I did a wine tasting last week and the theme was French wines. We had twelve different wines, from all over France, and it got me thinking about how great French wine is. Here are my Top 10 reasons to love French wine.
1. It’s your wine heritage. In so much as the UK has a wine heritage, it’s fair to say that it’s defined by France. Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152 brought extensive lands in Bordeaux and started a centuries-long love affair with French wine. Even with the non-French wines we chose, like Port and Sherry, our decisions were driven by war or trade-embargoes with the French.
2. It’s everyone else’s wine heritage. France is undoubtedly the most influential country in world wine. Even wondered why they blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in Australia? They're copying a style that was a wildly popular export from Bordeaux to the UK. Ever been curious to know why Malbec is grown in Argentina? It was on the advice of a Frenchman. The examples are seemingly endless but the point remains, France rules the wine world.
3. It’s the benchmark for wine quality. In 1976 the best wines of California and France went head to head in a blind tasting (now known as “The judgement of Paris). An American wine won both the red and white categories. There was a huge furore which, to some extent, continues today. In the intervening 40 years there have been endless re-runs and variants (for example English Sparkling wine just won a blind tasting against Champagne). Whatever the result, the fact that everyone is trying to beat France should tell you something.
4. It’s a microcosm of the wine world. In one country you get everything from a very cool climate where grapes struggle to ripen, to scorching Mediterranean heat. This results in an amazing array of wines and styles. From sparkling Champagne to spicy Rhone Syrah the choice, whilst not endless, could constitute a life's work.
5. It’s geographically accessible. It’s quicker to drive from London to Champagne than it is to get to a Highland distillery. Around 8 million Brits travel to France every year, making it pretty easy to access all that lovely wine.
6. It’s commercially accessible. You can walk into a supermarket and find wine from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Alsace and South West France. The only country that comes close in terms of diversity of source is Italy. Spain will come a poor third with endless examples of Rioja. This makes it super easy to try a range of French wine.
7. It’s not that hard to learn about. Despite all the areas and appellations there are some pretty good rules of thumb. For example the Loire wine region is generally split into three. The Eastern Loire is famous for Sauvignon Blanc. The middle Loire is where Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc predominate and the west is famous for Muscadet and rose. That's not so hard to remember right?
8. Unless you want it to be. Do you want to learn the characteristics of the Sauvignon Blanc produced in Sancerre versus that made over the river in Pouilly-Fumé? Want to memorise the 13 grapes allowed in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape? If diving deep into a subject is your thing, then French wine can oblige.
9. It helps you to understand the French. If you want to understand our nearest neighbour (the soon to be Scottish Republic not withstanding) then wine is a good way to do that. The differences between Bordeaux and Burgundy wine-making is due to a host of factors from geography, to the Valoirs Dukes of Burgundy, to Napoleonic Inheritance laws. To learn about French wine is to learn about the French.
10. It taste's great. Perhaps that should have been point number 1?