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Understanding Varietals
Pronunciation Glossary
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How to Taste Wine
How Wine is Made
How Wine is Stored
Wine Regions
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Wine Regions
Alsace, a region in northeast France, is bordered by the Vosges Mountains on the West and separated from Germany by the Rhine River on the East. The wine area is 70 miles long and about two miles wide. The Vosges Mountains shield Alsace's vineyards and limit the rainfall. In an average year the wine area enjoys about 50 additional days of sunshine

Alsace is unique among French wine regions in that it labels most of its wines with the name of the grape variety used, rather than with a vineyard or village name. Some of the wines are further defined by law as grand vin or grand cru. Many shippers also distinguish their finer lots of wine by adding grande reserve or exceptionelle to the label.

Almost all the wines of Alsace are white. Among the most important are:
Riesling, the most elegant grape of Alsace. The Riesling is the same grape that is grown in Germany, except here it makes a dry wine.
Gewurztraminer, the most distinctive of Alsace's wines. Gewurz means "spicy" in German. It is a fruity wine with a pungent flavor and a perfumed and flowery bouquet. Sylvaner makes an agreeable, fresh, fruity, dry wine.

Other grape varieties grown are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat. Cremant d'Alsace is produced by the methode champenoise and is a dry fruity sparkling wine.

For further information contact Food & Wine From France www.frenchwinesfood.com.

Bordeaux is one of the most important wine regions of the world, producing about one third of the fine wines of France. Located near the Atlantic coast in southwest France, about 300 miles from Paris, Bordeaux is a region dominated by its rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne which meet to become the Gironde. The major grapes grown for Bordeaux red wines are Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc which give the wine vigor, tannin and long life, and Merlot which gives softness and suppleness. Malbec and Petit Verdot are used in small quantities. White wines are made from one or more of the following varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and occasionally Muscadelle. Bordeaux wines are almost always a blend.

There are five basic categories under which Bordeaux wines are sold. The first is chateau-bottled wine, wine made from grapes grown entirely on the vineyards of one estate, or chateau, and vinified, aged and bottled on the same estate. The second category are those wines that are made at a chateau or vineyard and then sold in a barrel to a Bordeaux shipper who bottles them. The third and largest category are the regional or communal appellations, such as Graves, Saint-Emilion or simply Bordeaux. A fourth category are Bordeaux wines that are sold under the name of the Grape variety from which they are made. By law, these wines must be made of 100% of the designated varietal. A fifth category is the Monopole, a white wine blended by a merchant-shipper and a given brand name.

The Red Wines of Bordeaux-Medoc - The wines of the Medoc appellation are all red. Medoc, north of Bordeaux, is divided into two parts- the Haut-Medoc, which is the southern part nearest to the city, and the northern half which is usually called just the Medoc. The Haut Medoc is divided into six communes. They are home to some of the most famous vineyards in the world. From North to South they are: Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, home to 3 First Growths-Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild . Saint-Julien follows; then Moulis and Listrac. Margaux is home to the first growth of the same name. The district of Graves, which begins outside the city of Bordeaux, derives its name from its gravelly soil. Chateau Haut-Brion is a first growth. The district of Saint-Emilion, about 20 miles northeast of the city of Bordeaux is home to two first growths - Ausone and Cheval Blanc . Pomerol is the smallest of the top wine districts of Bordeaux. Its most famous wine is the first growth-Petrus. There are other districts of Bordeaux that produce red wines. They include: Blaye, Premieres Cotes de Blaye, Cotes de Bourg and Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux. These districts, which account for half the production of red Bordeaux, make wines that represents the basic Bordeaux taste.

The White Wines of Bordeaux-Bordeaux Blanc produces basic white wines that are light and refreshing. Graves- About 2/3 of the wines of Graves are white. Entre-Deux-Mers - One of Bordeaux's major areas for good, everyday white wines. I is situated between the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers, hence its name-between two rivers. Sauternes and Barsac are in the most Southern reaches of Bordeaux. They are known for their luscious, golden sweet wines. They are among the greatest dessert wines in the world. Its star is Chateau d'Yquem.

For further information contact Food & Wine From France www.bordeaux.com.

The wine region of Burgundy begins about 70 miles Southeast of Paris and extends to Lyon, about 225 miles. All of the Cote d'Or, the heart of the region and the home to its most remarkable wines, produces about 1/10th that of Bordeaux. Geographically, Burgundy is separated into a number of districts. From North to South- Chablis, the Cote d'Or (which is divided into the Northern Cote de Nuits and Southern Cote de Beaune), Cote Chalonnaise, the Maconnais and Beaujolais.

Burgundy's major white wines are made from the Chardonnay grape. The reds of the Cote d'Or and the Chalonnais are made from the Pinot Noir, while the reds of the Maconnais and Beaujolais are made from the Gamay. The system of small ownership prevails in Burgundy. While the great vineyards remain intact as appellations, they are divided among many proprietors. Because a small proprietor may own only a few rows of a vineyard, they almost always sell their wine to a shipper. The shipper, in turn, will blend it with other wines of that appellation, and age and bottle it.

The wines of the Cote d'Or are classified as Grand Cru, Premier Cru and village wines. Grand Crus are identified only by their vineyard name, i.e., Chambertin. Premier Cru wines are labeled first with the village name, then with either the vineyard name or the phrase Premier Cru, and often with both. Village wines are named for the village - Pommard, for instance. Many villages have added the name of their most famous vineyard to their own; for example, Gevrey is now Gevrey-Chambertin.

The Red Wines of Burgundy- Beginning in the North with the Cote de Nuits section of the Cote d'Or; just below the city of Dijon is Fixin. Then the famous village of Gevrey-Chambertin, home to 8 Grand Cru vineyards, including Chambertin and Chambertin-Clos de Beze. Next is Morey-Saint-Denis, a village of 4 Grand Crus, including all of Clos de Tart. The Grand Crus of Bonnes Mares and Musigny lie in Chambolle-Musigny. The village of Vougeot contains the Grand Cru- Clos de Vougeot. The next village, Vosne-Romanee, is the home of Romanee-Conti, La Tache and Richebourg Grand Crus. Nuits-Saint-Georges is the largest vineyard area and Southernmost town of the Cote de Nuits.A few miles South of Nuits-Saint-Georges, the Cote de Beaune begins. The first important village is Aloxe-Corton, home to the only Grand Cru red wine of the Cote de Beaune-Corton. Savigny is one of the largest red wine areas of the Cote de Beaune. The city of Beaune is the wine center of Burgundy. Here can be found the Hospice de Beaune, whose annual wine auction sets the tone for Buegundy pricing. Pommard, to the South; Volnay, its neighbor and Auxey-Duresses are other villages. The great fame of Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet lies in their white wines. Further South is Santenay, the last wine village of importance in the Cote de Beaune. The red wines of the Cote Chalonnaise include Givry and Mercurey. The Macon district makes some red wines, but is noted for its whites. Beaujolais, the last district of the Burgundy span produces one of the most famous red wines in the world. They are light and fruity and should be enjoyed slightly cooled and young. Beaujolais Nouveau is released the third Thursday in November and should be consumed within a few months. Both as made from the Gamay grape. There are 4 grades of Beaujolais; Beaujolais; Beaujolais Superior, with one degree more alcohol; Beaujolais-Villages comes from 39 designated villages. The most distinctive wine is Cru Beaujolais. It comes from 10 villages and is labeled by the village name, i.e., Fleurie and Brouilly Moulin-A-Vent.

The White Wines of Burgundy- The village and commune of Chablis, separated from the Cote d'Or by about 75 miles, produces one of the best-known still, dry white wines of France. There are 4 categories of wine in Chablis. The first is Petit Chablis. Chablis without any other qualification is the regional appellation. Chablis Premier Cru may be labeled with the name of the vineyard, or if a blend of many Premier Crus, simply the word-Premier Cru. The 7 Grand Crus are labeled with their vineyard names, i.e., Les Clos, Valmur and Vaudesir. While the Cote de Nuits is basically noted for its reds, the Cote de Beaune's greatest fame is in its whites. The village of Aloxe-Corton is home to the Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne. Meursault is almost exclusively white wines. Puligny-Montrachet makes only white wines It is a village of 2 Grand Crus, Chevalier-Montrachet and Bienvenue-Batard-Montrachet and parts of 2 other Grand Crus, Batard-Montrachet and Montrachet, one of the best dry white wines of the world. Close by is the town of Chassagne-Montrachet, home of Grand Cru Criots-Batard-Montrachet and the rest of Batard-Montrachet and Montrachet. In Southern Burgundy are the white wines of Mercurey and Cote Chalonnaise including Montagny and Rully. The Maconnais produces large quantities of white wines from the Chardonnay grape. Most are labeled as Macon, Macon-Villages or Macon Chardonnay. The best known wine of the region is Pouilly-Fuisse.

Located 90 miles East of Paris, the Appellation "Champagne" applies only to the wines produced in the Champagne region of France, whose two main cities are Reims and Epernay. Only three grape varieties are allowed in the production of Champagne (See How Champagne Is Made): Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There are also limits on yields, pruning, the height, the spacing and the density of the vines, to ensure harvesting by hand. Recently measures have been taken to lengthen the minimum aging time to 15 months for Non-Vintage Champagnes and to 3 years for Vintage wines.

Pinot Noir, a black grape variety with white juice gives Champagne their aromas of red fruits, as well as their strength and body. Pinot Meunier, another black grape variety with white juice gives Champagne its roundness and fragrance. Chardonnay, a white variety provides finesse and floral overtones. A Champagne labeled Blanc de Blancs means only Chardonnay is used.

Brut Non Vintage is the wine most representative of a producers style. It is usually a blend of wines from several years. Vintage Champagne is produced exclusively from the wines of a single harvest. It is declared only in exceptional years. Rose Champagnes are produced by macerating the black grapes or by adding red wine to the blend. Special Cuvees, whether vintage-dated or not, are made from the most subtle and distinctive wines. Demi-Sec Champagnes differ from Bruts in their slightly sweeter taste... Extra-Dry Champagnes, despite the name, are not as dry as Brut.

Excerpted from the Wines of Champagne. For further information, contact www.champagnes.com.

The Cotes du Rhone is a long, narrow strip of wine country that begins just below Lyon, the great gastronomic center, and ends 125 miles south at Avignon. Over 90% of Rhone wines are red. With their long, intensely hot and sunny growing season, the wines are generally big, robust and high in alcohol. In the northern part of the valley the wines tend to be full-bodied and long-lived. Most are made from the Syrah grape. Southern Rhone wines tend to mature earlier and may be produced from more than a dozen different grape varieties.

The Northern Vineyards include: Cote Rotie, or "roasted slope", that are often called the best of the Rhone wines. They are hard in their youth and can age for many years. Hermitage also are full bodied and age well. The vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage, on the lower slopes, mature earlier. Saint-Joseph matures more quickly than most northern Rhones. Cornas, less well known, is often a good value. The finest of the white Cotes du Rhones is Condrieu, near Cote Rotie. Chateau Grillet is the smallest appellation controlee in France. Both are made from the Viognier grape variety.

The Southern Vineyards are responsible for about 80% of the production of the Cotes du Rhone. Tavel, the best known rose of France is made predominately of the Grenache grape. It is a dry and delicate wine. The most celebrated of all Rhone wines is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It can be made from a combination of as many as 13 authorized grape varieties including Syrah and Grenache, and matures earlier than Northern Rhone wines. Wines of the area without the right to more specific appellations are bottled under the appellation Cotes du Rhone.

The Loire Valley is possibly the most beautiful wine region of France. This is where medieval knights built fortresses, where the kings of the 15th and 16th centuries built fabulous pleasure castles. Many of them still stand today.

About three quarters of the wines are white. Roses come primarily from the district of Anjou. The Loire's lovely sparkling wines come mainly from Touraine and Saumur. The valley, in west-central France takes its name from the Loire River which flows across it, east to west, for about 350 miles before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.

The eastern part of the valley is called the Upper Loire and here, Sauvignon Blanc, which also produces some of the great white wines of Bordeaux, is the most successful grape. The first vineyards of the area produce Pouilly Fume (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuisse of Burgundy). Across the river is Sancerre, also from the Sauvignon grape. It is one of the best known wines of the Loire; dry, crisp and full-flavored.

Further to the west, in the center of the valley, is the large district of Touraine. Here, the Chenin Blanc is the dominate white grape, and its most famous wines is Vouvray which is generally soft, fresh and fruity, and best drunk when young. Touraine is also home to the Loire's best red wines- Chinon and Bourgueil, made from the Cabernet Franc grape.

The large district of Anjou-Saumur, Touraine's neighbor to the west, also produces white wines from Chenin Blanc. The best is Saumur, often made into a sparkling wine using the methode champenoise. About half of Anjou's production is rose wines; they are fresh and fruity. Also produced in Anjou is Coteaux du Layon which makes elegant sweet wines.

Muscadet, the "far west" of the Loire Valley, produces a white wine that is light and dry. The grape variety, like the wine is called Muscadet.


The region begins just South of Bordeaux and extends almost to the Spanish border. Included are: Bergerac, just East of Bordeaux, which produces red wines from the same varieties as Bordeaux. The white wines also use the Bordeaux grape varieties(Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec for reds; Semillon and Sauvignon for whites). Cahors produces only red wines. The main grape variety is Malbec. These are powerful dark red wines. Gaillac is best known for its white and sparkling wines. Jurancon is a sweet white wine. Madiran is a full-bodied red wine.


The wine-growing region of Provence is the oldest vineyard of France. It begins where the Rhone ends, and runs along the Mediterranean Sea toward Cannes. Cotes-de-Provence wines are the largest single appellation controled in the region. Known principally for its rose wines, from Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre & Syrah. Bandol wines must contain a high percentage of the Mourvedre grape variety. Provence also produces red, white and rose wines in the table wine category.


Bordering on the Mediterranean, this is the largest vineyard of France. It represents more than 1/3 of the total vineyard area of France. It produces a large part of French Vins de Table. Languedoc Roussillon produces mostly red wines. Cotes du Roussillon is France's most southern district which is located on the Spanish border. They are red, white and rose wines from Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. Fitou is made from Grenache & Carignan, and is a full-bodied red wine. Corbieres produces mostly red wines. Minervois is very similar to Corbieres, with mainly red wines from Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan and some Syrah. Coteaux de Languedoc appellation produces red and rose wines. Naturally sweet wines are also produced in the Languedoc Roussillon region. They include: Banyuls, from the black Grenaches, and Muscat de Frontignan.

Material excerpted from the French Wine Correspondence Course.
For travel information contact the French Government Tourist Office