Saturday, April 23, 2016

Unnecessary Fear And Loathing Of French Wine Labels; Well, Maybe Not Unnecessary!

Unnecessary Fear And Loathing
Of French Wine Labels;
Well, Maybe Not Unnecessary!
  I began my wine tasting with my hands gripping, eyes glazed over, and turning French wine bottles back and forth, filled, not so much with wine (of course they were), but filled with trepidation, especially when the prices were usually at least 25% more than my average Cali wine, though my curiosity was filled to the rim.
  What at first I displayed here through photographs are French wine labels that should accentuate the "Unnecessary" (above are wines clearly marked Syrah, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, and Malbec--no problema), but the later displays should be quite a bit tougher and can only be explained in encyclopedic-like taxonomy; fear not, for some simple rules will get you through the thickets and into the grass just to pour a "simple" glass of wine.

  No need for fear from the Alsace Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée; we can easily see French wines labeled Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris (Grigio).
   Oh no, it's the Bordeaux boondocks; what to do!
  The simplest thing to do is look at the back label. Right? The Château De Ribebon's back label says it's 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc (a rather typical red wine), but the Château Croix De Jaugue says nothing; it's hit or miss, and that's a problem for those that haven't a clue (see that encyclopedia of Bordeaux wines for clues as to what's in that bottle); most Bordeaux red wines will be some blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and or Malbec.
  When it comes to exploring Bordeaux red wines, the caterpillar-like exploration will metamorphose into a flight of winged white wines taking us on a magical ride of sensuality, especially sweet botrytis enhanced Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc, and less often Muscadelle wines; for the most part think blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
  Moving on to a more south-easterly region of France we'll sample another, in kind, wine label quandary. France's Rhône Valley is famous too for wonderful wines, but where to begin? Domaine Fond Croze's back label says it's 100% Grenache, but the Philippine De Saint-Cyrille gives no varietals; it's hit or miss again for the uninitiated; refer to a Rhône Valley encyclopedia, but my cheat-sheet of France's Rhône Valley Red varietals is crudely reduced to GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre).
  As for Rhône white wines, since the number of white wines here are typically three times as many as those in Bordeaux, I'll refer you to an encyclopedia of French wines, but I do have an affinity for Rhône Viognier.

   It really doesn't get any easier! The Loire Valley has something like 87 appellations, and those darn regional (place indicative) wines can make one feel a little like Sisyphus.
  Loire Valley is a complex group of three regions, broken-up into many different appellations, but my foothold here is mostly with Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) and Vouvray (Chenin Blanc); otherwise refer to the "advanced" Winefolly "encyclopedia".


  Two thoughts concerning French wine novices not seeking to be a sommelier:
1: Locate one or two areas of French wines to explore; I chose Bordeaux as a whole, and Chablis of Bourgogne where great (think Burgundy: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) wines come from; I'm slowly reaching into The Loire Valley and The Rhône Valley (this is an adventure, not a conquest).
2: Look for wine labels that indicate 100% varietal and express the more familiar Merlot, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc type wines on the labels.

Finally, here's another encyclopedia of French wines:  Wikipedia of French wine.
À votre santé!


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