughout France, on over 2 million acres of vineyards. In a typical year between 50 and 60 million hectolitres of wine is produced, or some 7 to 8 billion bottles.

France thus has the world's second-largest total vineyard surface behind Spain and competes with Italy for the position of having the world's largest wine production.

Languedoc-Roussillon

The vast area of vines, the largest in France, curving round the Med is beginning to shed its reputation for perpetual underachievement.

As the rise of New World wines continues, Languedoc-Roussillon offers an affordable French alternative.  Indeed, many of the makers responsible for raising the region’s profile learned their trade in Australia and California. 

At present, quality remains incredibly varied and the area’s woolly appellation zones offer little in the way of a reliable guide.

What to drink: Corbières and Fitou are two of the big reds, produced from Carignan loaded blends. 

The Coteaux du Languedoc and Roussillon areas have been making wine for well over 2,000 years.  The latter has gained a reputation for producing some dazzling reds and rosés, while the former also seems on the up with its Carignan-Syrah blends.

Jura & Savoie

Jura has pulled back from the brink as a wine region, gradually clawing back the land under vine after decades of decline in the 20th century. 

However, it remains a region where wine, and idiosyncratic grape varieties, has progressed little in centuries.

What to drink: The area is famous for vin jaune, a yellow wine made from the Savagnin grape with its nutty hint of sherry.  Here too you find vin de paille, a sweet white traditionally made by drying the grapes out on straw.  Both are something of an acquired taste. 

Arbois and Côte du Jura are the main growing areas, producing vin jaune, vin de paille and a few Pinot Noir-led reds. 

The scattered Vin de Savoie appellation, harbouring a light white made from the Jacquère grape, is about as close as wine gets to the Alps.

Provence

From the Rhône delta around to Nice, Provence harbours some rewarding wines, most of them overlooked outside the region.

What to drink: Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Côtes de Provence are the largest appellations

Both are dominated by fruity reds, made with Grenache grapes in Aix and Carignan in Côtes de Provence.  Certain vineyards have also taken to bolstering their wines with Cabernet Sauvignon but are forced to sell them as mere vin de table in accordance with AOC rules. 

Côtes de Provence is also home to some famous rosé wines, again with the Carignan grape at their heart. 

The rosés’ colour and taste are achieved by reducing the amount of time the wine spends in contact with the grape skins.

Corsica

In wine, as in most things, Corsica is something of a law unto itself.  Italian grape varieties play an important role in wines for which AOC status seems to have been granted arbitrarily.

What to drink: Vin de Corse is an appellation applying to the entirety of Corsica and is thus largely obsolete as an indicator of quality. 

Meaty, herb tinged reds, dry whites and full-bodied rosés all fall within its bounds.  Other AOC regions are more precise. Patrimonio reds blend Italianate grapes for wines with longevity and clout, while the whites are made exclusively from herby Vermentino grapes. 

Vermentino is used in Ajaccio whites too, although here the blended reds, led by the Sciacarello grape, take precedence. 

South-West

Large co-ops and tiny smallholders operate side by side in the south-west. 

Bordeaux’s domineering grape varieties overlap into the vinous mélange, yet you also encounter little known local varieties making distinct if untrendy wines. 

What to drink: While Bergerac is still regarded as the cheaper sibling of Bordeaux, its reds are granted increasing prestige. 

The tannic ‘black wine’ of the Cahors appellation is produced from the Malbec grape, although today many makers moderate the brooding red with Merlot. 

At the foot of the Pyrenees, the dry and sweet whites of Jurançon carry a pineapple bouquet.  A few miles north, the Madiran appellation produces a bullish red traditionally made with the Tannat grape.


Speak The Culture: FranceThis extract is taken from Speak The Culture: France, published by Thorogood and available from all good bookshops priced £12.99.  Alternatively you can purchase it from Amazon for £8.44.

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