Since we have looked at Italy fairly thouroughly over the last several Thursdays, I will move on to probably the most important wine growing region in the world- France. When I was studying for my sommelier exam, I asked what would be the most important things to study. The response that I got from my tutor was "France, France, France, Italy, Italy, and America." Point taken.
The reason France is so important is multilayered. Not only does it have the history, but the impact of France on the rest of the world is undeniable when it comes to wine. A majority of the time, when people are talking about bubbly wine, they call it "Champagne". Almost every wine lover has heard of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone. French wine terms such as veraison, sur lees, and terroir are part of every wine geek's vernacular. We even argue over French vs. American oak treatments.
The French were some of the first people to develop an appellation system. Again, this is a government-regulated system that denotes specific areas in the country where specific grapes are grown for wine. The wines are then named after that area, and rarely the grape. In France, The system goes from Vin de Table (Table wine), to Vin de Pays (Country wine), to VDQS (Vins Delimites de Qualite Superieure), to AC (Appellation Controllee) in order of quality. Vin de Table wines are the simple, sometimes home made wines that are "everyday drinkers" in France. They are usually of low quality, and rarely exported. Vin de Pays wines are becoming increasingly more popular, as they have less governmental regulation, and can be produced fairly inexpensively. A large number of these are in the retail stores- some are really good, some are terrible. VDQS wines are basically those waiting to gain AC status, and account for less than 1 percent of French wine production. Chances are you won't see them at a store. AC wines are the big ones- these are the ones that the government controls such things as varietals, harvesting dates, sugar levels at harvest, winemaking techniques, etc. They are at the top of the French quality pyramid, and seeing "AC", "AoC", or "Appellation (enter region here) Controllee" is usually a sign of quality on the label. Note the use of the word "usually".
France is really broken into two major climate areas- the Southern portion is a sunny, warm, Mediterranean climate, and the north and western portions are more Continental- affected by the Atlantic Gulf Stream. France is the second largest country in the world, next to Spain, in regards to the amount of land being cultivated for vines, and is almost always in the top three countries for wine consumption per capita.
Over the course of the next several Thursdays, we will take a look at the different wine areas of France, and what they contain. It will be confusing, and full of funny words, but I hope you will enjoy it.
All this being said, go buy yourself a bottle of French wine (we aren't still mad at them over the whole war thing, are we?), and enjoy.