France, widely regarded as the home of wine, although the Italians would heartily disagree, certainly is the birthplace of the world's most popular grapes - Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc to name just a few. France is often regarded as the pinnacle of old world wine making with its many unique regions defined by their terroir. Terroir is an encompassing concept that lays claim to the earth, the environment and even the culture. So strong is the bond between wine and terroir that the French classification system (appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC, "controlled designation of origin") is one of the most potent in the wine world.
Wine owes a debt of respect to Christianity, which has done more to promote the vinification of Europe than wine makers, merchants and the aristocracy put together. In 1308 the Archbishop of Bordeaux became pope and moved to Avignon on the Southern Rhone and brought with him a taste for wine. When this pontiff arrived, the region didn’t actually produce much wine. Pope Clement V with his thirst for rich red wine saw a need for locally sourced wines fit for his guests and of course, himself. Thus was born the now famous Chateauneuf du Pape or Pope’s New Castle. No better individual than a wine loving Pope from Bordeaux could have spearheaded wine making in the region. His papal powers and influence soon transformed the region into one of the best wine regions in France and the world.
France's regions traverse the permitter of country, forming a circle, the centre of which is rich earth and great for agribusiness, the edges though are mineral riddled soils ideal for different wines. From Bordeaux, travelling north and east via Loire to Champagne. From here, southward bound we pass through Alsace, Burgundy, the Rhone and into the hotter climate of Languedoc. Eventually looping back across the south of France and arriving once more in Bordeaux. Each region offers up the ideal grape varietals for the climates, white wines to the north, and reds in the south.
Chateau de la Gardine
A complex blend of many classic grapes of the region - Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Muscardin.
A complex nose presents with ripe field berries, white pepper and a hint of oak while the palate delights in juicy black cherries, liquorice and smoke. Match this wine with a standing rib roast, roasted quail with a cherry stuffing or cassoulet.
The Gardine bottle, both original and elegant, is the result of a happy coincidence. Finding a mouth blown bottle in his cellar, Gaston Brunel, decided to use a similar shape for all his wine. A successful trip to Italy to find a glass supplier that was able to make it has meant all wines since 1964 are crafted this unique way.
The most famous classification of French wine took place in 1855, the year of the original Bordeaux wine classification of the Médoc.
The 1855 classification only takes into consideration 61 different chateaux from the Médoc and Haut Brion from Pessac Leognan. The wines classed according to their price and quality in five different classes; First Growth, Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth. The sweet, white Bordeaux wine of Sauternes were also classified in 1855. St. Emilion was first classified in 1955. That classification is redone every 10 years. This was followed by the classification of Graves, which took place in 1959.
But what about the rest of the wine producing regions of France?
In 1935, the INAO, Institut National des Appellations d’Origine defined strict, specific, appellation characteristics to help guide the consumer, promote minimum levels of quality and energise growers into producing better wines. The AOC system. Appellation d’Origine Controlée. The purpose of the AOC system, which is used for food and other European agricultural products makes good sense. The thought being that it is the specific place where the product is produced that gives the wine or product its unique character and style. Aside from creating the appellation system, in 1935, the INAO also wrote a series of French Laws and gave birth to the original four main categories, or classes of French wine which many of us are familiar with today. Subsequently, these categories were modernised, but we will get to that in a moment.
This new classification, which replaces Vin de Table, allows the consumer to know much more information about the wine. Wines with the Vin de France designation sport wine labels that include the type of grape variety used to produce the wine and the specific vintage. However, other than the country of France, no information is allowed as to where the grapes are from. It’s important to note that some Vin de France can be quite good, and also expensive. That is because some wines are forced to use the Vin de France classification because they violated appellation law (usually yield). As an example, they included grapes not allowed in the region, or the vineyard management techniques did not conform to AOC regulations.
A medium bodied varietal that offers up loads of floral and berry flavours and aromas. As the grape handles heat well it is often found in the south of France.
Rarely found in Australia, this grape is an excellent base for wines that offer up medium bodied experiences without the heavy tannins found in so many great Aussie wines.