So you love wine. No, I mean you really love wine, but how do you grow your wine knowledge? Don’t get stuck in a rut. It’s easy to always drink your favorite wine from a familiar region. It’s safe; I get it! But oh my goodness, you have no idea what you are missing out on if you don’t try new wines from new regions… and that list (new wines and regions) is continuing to grow. I am all about wine adventures and exploring new wines and food pairings. One of my favorite wine regions is France. If you are intimidated by French wines and those labels, this post is for you! Discover French Wine: Where to Start!
This month the French Winophiles are eager to share our love of French wine. Join us as we write and convene on Twitter this Saturday, January 18th, at 11:00 AM ET sharing our Newcomer’s Guide to French Wine.
French Wine: Where to Start
1. Get to know the wine-growing regions in France
Each region is known for specific grape varieties. For example, Bourgogne (Burgundy) is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
2. Learn the basics of a French wine label
Some common terms you may encounter on a French wine label:
AOP/AOC: (appellation d’ origine protégée/appellation d’ origine contrôlée) France’s most stringent classification; specifies geographic area, grapes allowed in the wine, quality of grapes, how vineyards are planted, winemaking, and aging process.
biologique: organically produced
brut: dry style
grand cru: “great growth” used in Burgundy and Champagne to indicate the region’s best vineyards.
IGP (Vin de Pays): (indication geographique protégeé) An everyday level of French wine. This classification is less strict compared to AOP/AOC.
millésime: vintage (year of harvest)
mis en bouteille au château/domaine: bottled at the winery
pétillant: lightly sparkling
premiere cru (1er cru): “first growth” indicates top-tier producers in Bordeaux and second-best vineyards in Burgundy and Champagne.
supérieur: a term used in Bordeaux to indicate a wine with higher minimum alcohol and aging requirements compared to the standard.
sur lie: a wine that has aged on its lees (dead yeast particles), which is known to produce a creamy taste and texture.
vieille vignes: old vines
Vin de France: a French wine classification indicating no regional specificity, a basic table wine.
vin doux naturel (VDN): a wine that is fortified during fermentation (usually a sweet dessert wine).
3. Start with a grape variety you are familiar with and already enjoy
If you drink and enjoy, for example, Pinot Noir, try a French Burgundy and compare it with your usual Pinot Noir.
4. Find a local wine store with helpful and educated staff
Great wine store staff can suggest wines in your price range, that fit your palate style, and make recommendations for food pairings.
Once you have decided on a wine and region to try, do more in-depth research on the region. Maybe cook and pair your wine with a regional specialty. Then repeat with a new wine and region. Before you know it, you will be the expert!
My French Wine Tasting Notes
2017 Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Les Sétilles
13% abv | $24.00 average price | 100% Chardonnay
The wine is sourced from vineyards within the Puligny Montrachet and Meursault regions. Approximately 60% is aged in Allier oak, only 10% of which is new, and the remaining 40% is aged in stainless steel.
Medium-straw in color with medium body and medium(+) acidity. On the palate notes of lime, minerals, and spice.
2016 Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne
13% abv | $22.00 average price | 100% Pinot Noir
The wine is sourced from vineyards throughout the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, and the Côte Chalonnaise. Aging is for 12-14 months in French oak barrels, of which 20-30% is new oak.
Medium garnet in color with a hint of brown at the rim. Medium(-) body with medium(+) tannins and medium acidity. On the palate, firm tannins with subtle notes of cherry and plum. Nice acidity, but the tannins overwhelm the fruit characteristics.
2017 Domaine Ninot, Grésigny, Rully Premier Cru, Bourgogne
13% abv | $47.00 average price | 100% Chardonnay
Domaine Ninot is a family estate based in Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise. The wine is sourced from 50+ year-old vines planted on the hillside in argilo-calcereous soil. The grape must is put into vats and barrels for natural yeast fermentation. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation. Partial aging is in oak casks and traditional Burgundian methods.
Medium yellow-gold in color. Medium body and acidity. On the palate lemons, grapefruit, créme brûlée, and minerals with a rich, soft texture. Well balanced with a lingering finish.
2016 Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils, Beaune du Château Premier Cru, Côte d’Or, Bourgogne
13.5% abv | $37.00 average price | 100% Pinot Noir
The wine is sourced from 17 Beaune Premier Cru vineyards; Aigrots, Avaux, Bas des Teurons, Belissands, Boucherottes, Bressandes, Cent Vignes, Champs Pimonts, Clos du Roi, A l’Ecu, En Genêts, Grèves, Pertuisots, Reversées, Seurey, Sizies, and Toussaints. Aging is 12-14 months in French oak, with 25-35% new oak.
Medium bright ruby in color. Medium body and acidity with medium(+) tannins. On the palate, cherries, pomegranate, and dried herbs.
My French Food Pairing
Salmon with Leeks, Potatoes, and Bacon from “Parisian Home Cooking,” by Michael Roberts
I wanted a pairing that was French-influenced, not too heavy, on the healthy side, had layers of flavors (so French), and could hopefully work with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Overall the acidity, especially in the Olivier Leflaive Chardonnay, balanced the richness of the salmon and creamy leeks and potatoes. The applewood smoked bacon, herbs, and leeks brought out an earthiness in both Pinot Noir wines. The firm tannins in the Faiveley Pinot Noir were mellowed out and balanced with the richness of the salmon.
Salmon with Leeks, Potatoes, and Bacon
- 2 large leeks, well washed, white part only, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
- 1/4 lb. applewood smoked bacon, finely diced
- 1 lb. medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 4 4 oz. salmon fillets (wild if possible)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a 5-1/2 qt French (Dutch) oven, combine the leeks and bacon. Cook over medium high heat, stirring until the bacon renders its fat, about 3-5 minutes. Add the potatoes, thyme, and bay leaves and pour in the chicken broth and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Lay the salmon fillets on the potato/leek mixture, recover, and return to the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the salmon is cooked to desired doneness.
- Transfer the salmon to a platter. Remove the bay leaves. To serve: In a shallow, wide rim soup bowl, portion out some of the potato/leek mixture and top with a salmon fillet.
More from the French Winophiles and a Newcomer’s French Wine Guide ~
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “French Wine…Where to Begin?”
- Pierre and Cynthia at Traveling Wine Profs share “Exploring French Wine on a Tight Budget at Trader Joe’s”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Cam shares “Deciphering French Wine Labels”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Mediterranean Shrimp with a Corsican Wine”
- Jill at L’Occasion shares “Your Ticket To French Wine Is Actually A Map“
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “French Wine 101 Cheat Sheet”
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings shares “Learn about Wines from the Bourgueil AOC While Eating Pork Tongue Head Cheese + Napa Cabbage Salad”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “One Name to Get You Started on French Wine”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Discover French Wine: Where to Start”
- Gwen at Wine Predator shares two:
- “Introduce a Friend to French Wine 1: Chateauneuf – du – Pape and Cassoulet”
- “Introduce a Friend to French Wine 2: Loire’s Amirault in Nicholas Bourgeil”
- Susannah at Avvinare adds “Start Your French Wine Study With Beaujolais ”
- Terri at Our Good Life shares “Newcomer’s Guide to French Wine: the Burgundies“
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “French Wine 101: Taste for Yourself”