For the one or two past generations, the benchmark for most culinary delights and alcoholic beverages originated in France. This was simply because other countries, although they produced equally fine products, failed to market them effectively.
The French understood intuitively marketing principles very well, starting with Cardinal Richelieu, the “prime minister” of Louis XIV.
He encouraged all French producers to advertise, travel to different markets to promote their products, and to package them attractively.
Cognac is a brandy, but for millions it is not a brandy but cognac. The same is true for wines from different regions.
Champagne producers like Roederer knew well the importance of promotion and cornered the Russian-nobility segment of the market even to develop a prestige brand fort hat segment.
This article provides a brief tour of the most famous wines and spirits of French regions starting with Bordeaux and progressing counter clockwise – to Languedoc, Cotes du Rhone, Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, Normandy, Loire and Charente.
Bordeaux in south western France extending from the Gironde estuary east, west and south, is the largest quality producing region of the country not only famous for its red and white wines, but also for sweet libations.
The most important red grapes are cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot that yield medium to full bodied balanced, easy to digest, fragrant wines that go well with all types of food.
For white wines, sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle are employed to produce dry, and also dessert wines.
The dry wines are medium bodied and go best with all types of seafood including oysters.
Dessert wines are excellent with fruits and pastries. They were once so popular that they were worth gold in their own weight.
Even today some Bordeaux red wines reach very high acclaim and prices upon release and in auctions.
Languedoc occupies the southern coast of France from the Spanish border in the west all the way to Marseille. This region produces mostly red wines but also fine dry white wines. Here modern wines derived from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, syrah, mourvedre, and grenache represent excellent value.
There are many small wineries, estates, and some huge co-operatives churning out millions of hectolitres of inexpensive but perfectly enjoyable wines for light meals and picnics.
Small estates produce fine wines, and because land prices are still relatively low, their wines are affordable for most.
Cotes du Rhone tucked in the south eastern part of the country is more famous for its robust and dark red wines like Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, Gigondas, and Vaqueyras .
Rose wines from Tavel and Lirac have millions of enthusiastic followers all over France and the world.
Cotes du Rhone wines represent excellent value, they are powerful, fruity, full bodied, and cellar well. You can pair them with all types of deeply flavoured beef dishes or duck specialties.
This region is famous for its robust, powerful red wines, smooth whites and outstanding dessert wines such as Beaume de Venice.
Alsace on the left bank of the mighty Rhine River is justly famous for its varietal wines vented from Riesling, muller-Thurgau, sylvaner, pinot blanc, gewurztraminer, and muscat.
Pinot noir is used for pale red wines, also for sparkling Alsatian wines here called Cremant d’Alsace.
Alsatian wines can be dry, off dry, or sweet and are always fragrant. they go well with local cuisine that is heavy on butter, cream, cheese, and oriental dishes from Thailand, and southern China.
Burgundy, west and north of Alsace, is small, but world famous for its white and red wines. Some sparkling wines are marketed as Cremant de Bourgogne and represent excellent value as far as sparkling wines are concerned so long as a reputable manufacturer makes the wine.
Burgundy is also famous for its sub-region called Beaujolais, which produces light, quaffable wines that can accompany all types of food. The low-end Beaujolais are inexpensive, village quality cost a little more, and cru level quality is quite costly, but worth the money.
Beaujolais vintners use only gamay for their red, chardonnay for their white, which is produced in very small quantities.
In Burgundy roper from Dijon to Macon, pinot noir and chardonnay reign supreme and are responsible for world famous wines like Romanee Conti, Richebourg, Pommard, Gevrey Chambertin, Clos de Vougeout among others.
When buying Burgundy, always stick with small reputable estates or shippers to avoid disappointment and watch the vintage carefully.
Champagne, approximately 140 kilometres northwest of Paris, is the region were sparkling wines were invented by Dom Perignon, the blind monk of the monastery of Haut Villiers.
Champagne is producing using pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier and can be sparkling, cremant, or red still.
Blanc de blancs champagne is derived from whites grapes only, and blanc de noir from pinot noir.
Champagne can be very dry, dry, off dry or sweet. You can match champagne with a variety of foods if you can afford the expense. Most are quite expensive as it takes a lot of labour and time to produce one bottle.
Normandy is the north western corner of the country on the Atlantic coast is famous for its Calvados, an apple brandy of exquisite flavour, and used in cooking and to drink ad an aperitif, or in the middle of an extended meal, or afterwards as a digestive.
Loire is also known as the Garden of France due to its mild climate and various sub regions. Loire also produces many of the vegetables French like i.e mushrooms etc. This region along the Lire River (the longest in the country) has two main grape varieties chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc. Cabernet franc does yield some fine wines but not often and in every sub-region.
Chenin blanc produces very fine dry and sweet wines, but is generally under appreciated, hence quite inexpensive, except for those produced by very famous wineries. Sauvignon blanc yields in this region flinty dry wines that are elegant and deeply flavoured with good acidity to complement food.
Loire also produces fine sparkling wines by the methode champenoise that are very well balanced and refined and cost half as much as those from Champagne.
Cognac in the derpartment (a department in France is a region) of Charente and Charente maritime is the name of Cognac, the world famous grape spirit. Here the spirit is blended for brand consistency and style. Each establishment makes and markets a particular style. The smoothness of cognac varies between acceptable to heavenly, pending on the length of barrel aging. The quality levels are: VS (very superior) is three years old, V.S.O.P (four), other levels are five or more which may be branded as Napoleon, X.S, Extra Old, etc
Famous Cognac houses are Hennessy, Courvoisier, Hine, Larsen, and many more.
There are many other wine producing regions, many more famous brands of spirits, liqueurs, bur space does not permit me to mention all of them.
Fore more information you can order my book titles An Introduction to Alcoholic Beverages.