Wine is produced in 12 regions of France:
- South-west France
Wine is produced from a number of grape varieties, such as
cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, syrah and others.
There are two key elements that apply to French wine. The
first is the untranslatable notion of terroir, a concept that combines
locality, earthiness of the soil, climate and a range of intangibles, all of
which contribute to the quality of the wine. The other is the Appellation
d'Origine Controlée (AOC, for short), which sets down very strict rules
governing the production of wine whether at regional level, for individual
villages or even for specific vineyards. The AOC classification is gradually
being replaced by Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP).
Understanding the label
In addition to the mention of AOC, which is a guarantee of
place and method of production, the labels on wine bottles tell you more.
Grand cru is a distinction that has applied since 1855 to
the best estates in the Médoc, and these produce some of France's finest wines;
there are no fewer than 61 estates producing wines of this quality.
Cru bourgeois are wines from estates in the Médoc and Haut
Médoc not classified in the 1855 listing. These wines are excellent, too, but
they are invariably cheaper than Grand cru wines, and represent outstanding
value for money.
VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) is the second
highest qualification for wines, below AOC, and accounts for around 2% of all
French wines. VDQS wines are from geographically limited areas like Provence,
Languedoc-Roussillon and the Loire valley. Quality can be variable, and some
vineyards that are VDQS are trying hard to become AOC. Find the ones you like,
and stick to them.
Vin de Pays wines account for around 15% of wine production,
and come from a specific area, but do not have the AOC or VDQS label. These
tend to be top end wines for everyday drinking. Excellent value for money and
good quality, too.
Vin de table is ordinary, cheap, usually inoffensive,
everyday table wines, also known as 'Vin Ordinaire'. Cheap, but not necessarily
nasty. But equally, not for special occasions either.