The Experts’ List of Underrated Wine Regions

Most wine enthusiasts are familiar with international wine regions such as France’s Bordeaux, California’s Napa Valley or Italy’s Tuscany.  However, there are many other, lesser-known regions, each offering its own unique characteristics.  These regions offer not only good wine but fewer crowds and opportunities to discover places less travelled.  My list is not intended to be all-encompassing; it is merely a list of regions that I have found intriguing for one reason or another.  The regions are presented in alphabetical order by country.

Pedernal Valley, Argentina

Located in the shadow of the Andes mountains, Argentina’s wine country is spectacular.  Situated north of the famous Mendoza region is the lesser-known Pedernal Valley. It is felt that the Pedernal Valley can stand on its own merits as a premium wine region. The region’s Malbec is considered world-class and distinct and represents a unique style.

Mendocino County, California, United States

Mendocino County grows less than four percent of California’s grape yield but contains an impressive one-third of the state’s certified organic vineyards. The number of old vines, post-WWII plantings makes this region unique. Some of the best wineries in California source their grapes from Mendocino. Dry-farming practices were introduced to the region by Italian families in the early 1900s, which resulted in wines that are concentrated, balanced and distinctly Californian.

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Photo credit: dailyhive.com

Canada’s own Okanagan Valley is considered breathtaking as it is situated between two mountain ranges and contains glacial lakes and rolling hills of vineyards. The region produces world-class wines that are difficult to find outside of Canada.  The high-quality wines combined with the beautiful views of the region have attracted top winemakers from France, New Zealand and South Africa.

Chinon, Bugey and Savoie, France

There are three lesser-known regions in France.  Chinon is in the Loire Valley.  It is much less popular than its neighbours, Bordeaux and Burgundy. The Loire Valley is famous for its white Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumés. The red variety is Cabernet Franc.

The wine regions of Savoie and nearby Bugey are nestled in the French Alps and are home to great wines and hospitality. Savoie has both a ski and hiking industry and thus there are quality restaurants, wine bars and a wide range of accommodations.  The vineyards are spread throughout the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes overlooking both the mountain ranges and fresh bodies of water.

Bugey is situated underneath the alps. There is a group of small producers that have either relocated from other parts of France or are new vintners who are focused on raising the profile of the region.

The Republic of Georgia

Georgia is the world’s oldest continuously producing wine region but it is one of the lesser known.  This is due to The Republic formerly being under the control of the former Soviet Union.   During that time only four grape varieties of the over 500 available were allowed in production. After gaining independence, Georgia rediscovered its wine culture and began sharing it with the world. Traditional Georgia wine production is unique, resulting in the production of some exceptionally distinctive wines.  The wines are produced in underground amphorae called Qvevri.

For additional information about the wines and the region, see my posts The Wines of European Georgia from February 6, 2021 and Traditional Georgian Wine from September 18, 2021.

Szekszárd, Hungary

The Szekszárd wine region is located about 160 kilometres south of Budapest. Not many tourists explore beyond Budapest since the region has not been marketed. However, it is one of the country’s oldest wine regions, dating back around 2000 years.  Wine production is small and the wineries are often family-owned, which equates to limited exports and less awareness about the region.

The region has a wide range wine styles.  The most popular variety is the Kékfrankos grape (aka Blaufränkisch) which produces a tannic and spicy style of wine. There’s also Kadarka grapes which creates a fresh acid red fruit that is meant to be enjoyed without aging.

Mexico

Mexico’s wine history dates back to the1600s but the region remains a virtual unknown for many wine enthusiasts. Although wine grapes have been cultivated there for 400 years, it has only been during the past several decades that there has been a renewed focus on premium and terroir-driven expressions.

Valle de Guadalupe’s boutique wineries are experimenting with a mix of European red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Tempranillo.  The varietals are often blended to create a Bordeaux style of wine.

Middleburg, Virginia, United States

California, Oregon, Washington and New York dominate the U.S. wine industry but there are other regions worth noting.  One of these is Middleburg, Virginia.  Virginia was one of the first places in America to produce wine but it is still a relative unknown. The wine industry there is mostly made up of small artisanal producers who are creating world-class wines.  Some think of the region as a crossroads between Napa Valley and Bordeaux.  The region is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains an hour outside Washington DC.

Final Thoughts

There are many lesser-known wine regions to be explored, either by visiting or merely by sampling the wines they produce.  By expanding our horizons and creating new experiences, we will ultimately find more wines to enjoy.

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Gewürztraminer

Alsace, a region in north-eastern France that borders Switzerland and Germany, is the home of Gewürztraminer. The region has been passed between French and German control several times since the early 1680s.  As a result, Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.

Today the varietal is grown in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the U.S.

Gewürztraminer is an aromatic grape variety that grows well in cooler climates.  It has a high level of natural sugar and the wine is white and usually off dry.  Gewürztraminer generally contains a gram or two of residual sugar but because of the heightened aromatics, higher alcohol and lower acidity, many of these wines will taste sweeter than they actually are.

The aroma or “nose” will be that of lychee or ‘sweet rose’.  However, it may also have hints of red grapefruit, allspice, cinnamon or ginger.  The flavour will consist of hints of grapefruit, pineapple, peach, apricot, orange or cantaloupe.

When serving with food, Gewürztraminer is a great compliment to duck, chicken, pork, bacon, shrimp and crab.  Highly spiced and aromatic herbs such as cayenne pepper, ginger, clove, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, madras curry, sichuan pepper, shallots, soy sauce, sesame, almond, rose water, lime leaf, bay leaf, coriander and cumin are a great match.

Gewürztraminer goes well with less stinky and delicately flavored soft cow’s milk cheese and dried fruit, as well as roasted vegetables and veggies with natural sweetness including red onion, bell pepper, eggplant, tempeh, squash and carrots.

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The Forgotten Grape of the Loire

The Lignage grape was virtually extinct several years ago.  The last known vine was situated in the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) nursery at Montpellier, France.  Today, the number has increased but there are still well under a thousand vines in existence.

Photo credit: theglamorousgourmet.com

The revival of Lignage is part of a wider project overseen by a local group, the Union for Genetic Resources of Centre-Val de Loire (URGC).  URGC’s goal is to revitalize old grape varieties linked to the local area prior to the phylloxera infestation in the late 1800s. 

Phylloxera is an insect that can damage grape vines by feeding on the plant sap from the roots. It is often described as an aphid-like sucking insect.

Officially, the project is experimental at this point so the Lignage varietal is not listed on any appellation documentation.  Lignage’s history in the region dates back to 1427. It was also known as Macé Doux,  Macédoux, Massé Doux and Lignage de Blois. By the mid 1800s it had become well established in a winegrowing zone known as the Côte des Grouëts.

The variety is similar to Pinot Noir in that it produces a light-coloured red wine.  Having purple skin and a green flesh it can also be made into a white wine.

Not much is known about the wine that Lignage produced but according to written accounts the grapes produced a fine, delicate, lightly coloured red wine with fine aromas and a low alcohol content.  More information should be known by 2024 when the first trial wines are expected to be produced. It is anticipated that by 2028 the varietal will return as an official vine and be available for more extensive planting. 

I look forward to perhaps having the opportunity to try Lignage at some point in the future.

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Dry Times Ahead

North America is now said to be entering the early stages of a Champagne shortage which could last for several years.  There are a number of reasons why this is happening.  First, there are the supply chain issues that I discussed in my December 31, 2021 blog, Wine Shipping Delays. This problem was caused by the effects of COVID-19 on the shipping industry, which has resulted in deliveries taking two or three times longer than normal.

Photo credit: https: TheGrapeGeeks.com

Complicating things further has been the fluctuations in the demand for Champagne.  Because of the COVID-19 related lockdowns of 2020, demand fell by about 25% but rose back up again by the end of that year.  The upward trend continued throughout 2021 with demand returning to pre-pandemic levels as consumers were willing to spend more to wine and dine at home since they were often prevented from dining out at fine restaurants.

However, the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), who regulates how much Champagne may be produced each year, in response to the initial reduction in demand, reduced Champagne output but did not react to the resurgence in demand at the end of that year.  The effects of the reduced Champagne production won’t be felt until this vintage reaches the market in a few years’ time. Ironically, the organization whose purpose it is to protect the Champagne industry inadvertently caused significant financial damage.

While consumer demand for Champagne was expanding throughout 2021, France’s Champagne region was experiencing extreme weather issues.  In March there was scorching heat that burned many of the vines.  This was followed by frost that destroyed about 30% of the vines.  Finally, there were torrential rains during June and July that resulted in mildew coating many of the remaining vines.  As a result, the 2021 grape harvest was the smallest in many decades.

Champagne production won’t be returning to normal anytime soon.  Shortages are expected to last through until at least 2025.

These availability problems will provide growth opportunities for producers of other sparkling wines including Italy’s Prosecco, Spain’s Cava as well as many North American varieties. Canadian options include, among others, 13th Street Cuvée Brut Sparkling Rosé, Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling, Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut VQA and Château des Charmes Brut Sparkling.

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Beaujolais

Beaujolais is located at the southern end of Burgundy, France.  It produces more than three-quarters of the world’s Gamay wine. During the past number of years Beaujolais has improved beyond just producing Beaujolais Nouveau, fruity wines made specifically for early consumption, to now include high-quality yet affordable red wines.

Beaujolais Classifications

Beaujolais Nouveau

It continues to be the most recognizable type of Beaujolais.  It is bottled and appears on store shelves just a few weeks after being harvested. The phenomenon was started by vineyard workers as a way to celebrate the end of harvest. Gradually the wine began appearing in local cafés and eventually even in Paris. Today, tens of millions of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau are distributed to more than 100 countries in time for its official release date of the third Thursday of November.

Beaujolais Nouveau is young and simple with a very low tannin content and high acidity.

Beaujolais AOC

This is the most basic level of Beaujolais. Wines are light bodied, with plenty of fresh fruit flavours. The majority of wine produced in this appellation is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau.

Beaujolais Villages AOC

There are 38 designated villages in the region that can make Beaujolais Villages wines. The majority are red wine but there are also small amounts of white and rosé wines. Producers have the option of adding the name of the village to the label if the grapes come solely from a specific location, but most of the wines that fit the criteria are destined to be classified as Cru Beaujolais, leaving the villages themselves with little name recognition.

Beaujolais Villages wines are smooth and balanced, with ripe red and black fruit flavours.

Cru Beaujolais

Crus Beaujolais offer wine with unique character and history. Though highly regarded, wines from this quality level only account for 15 percent of the region’s total production.

Beaujolais wines are available in a variety of body types, depending on the cru from which they come.

Light and Perfumed

  • Brouilly: The largest cru totaling 20 percent of the Beaujolais Cru area.
  • Chiroubles: Home to vineyards located in the region’s highest altitudes.

Elegant and Medium-Bodied

  • Fleurie: The most widely exported to Canada and the United States and a good vintage that is age-worthy up to 10 years.
  • Saint-Amour: The most northerly cru which is known for its spicy character and ability to be aged up to 10 years in a good vintage.
  • Côte de Brouilly: Sits within the Brouilly cru, with vineyards on higher slopes of the extinct Mont Brouilly volcano.

Rich and Full-Bodied

  • Juliénas: Named after Julius Caesar and said to be one of the first wine producing areas of Beaujolais, dating back more than 2,000 years.
  • Régnié: It is the newest cru, being recognized in 1988.
  • Chénas: The smallest cru in Beaujolais (under one square mile of vineyards).
  • Morgon: Earthy wines with a deep and rich Burgundian character that can age up to 20 years.
  • Moulin-à-Vent: The most likely cru to use oak witch adds tannins and structure. Wines from this cru are the boldest in the region.  In good vintages they can age up to 20 years.

Beaujolais Food Pairings

Beaujolais pairs well with traditional French foods such as Brie or Camembert cheese, or with a rich pâté. Given its low level of tannins, Beaujolais is also a great partner to lighter fare like grain salads or white fish.

Medium-bodied Beaujolais will pair well with a barbecued burger or a veggie-loaded pizza.

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France’s Champagne Wine Region

The Champagne region is located 145 kilometres northeast of Paris and is one of the world’s most northerly fine-wine regions. It is generally divided into three parts – the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs.

The region contains 75,000 acres of vineyards. It’s interesting to note that most and the greatest vineyards of Champagne are not owned by great landowners but by thousands of growers, often working part-time.

The vineyards are situated on deep chalk soils, part of the same great basin that forms the famous white cliffs of Dover in southern England. The chalk serves as a natural moisture regulator, providing good drainage and reflects the sunlight and its heat.

Regulations dictate which of the three permitted grapes may be planted where.

The slopes of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs provide the best vineyards. The greatest concentration of villages designated as Grand and Premier Cru are found in these two areas.

The Montagne de Reims is planted mainly with Pinot Noir. The Montagne is a forested plateau south of Reims. Its wines give the great champagnes their backbone – their weight and richness.

Along both banks of the River Marne is the Vallée de la Marne. This zone produces the fullest, ripest wines, predominately from Pinot Meunier, and to a lesser extent Pinot Noir grapes.

Extending south from Epernay for about 21 km. is the Côte des Blancs. This area produces fine Chardonnay that give freshness to the blend and provides the sparkle to the wine.

The Côte de Sézanne is a relatively new region. It is planted almost exclusively with Chardonnay.

The classification system in Champagne is based by vineyard and is established by the Comité Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne (C.I.V.C.). The land is given a grade based on its suitability for growing white grapes or black grapes. A grade of 100% percent has been given to the 17 Grand Cru villages. The 38 Premier Cru villages have grades from 90 to 99%. The rest have a grade ranging from 80 to 89%. Champagne houses use the average percentage rating of the grapes used in their blends to establish the quality of their raw materials.

The Wine

The richness of champagne wines is largely due to the cold climate of northern France. The bubbles in champagne are a natural phenomenon.

Three grape varieties are used to make Champagne — Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot Meunier is the most prevalent, making up about 40% of grape production.  It is easier to grow and is less prone to frost damage. Pinot Meunier makes up the base wine for all but the very finest champagnes.

Pinot Noir makes up about 35% of the blend. It is responsible for the depth of fruit and longevity of the wine.

Chardonnay accounts for the remaining 25% and adds lightness and elegance to the blend.

The lack color in most champagne is the result of a gentle pressing, so as to extract the juice but not the color of the dark grape skins.

The main difference between the various Champagne brands or houses, is in the making of the cuvéee, or the blend. A house builds a reputation based on the particular style of blend of its non-vintage wines. So each year the wine must be consistent. The large houses store millions of gallons of wine from various vineyards and grapes for blending purposes. As a result, once you find a house style you like, it will be available year after year as long as that house exists.

In especially good years, some vintage champagne is produced. Some feel that the extra depth in taste is well worth the extra cost of these wines. Eighty percent of the contents of vintage champagne must contain grapes from the declared year.

Champagnes are labeled based on their sugar content; Extra Brut, Brut Sauvage, Ultra Brut, Brut Intégral or Brut Zéro.  These wines are bone dry with less than 0.6% of residual sugar per litre. This wine is rarely made.

Brut

This is the most popular style of champagne. The best blends are always reserved for the brut and is the mainstay of the business. It has less than 1.5% residual sugar and is very dry.

Extra Dry, Extra Sec

Sweetened with 1.2 to 2% residual sugar per litre, it is still dry and goes well with desserts .

Sec

Although it means “dry” in French, it means “moderately dry” or “slightly sweet” as it pertains to champagne. It has 1.7 to 3.5% residual sugar per litre.

Demi-Sec

This style is distinctly sweet or medium. It contains between 3.3 to 5% residual sugar per litre.

Doux

This is the sweetest style of champagne. It is very sweet and is more of a dessert-style wine. It has a minimum of 5% residual sugar per litre.

Blanc de Noirs

Occasionally you will find Blanc de Noirs. This style is made entirely from black grapes but is white. It offers a wine that is fuller than those with Chardonnay in the blend.

Blanc de Blancs

This wine is made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape and is the most delicate of champagnes. Since only 25% of Champagne is planted with Chardonnay grapes, it is generally a more expensive option.

Final Thoughts

COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on Champagne’s economy.  With weddings and other celebratory events being cancelled or postponed all around the world there has been a massive reduction in demand for the famous bubbly.

However, keep in mind that Champagne is not just for toasting and celebrations; it is much more versatile.  Brut pairs well with fish and seafood, or moderately spiced Asian cuisine.  The sweeter varieties make an excellent choice to serve with desserts, such as fresh berries.  Champagne can also be served on its own as a pre-dinner drink or for no particular reason at all.

Now may be a good time to discover/rediscover Champagne.  Prices may never be better and you could develop a new appreciation for this magical bubbly.

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France’s Loire Wine Region

The Loire Valley is referred to as “the garden of France”.  It is as famous for its castles as it is for its wines. This picturesque place is the home of Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s from here that the grape has spread around the world.

In addition to Sauvignon Blanc there are refreshing rosés, reds that favour fruit over force, and sumptuous sweet and sparkling wines that even rival the neighbouring region of Champagne.  There are a high proportion of small-scale winemakers devoted to farming organically and an expanding list of excellent winemakers.

The Loire Valley begins not too far west of Paris, and extends all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It is a cool-climate region, which means that the reds tend to be on the lighter side and lower in alcohol. While regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Alsace have long been renowned for their Grand Cru sites, the Loire Valley has been considered to be much more humble. However, in the 1990’s younger producers began stepping up quality, converting their vineyards to organic and devoting themselves to discovering the potential of their land. The result is super-tasty wine that’s far more affordable than France’s more famed regions.

There is a wonderful food food-friendly nature to the wines, as well as a modest price tag on most bottles.

Here is a quick rundown on some of the appellations.

SANCERRE / POUILLY-FUMÉ / MENETOU-SALON / QUINCY

Main grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir

One of the more famous of the Loire appellations is Sancerre, which is known for its elegant and expensive Sauvignon Blanc wines. The neighbouring appellations of Pouilly-Fumé and Menetou-Salon also provide wonderful Sauvignons but often at a much more affordable price.

There is a small amount of Pinot Noir grown in these appellations, and it has a wonderful, light quality with notes of crushed strawberries and soft tannins.

CHEVERNY / COUR-CHEVERNY

Main grapes: Romorantin, Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc

Odds are that none of us will ever come across a bottle of wine from these two small appellations without travelling to the region. But if you do ever have the opportunity to taste a Cour-Cheverny wine, I have heard that it is a wonderful experience.  

The wine consists of the incredible rare, ancestral variety Romorantin grape. Only about 60 hectares are left in France.  Romorantin carries aromas of white peaches and honeysuckle, yet delivers a refreshing tartness. 

There are also great red and white blends and rosés from Cheverny that are affordable and pair well with food.

TOURAINE

Main grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis, Côt, Menu Pineau

Along with Romorantin, the ancestral Pineau d’Aunis grape is one to look for from the Loire Valley.  There are about 400 hectares left in France and it produces light, peppery reds and delicious berry-hued rosés.

Overall, Touraine offers great value.  Its Gamay wines are very good, with just a hint of tannins.

VOUVRAY

Main grape: Chenin Blanc

Vouvray is where Chenin Blanc is grown. Vouvray is perhaps as well-known as Sancerre, although its wines haven’t yet become as expensive. In Vouvray, only Chenin Blanc is produced, and it delivers a special minerality.  There are also some delicious sparkling crémant wines made of Chenin Blanc in Vouvray.

ANJOU

Main grapes: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau, Pineau d’Aunis

In Anjou, a much larger neighbouring appellation, the Chenin Blanc tend to be smoky and mineral but also somewhat full-bodied. The whites are usually 100 percent Chenin, but some have a small portion of Sauvignon blended in.

Red wines from Anjou are nicely balanced, with just enough roundness to complement the minerality. If you are a fan of sweet wines, the Coteaux du Layon appellation, located within Anjou produces a late-harvest wine made from Chenin.

SAVENNIÈRES

Main grape: Chenin Blanc

This tiny appellation produces only Chenin Blanc grapes. It’s a highly regarded area whose wines tend to age very well.

CHINON / BOURGEUIL / SAUMUR / SAUMUR CHAMPIGNY

Main grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc

Cabernet Franc is a beautiful, elegant, and sometimes powerful red grape that defines these neighboring appellations. The style here is to not let oak overpower the wine.  There are light and fresh Cabernet Franc that’s perfect to toss in the fridge and then sip on the patio or pair with pizza, as well as serious, aged Cabernet Franc that deserves a decanter and contemplation.

MUSCADET

Main grape: Melon de Bourgogne

The unique white variety known as Melon de Bourgogne is mainly found in this coastal region. “Muscadet” is a nickname that developed to refer specifically to this white wine from this region. It is always dry, floral, easy to drink, and well-priced. It pairs well with oysters, seafood, or linguini with clams.

Final Thoughts

Personally, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was investigating opportunities to take a river cruise through the Loire Valley and experience the region firsthand.  Hopefully, once life returns to “normal” I will get to visit one day.

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France’s Rhône Wine Region

Although the Rhône region produces white wines, it is better known for its reds. The wines of the Rhône will satisfy all tastes and budgets, whether you are looking for easy-to-enjoy, immediately accessible wines or cellar worthy, collectible wines.  As I have mentioned in the past, my favourite French wines are produced in the Rhône.

The wines are divided into four levels of quality:

Côtes du Rhône AOC

The Côtes du Rhône appellation was established in 1937, and its wines are among the most popular in all of France.  It accounts for 50% of the valley’s production and is considered as the ‘entry level’ classification. Most are red blends based on Grenache or Syrah and the vineyards are planted on a variety of different soils. Production rules are not as strict as other levels but wines must have a minimum of 11% alcohol and be made from the 21 sanctioned grape varieties.

These wines are easy drinking, and pair well with a variety of different foods so are perfect for every day. The white blends and rosés are equally delicious but may be harder to find.

Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC

The Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation was created in 1966 and represents the next tier on the quality ladder. Wines from here have more body and a spiced red-fruit character.

The village wines are a bit more complex with lower yields and slightly higher alcohol. These wines are great for aging.

Côtes du Rhône (named) Villages AOC

Twenty-one villages are allowed to indicate their village name on the label.  In order to include the village name, the winery must comply with stricter requirements than for the Côtes du Rhône Villages. Those villages are:

  • Chusclan
  • Gadagne
  • Laudun
  • Massif d’Uchaux
  • Plan de Dieu
  • Puyméras
  • Roaix
  • Rochegude
  • Rousset-les-Vignes
  • Sablet
  • Sainte-Cécile
  • Saint-Gervais
  • Séguret
  • Sinargues
  • St-Maurice-sur-Eygues
  • St-Pantaléon-les-Vignes
  • Suze-la-Rousse
  • Vaison la Romaine
  • Valréas
  • Vinsobres
  • Visan

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous Rhône region and one of the oldest in France.  It was established in 1936, but its official boundaries were drawn up in 1919.

The wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape display great fruit freshness, black pepper, spice, earth and garrigue (a French term for the wild hillside vegetation of the Mediterranean Coast).

The vineyards are planted with 14 varietals at four levels of altitude as the land rises up from the Rhone River. 

The most plentiful reds include Grenache and Cinsault, with Mourvedre, Syrah and other sanctioned reds producing wines that are full and aromatic with spicy dark fruits balanced with acidity and minerality.

Whites make up only 6% of production but are worth trying. They speak of the warm southern climate – honeysuckle, stone fruits and melon, backed with refreshing minerality.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are usually pricier than other Rhône wines, with prices starting in the $50 range.  However, there are some much less expensive Rhône wines that are equally as enjoyable.  But if you are seeking a more collectable or cellarable wine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape provides some great choices.

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France’s Burgundy Wine Region

During the Middle Ages, Benedictine and Cistercian monks, whose responsibility it was to produce wine for the Church, began to recognize subtle variations in the wines from different areas.  They began to map the vineyards in terms of quality and as a result, Burgundy’s famous, complex cru system began to emerge.

Burgundy (aka “Bourgogne”) is small in size but its influence is huge in the world of wine.  It is home to some of the most expensive wines but there are tasty and affordable ones as well.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the two primary grapes of Bourgogne (Burgundy) white and red wines.  However, Aligoté, Pinot Gris, Gamay, and Sauvignon Blanc are grown as well.

Burgundy has 5 primary wine growing areas:

  • Chablis
  • Côte de Nuits
  • Côte de Beaune
  • Côte Chalonnaise
  • Mâconnais

Chablis

Chablis is the growing region located furthest north and is geographically set apart from the rest of Burgundy. The river Serein (Serene) flows through the area, moderating the climate, and the grapes have been grown here since the Cistercian monks first started the vineyards in the 12th century.

All the wines are white and made with Chardonnay grapes.

Côte de Nuits

The Côte de Nuits  is home to 24 Grand Cru vineyards and some of the world’s most expensive vineyard real estate. The area begins just south of Dijon and ends at the village of Corgoloin. 80% of the wines produced here are Pinot Noir and the remaining 20% are either Chardonnay or Rosé.

Côte de Beaune

The Côte de Beaune is named after the medieval village that is the heart of wine commerce in Burgundy.  The wine from this region is quite different from that of its neighbor to the north. Chardonnay plays a more important role with 7 of the 8 Grand Cru vineyards producing white wine, but there are many amazing red wines produced in this region as well.

Côte Chalonnaise

Côte Chalonnaise is situated between the towns of Chagny and Saint-Vallerin. Here there are no Grand Cru vineyards.

The first village in the northern part of the region is Bouzeron, the only appellation devoted to the white grape, Aligoté. This is a perfect summer sipper or choice for fish and shellfish. Aligoté is floral, with notes of citrus and flint, and perhaps a touch of honey.

Another village that does something a bit different is Rully, a vibrant center of Cremant de Bourgogne production since the 19th century. These white and rosé sparklers are made in the traditional method, just as in Champagne.

The wines from this area are good value. They range from smooth Chardonnays with subtle oak influences and ripe tree fruits to more rustic Pinot Noirs.

Mâconnais

Mâconnais  is the most southerly region, and Burgundy’s largest.  Located between the town of Tournus and St. Veran, it lies at the crossroads between Northern and Southern France.  The warmer climate is evident in the well-structured Chardonnays, with notes of ripe stone fruits, honeysuckle, citrus peel, and wild herbs.

Burgundy Wine Classifications

There are four levels of quality for Burgundy wines:

  • 1% Grand Cru – Wines from Burgundy’s top plots (called climats). There are 33 Grand Crus in the Côte d’Or and about 60% of the production is dedicated to Pinot Noir.
  • 10% Premier Cru – Wines from exceptional climats in Burgundy. There are 640 Premier Cru plots in Burgundy.
  • 37% Village Wines – Wines from a village or commune of Burgundy. There are 44 villages including Chablis, Nuits-St-Georges, and Mâcon-Villages.
  • 52% Regional Wines – Wines from overarching Bourgogne appellations.

Regional Wines

Regional Wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy and tend to be fresh, light, and lively. You will find them labeled “Bourgogne Rouge” (red) or “Bourgogne Blanc (white).

Village Wines

The next step-up is the “Village” wines, named after the towns near to where the grapes are sourced. These wines are still fresh and fruity, with little to no oak.

Premier Cru Burgundy

“Premier Cru” wines are from special vineyard areas within a village. They produce wines that are slightly more intense than the regular old Village wines.  Premier Crus are affordable and make marvelous food wines. The label will say “Premier Cru” or “1er Cru.”

Grand Cru Burgundy

The “Grand Cru” wines account for just over 1% of Burgundy’s annual production. Bold, powerful, complex and made for cellaring, they are the epitome of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are a total of 33 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy.

Chablis Classification System

There is a separate ranking system for Chardonnay:

  • Petit Chablis

Petit Chablis is produced from grapes grown surrounding the village, which are higher in acidity and have lots of light citrus character.

  • Chablis

The majority of the wines found on wine store shelves are in this category. These wines are a bit rounder and more minerally with grapes sourced from the limestone slopes near the village of Chablis.

  • Premier Cru Chablis

Premier Cru Chablis make up about 15% of annual production.  These wines are more elegant coming from vineyards filled with Kimmeridgian limestone marl, giving them a distinctive character.

  • Grand Cru Chablis:

These vineyards are located north of the town of Chablis, where the steep slopes face south-southwest. There is technically only one Grand Cru, but there are 7 “climats” inside that Grand Cru, and their names will be on the label: Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Presuses, Valmur, and Vaudésir. Many of the Grand Cru wines in Chablis are aged in oak.

Final Thoughts

Whatever your pleasure, make a point of trying some of the wines of the Burgundy region.  You can’t go wrong and you don’t need to spend a fortune to find a nice one.

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France’s Bordeaux Wine Region

Bordeaux is one of the most iconic wine regions of not only France, but all of Europe.  The wines produced in Bordeaux have become a benchmark for wine producers all around the world.

Bordeaux was first loved for its sweet white wines from the sub-region of Sauternes. The wine had prestigious clientele during an era when sweet white wines were more popular than dry red ones. There was also a rosé popular in the 1700’s, particularly with the English, who called it “claret” due to the wines translucent red color.

It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that Bordeaux red wines became more well-known. The dramatic moment of this transformation was an official decree that classified the top producers of the day. The classification, now deemed the “1855 Classification”, identified the best producers in the region and ranked them 1 through 5. The classification basically hasn’t changed even though there are many more producers in the region making outstanding wines.

Bordeaux is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious wine regions. Bordeaux is synonymous with quality and refinement. While the legendary wines of Château Margaux or Pétrus command prices that place them out of reach of the average consumer, Bordeaux’s true greatness lies in the fact that wines with elegance, sophistication and balance can be found at all price points.

Red wines from Bordeaux are medium to full-bodied with aromas of black currant, plums, and earthy notes. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines originated in Bordeaux. The tannins in these wines are often high enough that wines will age for several decades.

One of the most important things to know about Bordeaux wines is that they are a blend of grape varieties. The red Bordeaux Blend is one of the most copied around the world and it includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and a small amount of Carménère.

When serving Red Bordeaux, it should be slightly below room temperature (around 65 °F / 18 °C) and decanted for at least 30 minutes. All red wines should be stored below 65 °F / 18 °C.

You should expect to spend around $25–$30 for a great bottle of Red Bordeaux.

Suitable food pairings for Bordeaux include,

  • Meat
    • Black Pepper Steak
    • Roast Pork
    • Filet Mignon
    • Beef Brisket
    • Buffalo Burgers
    • Chicken Liver
    • Pot Roast
    • Venison
    • Duck
    • Goose
    • Dark Meat Turkey
  • Cheese
    • Ossau Iraty
    • Basque Cheeses
    • Manchego
    • Swiss Cheese
    • Comté
    • White Cheddar
    • Provolone
    • Pepper Jack
  • Herb/Spice
    • Black Pepper
    • White Pepper
    • Oregano
    • Rosemary
    • Mustard Seed
    • Cumin
    • Coriander Seed
    • Anise
  • Vegetable
    • Roast Potatoes
    • Lentils
    • Mushrooms
    • Onion
    • Green Onion
    • Green Bean Casserole

The Bordeaux region is separated into two sub-regions, the “Left Bank”, referred to as Médoc and Graves, and the “Right Bank”, known as Libournais.

The Left Bank (Médoc and Graves)

This area is known for its gravelly soils and graphite-driven red wines with a dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. The most prestigious sub-regions in the Médoc include Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint–Estephe, Margaux and Pessac-Leognan (the areas first classified in 1855). The wines from Médoc are some of the boldest and most tannic of Bordeaux, perfect for aging or matching with red meat.

Left bank Bordeaux blends, in order of proportion are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Malbec
  • Petit Verdot

The Right Bank (Libournais)

This area in Bordeaux is known for its red clay soils that produce bold plummy red wines with a dominance of Merlot. The most well-known and sought after sub-regions including Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. The wines from around Libourne are still moderately bold, but generally have softer, more refined tannins. For this reason, right bank wines are a great way to get introduced to the region. Here is a typical example of a Libournais Bordeaux blend in order of importance:

  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon

Entre-Deux-Mers “Between 2 Tides”

The area between the 2 major rivers of Bordeaux, the Garonne and the Dordogne, is called Entre-Deux-Mers. This area produces both red (predominantly Merlot) and white wines but is perhaps more well-known for its white wines, which are a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and the rare Muscadelle. Wines have grapefruit and citrus notes with zippy acidity–a perfect wine for summer and fish.

Sauternais Sweet Wines

Sauternes and its surrounding regions of Barsac and Cadillac, are along a particularly dank portion of the Garonne River. Morning fog causes the white grapes growing in the area to develop a certain type of fungus called Botrytis. The fungus causes the grapes to shrivel and sweeten making one of the sweetest white wines in the world.

White Bordeaux

Only a small part of Bordeaux’s wine production is dedicated to white wines. These wines are made with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon and range from zippy and fresh from places like Entre-Deux-Mers to creamy and lemon curd-like from places like Pessac-Leognan.

Last Word

Bordeaux is a region that has been a source of inspiration to many of today’s most popular wines. If you are a fan of red wine and have never tried a French Bordeaux, I recommend purchasing a bottle.  Better yet, try both a left bank and a right bank wine and see which you prefer.

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