April 2009                               


3R's - Rafik Samuel

Je voudrais un verre de vin s’il vous plait

Ok, let’s talk French wine. No question that French wine is the most famous (best? well that depends on your taste). There are many regions in France that produce wine. These include Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Loire, & Alsace. Each of these regions have their own bottling and labeling rules that can make it quite an adventure to figure out, if not familiar. First, the varietal is usually not on the label. You just need to know that a Burgundy contains pinot noir (red) or chardonnay (white). So it is worth talking a little about the wines from France. Trust me, I am not a huge French wine fan (yet?).

Bordeaux is probably the most famous (burgundy fans may object). The region is along the Gironde River in western France. The region is divided into districts by the river and is known by these names: The left bank of the river includes Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux and Graves. The right bank includes Pomerol and Saint Emilion. The left bank wines are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. These wines are much more tannic and age very well, hence you can open a 1961 bottle and have it not be vinegar (now that kind of wine will cost you a few months’ salary). The most famous vineyard is probably Chateau Lafite-Rothchild that sells their top wines for over $1,000 a bottle!! Bottom line, these wines can age 10+ years; if you open them early, you will need to decant them. The right bank wines are blends of Merlot and Cabernet Franc with some Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec. These wines are more fruit forward with less tannin and therefore need less aging than the left bank. Bottom line, these wines should age 5+ years. The Bordeaux wines are medium to full bodied wines and definitely go with heartier meals.

Burgundy is in eastern France, not far from Alsace, and produces Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir), White Burgundy (Chardonnay), Beaujolais (Gamay), Pouilly-Fuisse/Macon (Chardonnay), & Chablis (Chardonnay). The only grape I really haven’t mentioned before is Gamay. Beaujolais (Gamay) is a very light bodied, fruit forward and ready to drink today kind of wine. They can be sipped easily. The Burgundy wines are also broken down by tier: from best to lowest quality: Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village, Hautes Cotes, & Bourgogne. So for example if you get a red Burgundy Grand Cru, that means you have a top quality pinot noir (and a pricey one too). If you have a Bourgogne White Burgundy, you have a mass produced chardonnay (likely cheaper).

I already touched on the Rhone region; these wines are made from Syrah and Grenache. (last month’s wine column).

The South of France region is the Mediterranean coast, and produces wines from Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache and more recently Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Interestingly enough, they list the varietal on the label so you know what you are going to get.