Ask anyone in the USA where the best American wines are produced, and they undoubtedly will say “California, or Oregon, or Washington.” If they are the least bit wine savvy, they may even mention the Napa Valley or Sonoma. But ask anyone in France the same question, and with that look that so effectively blends contempt and nationalistic pride they will say, hands gesturing upwards, the name of their village, or that of their parents or grandparents if they have moved on.

The French have the right to be haughty about their wines. They have earned it after centuries of trial and error, government quality controls, and tedious, backbreaking labor. Wine comes from every corner of the country, from the marginal climate of the north all the way down to the sun-baked south. In general, the wines of France are balanced. That is, they are not too fruity, or too oaky, or too sweet, or too alcoholic.

The French have always consumed wine at the table, many times in place of water, and the tradition continues today. Since wine is a part of the meal, and generally not something created to win a medal or to please a wine critic, it is often produced with minimal intervention by the winemaker. The result is a wine that hopefully retains a certain harmony, elegance, and personality of its origin.

Most of the classic wines of the world come from France. Anyone with even the slightest inclination towards the subject should begin with the great wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, the Loire Valley, Alsace, and Champagne. Any wine book worth its salt will devote a great number of pages to these regions, and winemakers the world over still view France as a role model. Indeed, producers from Napa Valley still like to compare their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs to those of Burgundy, and the Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, and Sauvignon Blancs, to those of Bordeaux.

In France wines are generally named by their region of origin, not by their grape variety.
White Burgundy is Chardonnay, red Burgundy is Pinot Noir, white Bordeaux is Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, red Bordeaux is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. So the key to understanding the wines is to learn a bit about the wine producing regions. The new world doesn’t have a long history of winemaking that ties specific varietals to certain regions, but that is beginning to change. Winemakers in the newer, warmer growing regions of the world are entering the golden age of trial and error, an era that may last as long as the viticultural history of France! (Wine/Appellations)