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Winemaking in France

Europe is the oldest winemaking area in the world, and the Romans introduced the art to the various countries that it conquered. Commercial winemaking in France has Roman origins, and it is somewhat ironic that although Italy still makes more wine than any other country in the world, the fantastic red wines come from France.

The word ‘art’ is used deliberately, since the French believe that the making of wine is more of an art than a science, and fantastic wines are regarded as being made by fantastic artists, as fantastic as any using palette and oils. Although there are many factors that contribute to the end result, each maker is able to add their own personal touch or special method that makes their wine unique. Whereas in Italy wine is regarded as a liquid food to be mass produced, in France it is produced for quality rather than quantity.

There is a very wide variety of French wines, the characteristics of each being determined by the type of soil, the climate, the grape variety and date of picking and even the type of fermentation vessel used and how long fermentation is allow to continue and the wine is stored. There are many more factors that determine the difference between wines, and that result in wines produced in the same area and made from the same grapes being distinctly different from one another. The French call these factors ‘terroir’.

The fantastic French wines include the reds of Burgundy and Bordeaux, the home of claret. There is Beaujolais, well-known for its November Nouveaux rush, the Rhone valley with its grand Cote De Rhone, and the fantastic whites of Alsace and the Loire – Sancerre being the most well-known, made from the lovely sauvignon blanc grape. But, it only just beats Puilly-Fumé made down the road using the same grape.

Then of course we have the Champagne district, of which small need be said. It is the world’s recognized tipple of the rich and the wine of like. But, French wine is lot more than champagne and the name given to it, rather than Chardonnay, is an indication of how French wines are named by district rather than grape variety.

This is largely because each district takes pride in its own product, and the French winemaker regards the grape as only one of the many variables that determine the nature of the wine. The same grapes can used in many winemaking districts and chateaux, but each wine is distinctly different. For these reasons they do not regard it as logical to mark the wine with the grape rather than the area in which it is produced.

There are, in fact, seven major wine growing regions in France: those mentioned apart from Beaujolais with the addition of Provence. Bordeaux, but, is the main red wine area of France, with cabernet sauvignon grapes favored on the more gravelly left bank of the river and Merlot on the right with its more claylike soil. This fantastic red grape region, fascinatingly, also produces the famed sweet white Sauternes, one of the best dessert wines in the world.

The favorite grapes to French winemakers include the fore-mentioned chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, and also chenin blanc, muscadet and pinot blanc. Riesling is also well loved in Alsace. Among the reds are the fantastic cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, Grenache, syrah and pinot noir though the grape variety is generally only mentioned on the description rather than the front mark.

At one time the French drank only their local wines, but as transportation improved they started to try wines from other localities. The French were the largest drinkers of French wines, but now there are more imports from the New World and exports are of extreme importance to France. French wines are no longer regarded as necessarily the best and some Californian and Australian wines are overtaking France, not only in the quality of their wines but also in the development of new winemaking techniques.

But, connoisseurs of wine will still regard the fantastic French reds as being the best and it is unlikely that French winemaking will suffer greatly through this competition. Winemaking in France is traditional, as are the tastes of many European wine connoisseurs, and it is hard to see them abandoning the fantastic French reds and mellow whites for the newer methods of Australia and California.

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