This is going to be a daunting task- breaking French wine into bite-sized pieces that are easily read on a blog. However, I will try.
When looking at France, it is tough to determine which area is the most important. Therefore, I will start with the largest fine wine region in the world- Bordeaux. Located in the southwestern corner of France, not far off the Atlantic coast, Bordeaux has roughly 15,000 growers that sell to wineries producing between 500 and 800 million bottles of wine annually. The are covered by Bordeaux is bigger than all of the wine growing regions of Germany combined, and nearly 10 times as large as the area covered by vineyards in New Zealand! The area definitely is affected by the maritime influence of the Atlantic Ocean (so much so that the name Bordeaux is roughly translated "along the waters"), as well as that of the Gironde river- which splits into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers in the middle of the area. These rivers basically split Bordeaux into three different areas- the "Left Bank", which is the area to the west of the Gironde; "Entre-Deux-Mers", which is the area between the Dordogne and the Garonne; and the "Right Bank", to the east of the Girone and Garonne. We will deal with each of these areas separately over the next couple of weeks.
Since about 80% of the wine coming from the region is red, that is what we will be focusing on in the near future. Bordeaux is essentially planted with 5 red grapes- Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. The most widely grown grape is Merlot, which is followed by Cabernet Sauvignon. Virtually all of the wines coming from Bordeaux are a blend of these grapes, very few being singular varietal. There are some white grapes grown there as well, most commonly Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Ugni Blanc. The bulk of the soil in the area consists of gravel, with the exception of the Right Bank, which is mostly clay.
Because of the detail involved, we will look at the Left Bank next week, and discuss the Classification of 1855.
In the meantime, go find a bottle of Bordeaux- your local retailer can help, and drink it. Specifically, get something from the Haut Medoc, or the Medoc. Then you will have a better understanding of our lesson for next Thursday.