1. Terroir is what it’s all about
One of the keys to French wine is what the French call terroir.
Unfortunately few are able to define ‘terroir’ in a way that non-French can
follow. But it’s a vague amalgamation of many things: where the grapes are
grown, its particular climate and type of soil; these all make a difference to
the wine you get. So, French wines are usually named after the place they come
from, rather than the type of grape, although there are exceptions, e.g. Malbec.
2. What you need to know is on the label
The label on the wine bottle gives you all the information
you need to know about the wine. The name tells you where the wine comes from –
Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Sancerre, Gigondas, etc. The label also tells what year the wine was
produced. And many labels tell you who made it – Château Romanin or Domaine
Mayard although don’t expect this level of detail on middle-of-the-road table
3. Grapes and vintage
The name of the wine tells you what grapes are used.
Sometimes it’s just one grape, sometimes it’s a blend of different grapes.
Check the back of the bottle; the grapes are often listed there.
The year the wine was produced — the ‘vintage’ —is important
because quality can vary depending on the weather each year.
Note: “vintage” does not necessarily mean that the wine is
old. ‘Vintage’ simply means that all the grapes were grown in one year. A non-vintage
(NV) means the wine was made from grapes grown in multiple years.