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Fear not French Wine - A primer on what you're getting
© by April Eichmeier
Many people fear French wine: it's certainly not unjustified. California is nice: you know what kind of grapes are in the bottle, and to a certain extent, you know the characteristics. The French, though, produce some of the best stuff on the planet, and the most food-friendly. Fear of the unknown, though, can be a real deterrent: it is my hope that I'll help you make those first trepid steps into the French wine aisle.

Most important thing to know: Most French wine is named by the appellation system. In other words, the wine is labeled according to where it's made - like "Burgundy" or "Vouvray." If California ran on this system, we'd be drinking wine like "Alexander Valley" or "Paso Robles." The good news is that French law designates what grapes go into each wine (if grapes outside of the designees are included, the wine cannot carry the appellation label).

So, to help you relate the French regions to the grape varieties that may seem more familiar if you're used to U.S. wines, here's a handy-dandy table. While it's not fully comprehensive, I've tried to include the "biggies." It covers many of the main French wine regions.

REGIONGRAPE
BurgundyPinot Noir
BeaujolaisGamay
ChablisChardonnay
ChampagneChardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir
BordeauxCabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon
SauternesSauvignon Blanc, Semillon
AlsaceGewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris
Northern Rhone (e.g. Hermitage)Syrah, Marsanne, Roussanne
Southern Rhone (e.g. Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas)Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Carignan, Roussanne
Languedoc-RoussillonGrenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Carignan, Marsanne, Roussanne
LoireChenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir
VouvrayChenin Blanc
ProvenceGrenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault

For a comprehensive list, consult the Oxford Companion to Wine (Second Edition) by Jancis Robinson. In fact, most any question you might have is answered in this book. It's a great gift idea, too. (Click here to buy it at a 30 percent discount from Amazon.com).

Have courage, an adventurous spirit, and don't expect French wine to taste like Californian. After all, it wasn't grown there ...

Dec. 6, 2001

To contact April Eichmeier, write her at aeichmeier@hotmail.com.

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