Wines from France
THE REST OF FRANCE
The vin rouge in the French supermarket comes from France’s biggest, if least publicized, wine region: the Languedoc-Roussillon, or the Midi. This great sweep of land in the hinterland of the Mediterranean coast is still largely planted with vines suited to quantity rather than quality wine production. Yields of 160 hectolitres per hectare, as opposed to legal maximum limits of around 40 in Bordeaux, are far from uncommon. However, more and more vineyards in the Midi are being planted with nobler grape varieties such as Cabernet or Syrah, and vin de pays are usually several cuts above straight vin de table from this region.
The far south-west of France has always stamped a strong regional identity on its wines, most of them made from local grape varieties rarely found elsewhere. The viscous white Jurancon, pink Irouleguy, strong red Madiran and red and white Tursan come from the foothills of the Pyrenees, while inexpensive and accommodating Gaillac comes from the other side of the Armagnac vineyards.
To the north, and all around Bordeaux, are appellations such as Bergerac, Cotes de Duras, Cotes du Marmandais, Monbazillac (for sweet wines), Montravel (dry white) and Cotes de Buzet (red) which provide inexpensive wines that are better or worse attempts at the Bordeaux models. Cahors has the strongest claim for its own identity in hunky reds that can live for years.
In the south-east great progress is being made in the vineyards of Provence. Best known for light, dry roses, there is increasing and successful experimentation with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
On the eastern borders, Savoy and Jura are witness to the versatility of French wine, though they are rarely exported. Much easier to find are the delightful wines of Alsace, made from Germanic grape varieties in a dry French style. Such wines are easy to spot, named after the grape from which they were made. The Riesling with its racy fragrance is most esteemed by the winemakers of Alsace, though their customers may know them best by the distinctive Gewurztraminer with its exotic, rich perfume. Pinot Gris, or Tokay d’Alsace, is the third of the three noblest Alsace grapes and makes smoky dry wines not unlike white Burgundy when fully mature. There are some pretty Muscats too, with the unusual combination of grapey aroma and dry flavour, that are traditionally served as an aperitif. The useful workaday-grapes of Alsace are Sylvaner and the rather less acidic Pinot Blanc. They may be blended together or with some Chasselas to make a blend called Edelzwicker or ‘noble mixture’ in Alsace.
All over the country are pockets of vineyards such as those producing the good-value varietals of Haut Poitou, the dry white Sauvignon de St Bris and St Pourcain-sur-Sioule, light red Irancy, the new wines of the Auvergne, and the not-so-little tracts of vines producing Champagne and Cognac.