French Wine For Dummies book cover

French Wine For Dummies

By: Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan Published: 08-30-2001

“Whether you are an avid collector or wine novice, this book offers an extensive resource in an accessible format.”
—Charlie Trotter, Acclaimed Chef and Award-Winning Author

“This book is an invitation to discover the bountiful wine regions, each different from one another, and is an homage to the beauty and uniqueness of the delicious wines they produced.”
—Georges Duboeuf, Les Vins Georges Duboeuf

“The diversity of French wine is one of its attractions, but it can seem perplexing...until you pick up this marvelous guide. The route is well -marked, easy-to-follow, and the destinations are delicious.”
—Kermit Lynch, Wine Merchant and author, Adventures on the Wine Route

“...Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan lead us by the hand down the road of adventure to discover the wines of France that they know so well.... In their relaxed, wise, and mischievous way, they show us the joy and pleasure of drinking French wine.”
—Prince Alain de Polignac, Winemaker, Champagne Pommery

You no longer need to be confused or intimidated by French wine. Authored by certified wine educators and authors Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, French Wine For Dummies introduces you to the delicious world of fine French wine. Among other things, you’ll discover how to:

  • Translate wine labels
  • Identify great wine bargains
  • Develop your own wine tastes
  • Match French wines with foods

Here’s everything you need to know to sip and savor the best—and the best-value—Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Alsace, and other delicious wines. This lighthearted and informative guide covers:

  • The story of French wine and how it came to dominate the wine world
  • How the French name and label their wines and why
  • France’s most important wine regions—including a region-by-region survey of the best vineyards and their products
  • France’s other wine regions, including Champagne, Alsace, the Loire Valley, and others

So pour yourself a big glass of Beaujolais Nouveau, sit back, and enjoy the ride as Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan take you on an intoxicating journey through the wonderful world of French wine.

Articles From French Wine For Dummies

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19 results
19 results
French Wine For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-09-2022

Choosing a French wine means understanding how to read and pronounce French wine names and words you find on the label, the variety of grape specific to certain French wines, and getting the best value of a French wine.

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Top Values of French Wines

Article / Updated 06-06-2016

Looking to get the most for your money when it comes to French wine? Here are some of France’s top wine values, including the types of wine and whether they’re red or white: Alsace Riesling (white) Côte Chalonnaise Burgundy (red/white) Beaujolais-Villages (red) Côte de Bourg Bordeaux (red) Bergerac (red/white) Côte du Rhône-Villages (red) Cahors (red) Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux (red) Bourgogne (Rouge or Blanc) Non-vintage brut Champagne Chinon (red) Saint-Véran and Mâcon-Villages (white) Corbières or Minervois (reds)

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Words You Find on French Wine Labels

Article / Updated 06-06-2016

A French wine label contains a lot of information, but you can crack the code and understand French wine once you know how to read the label. Here are some words you may find and what they mean: Appellation . . . Contrôlée (AOC): The word(s) appearing between these two words on the label indicate the official place-name of the wine, the location where the grapes grew. grand cru: A region’s highest quality vineyard or vineyard area blanc de blancs (“white from whites”): A white wine made from white grapes only. In particular, a Champagne made exclusively with Chardonnay grapes. grand vin: A winery’s best wine blanc: White millésime: Vintage (year of the harvest) brut: A dry sparkling wine mis en bouteille au château: Estate-bottled château: A wine estate premier cru: A top vineyard area or wine estate, but less prestigious than a grand cru crémant: An AOC sparkling French wine from some region other than Champagne réserve: Suggests a better-quality wine, but it’s an unregulated term that anyone can use for any wine cru: A vineyard, a village, or sometimes a wine estate rouge: Red cuvée: A blend of wines, or a particular batch of a wine sec: Dry domaine: Wine estate, usually a smaller property than a château vieilles vignes: Old vines, suggests better quality, but it’s an unregulated term extra dry: A sparkling wine that’s slightly sweeter than brut Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS): A place-name wine that’s less prestigious than an Appellation . . . Contrôlée wine grand cru classé: A wine estate that has officially been classified as a top property Vin de Pays: A French country wine; the words following this phrase on the label indicate the zone where the grapes grew.

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How to Pronounce French Wine Names

Article / Updated 06-06-2016

Don’t let the pronunciation of a French wine get your tongue in a knot. Pronouncing the names of French wines just takes a little practicing, which you can do with the following table. Remember: Unlike English words, there are no stressed syllables in French words. Aligoté (ah lee go tay) grand cru classé (grahn crew clahs say) Bâtard-Montrachet (bah tar mon rah shay) grand vin (grahn van) Blanc de Blancs (blahn deh blahn) Graves (grahv) Chablis (shah blee) Haut-Brion (oh bree ohn) Chambolle-Musigny (shom bowl moo sih nyee) Haut-Médoc (oh meh dock) Chassagne-Montrachet (shah sahn n’yah mohn rah shay) Languedoc-Roussillon (lahn guh doc roo see yohn) Château d’Yquem (sha toh dee kem) Loire (l’wahr) Château Lynch-Bages (sha toh lansh bahj) Mâcon-Villages (mah con vil lahj) Château Trotanoy (sha toh troh tahn wah) millisime (mill eh seem) Corton-Charlemagne (cor tohn shar leh mahn) Moët (moh eT) Côte de Nuits (coat deh n’wee) Pauillac (poy yac) Côte Rotie (coat ro tee) Perrier-Jouët (pehr ree yay jhoo et) Cramant (crah mahn) Sémillon (seh mee yohn) crémant (cray mahn) St.-Emilion (sant eh mee l’yon) Crozes-Hermitage (crows er mee tahj) vieilles vignes (vee ay veen) Cru Bourgeois (crew boor j’wah) vin de pays (van deh pay ee) Domaine Leroy (doh main leh rwah) Viognier (vee oh n’yay) Gevrey-Chambertin (jehv ray sham ber tan) Vosne-Romanée (vone roh mah nay) Gosset (go say)

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Grapes Used in French Wine

Article / Updated 06-06-2016

The variety of grapes (red or white) used for making French wines is usually named for the region in France where it’s grown. Here are some French wine types and the main grape used for making it: Wine Type Principal Grape(s) Beaujolais Gamay Bordeaux (red) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc Bordeaux (white) Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon Burgundy (red) Pinot Noir Burgundy (white) Chardonnay Chablis Chardonnay Champagne Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier Côtes du Rhône Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre Pouilly-Fuissé Chardonnay Pouilly-Fumé Sauvignon Blanc Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc

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Types of French Wines Available Today

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

France produces more wine than any other country — except when Italy does. (The two countries are neck and neck.) The amount of wine produced varies from one year to the next, according to the weather. Generally speaking, France makes about 1.5 billion gallons of wine each year. Luckily for the reputation of French wines, the huge quantity produced each year comprises hundreds of different types of wine. Variety, in fact, is the rule for French wines: French wines are white, red, and pink. French wines are still (non-bubbly) wines and bubbly wines. French wines are dry wines, semi-dry wines, and sweet wines. French wines sell for less than $8 a bottle and for several thousand dollars a bottle. French wines are simple wines for enjoying while they’re young, and serious wines that aren’t at their best until they age for a few decades. French wines are hand-crafted artisan wines made by small family wineries and mass-production wines made by large corporations. France produces more red wine than white or rosé (pink) wine. Rosé wines are made throughout France, and some of them are quite special, but they represent just a tiny part of the country’s production. France's dry, sweet, and bubbly wines French wines are predominantly dry, non-sparkling wines. Sparkling wines represent less than 10 percent of France’s production. Champagne itself — the major sparkling wine of France (and the world) — accounted for about 5.5 percent of French wine production in 1999. Many other regions also make sparkling wine, but in significantly smaller quantity than Champagne. Almost every region of France makes some type of sweet, dessert wine, but no one region specializes in it. The quantity varies quite a lot from year to year because sweet wine production often depends on specific weather patterns that don’t visit a region predictably each year. Sauternes are probably the world’s most revered type of sweet wine in the eyes of serious wine collectors. Collectable to highly affordable France’s finest wines enjoy the highest reputation of any wines anywhere. The best wines of the Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhône regions dominate the cellars of the world’s most celebrated wine collectors, as well as the auctions where rare wines are bought and sold. Bottles of mature wines can cost thousands of dollars each, depending on the wine and the vintage. But France makes plenty of mid-range and inexpensive wines, too. In just about any good wine shop in the U.S., you can find wines from southern France that sell for as little as $6 a bottle — good, everyday wines for casual enjoyment. Between the least expensive and the most precious French offerings are the majority of French wines — high quality wines that cost from about $15 to $35 and are suitable either for drinking young or for aging a few years. France's regional characters Wineries in different parts of France cultivate different grape varieties and make their wines in different ways. Even when two regions grow the same grape variety, their wines usually turn out to be distinctly different, because of terroir differences, or different winemaking traditions. The Sauvignon Blanc variety provides a good example of how the same grape makes different wines: In the Loire Valley, it makes crisp, un-oaked wines with well-concentrated, minerally flavors. In the Bordeaux region, winemakers frequently blend Sauvignon Blanc wine with Sémillon, making a fleshier, longer lasting wine with more subtle flavors; often, they use oak barrels, which give the wine a smoky or toasty character. In the south of France, Sauvignon Blanc wines have riper fruit flavors than those from either the Loire or Bordeaux.

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France's White Wines of Bordeaux

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The Bordeaux region of France produces some of the world’s finest white wines, in addition to the more commonly known red Bordeaux wines. The finest dry white wines of Bordeaux are unique to the Bordeaux region; nowhere else in the world can you find such wines. As with many fine wines, however, their production is small. The Bordelais make dry white wine in many districts of the region, including a few wines from the predominantly red-wine Haut-Médoc area. But most of Bordeaux’s dry and semi-dry white wines come from the following three districts: Pessac-Léognan (peh sack leh oh n’yahn) Graves (grahv) Entre-Deux-Mers (ahn treh douh mare) The Pessac-Léognan district is the home of Bordeaux’s finest white wines. Most of these wines come from estates that also happen to make fine red wines. The Graves district makes good, dry white wines that are less expensive than those of Pessac-Léognan. This area also produces great dessert wines. Entre-Deux-Mers (ahn treh douh mare) is a large district that is known for its inexpensive dry, semi-dry, and sweet white wines, although it also grows reds. Other white Bordeaux wines, mainly inexpensive versions, come from grapes grown throughout the Bordeaux region rather than in a specific district; these wines simply carry the region-wide appellation, Bordeaux Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grape varieties Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant grape variety (60 to 100 percent) in most of Bordeaux’s dry white wines, whereas Sémillon dominates the sweeter white wines. (A third permitted white grape variety, Muscadelle, plays a minor role in a few wines.) The very best dry white wines of Pessac-Léognan contain around 50 percent Sémillon (seh mee yohn). Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon have a fine symbiotic relationship, for the following reasons: The Sauvignon Blanc part of the wine offers immediate charm; it’s crisp, lively, herbaceous, light-bodied, and develops early. The Sémillon part is slower to open; it’s fuller-bodied, viscous, and honeyed, with lower acidity than the high-acid Sauvignon; it enriches the wine, but needs several years to unfold. Most of the better dry white Bordeaux, which are blends of both varieties, are crisp and lively when they’re young, but develop a honeyed, fuller-bodied richness with age. In good vintages, they can age a surprisingly long time — often for 30 or 40 years or more. Drinking white Bordeaux Dry white Bordeaux is a versatile wine. It typically goes well with chicken, turkey, veal, and delicate fish entrées. It also goes well with soft, mild cheeses; goat cheese is particularly fine with white Bordeaux. Like most fine white wines, dry white Bordeaux is best when you serve it slightly cool, but not cold! The ideal serving temperature is in the 58°F to 62°F (14°C to 16°C) range.

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Understanding How French Wines are Named

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The first step toward understanding French wine names is to realize that, in France, the government controls how wines are named, and every wine name is a reflection of French wine law. In theory, you could learn all sorts of information about any French wine just by looking up its name in the French laws. That information would include the general vineyard territory for that wine, which grape varieties could possibly be in that wine, and so forth. If you were to research several wine names, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, you’d discover that most of them are the names of places — the vineyard area where the grapes for the wines grow. Vineyard location is the organizational principle behind French wine law and the basis for naming French wines. Terroir is the French word for the set of natural conditions that any one vineyard (or wine region) has — the unique combination of climate, soil, altitude, slope, and so forth, in any one location. Different vineyards produce different wines. The locale where the grapes grow affects the quality and style of the wine. Naturally, then, terroir became the basis of French wine law, and the system for naming French wines. Privileged versus ordinary French locales Not all terroirs are equal in the eyes of the French wine law. Some vineyards are very privileged locations, and other vineyards lie in more ordinary territory. The status of the locale determines, to a large extent, the price and the prestige of the wine grown there. Two basic categories of wine zones exist in France: Classic wine areas Newer grape growing and winemaking areas Every vineyard in France lies within one type of wine zone or the other — or sometimes, both. Where classic zones and newer areas overlap, a winemaker can use either area’s name for the wine, provided that he follows the rules governing the production of the wine whose name he uses. These rules are stricter for vineyards in the classic areas, and more flexible in the newer areas. For example, winemakers in a classic zone have less choice of what grape variety to plant. But wines from the classic areas are generally more prestigious. Smaller regions are more exclusive Where territories overlap, a winemaker generally chooses the name that represents the smallest, most specific terroir for which the vineyard is eligible. This is true for several reasons: The smaller area is more exclusive; fewer people can have vineyards there, and use that name for their wine. Wines from smaller terroirs generally command a higher price than wines named after larger areas. Wines from smaller areas are generally perceived to be of higher quality. An exception to this rule can occur when the name of the larger area is better known and more marketable than the name of the smaller area.

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France's Beaujolais Wine District

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The Beaujolais region is unique among French wine regions because it makes wines that are happy to please without trying to impress. Beaujolais wine is the product of the Beaujolais region of France and the red Gamay grape variety. Administratively, Beaujolais is a district of the Burgundy region, but the red wine of Beaujolais is very different from those in the rest of Burgundy — made from a different grape variety grown in different soil and a warmer climate. The soil and climate of Beaujolais Beaujolais is a large wine region by Burgundy’s standards: It’s about twice the size of Rhode Island and larger than any Burgundy district. The region encompasses nearly 50,000 acres of vineyards, which extend 34 miles in length and seven to nine miles in width. The vineyards are situated in the eastern part of the region, on undulating hills. Beaujolais is near enough to the Mediterranean Sea to experience Mediterranean-like summer weather, which is warm and dry; but the region is also interior enough to experience cold, dry weather from the northeast, including spring frosts. Overall, the climate is temperate. Soil variations are the most significant factor in defining the character of the region’s various wines: In the southern part of the region, south of the town of Villefranche, the soils are sandstone or clay and limestone. In the north, the soils are granite or schist (crystalline rock) on the upper slopes, with stone and clay soils on the lower slopes. Just as the soils are different in the north, so are the wines. The sturdiest, firmest Beaujolais wines come from the northern vineyards, while the lightest, most supple wines come from southern vineyards. The Gamay grape variety Except for a small amount of Chardonnay, 99 percent of the Beaujolais vineyards are covered by a single grape variety, Gamay; all red Beaujolais wine derives entirely from Gamay. Gamay exists in a few other places — France’s Loire Valley, for example, and Switzerland — but the Beaujolais region is truly the stronghold for this variety, and the finest Gamay wines come from this area. (Neither the grape called Gamay Beaujolais in California nor the grape called Napa Gamay is true Gamay.) The Gamay variety makes wines that are fairly deep in color, with a bluish tinge. They tend to have light to medium body, relatively low acidity, moderate tannin, and aromas and flavors of red berries. Beaujolais winemaking A winemaking technique that’s widely practiced in the region contributes significantly to the style of Beaujolais wines. That technique is called carbonic maceration (because the grapes macerate, or soak, in a carbon dioxide-rich environment). It’s a fairly simple process in terms of what the winemaker does, but it’s more complicated chemically. The effect of the process is a reduction in the wine’s tannin and an enhancement of particular fruity aromas and flavors in the wine. The principal behind carbonic maceration is that when whole grapes are deprived of oxygen, they begin to ferment (their sugars convert to alcohol) from the inside; certain other changes occur within the grape berries, such as the formation of particular aroma and flavor compounds. This internal fermentation happens without the help of yeasts; normal fermentation, in contrast, occurs because yeasts come in contact with the juice of crushed grapes. For the lightest Beaujolais wines — specifically, the style called Beaujolais Nouveau — the fermentation can be as short as three days. Other styles ferment for about ten days, during which time they gain more color and tannin from the grape skins than the lighter styles do.

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Grape Varieties Grown in France

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Practically all the most famous grape varieties used in the world's wines are French varieties, meaning that they either originated in France or became famous through their expression in French wines. These varieties include Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, among many others. Over the centuries, different grape varieties have acclimated to certain regions of France. In some regions, winemakers make blended wines, from several grape varieties; in other regions, the wines derive from a single variety. Wine lovers often use a certain shorthand in talking about French grapes: Bordeaux varieties (generally used in reference to red varieties): Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet France, principally; Malbec and Petit Verdot are two minor red varieties of Bordeaux Red Rhône varieties: Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre White Rhône varieties: Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier Southern French varieties (generally used in reference to reds): Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Carignan The wines of Bordeaux, the South of France, and the Rhône Valley (the larger, Southern Rhône, at least) are blends, made from several grape varieties in varying proportions. When winemakers from other parts of the world use these varieties together, they sometimes describe their wines as being “Bordeaux blends” or “Rhône blends,” a more convenient lingo than naming all the varieties used. The following tables name the major white and red grape varieties of France, and indicate in which of France’s wine regions each grape is important. A map depicting the major wine regions of France follows the tables. France’s Major White Grape Varieties Grape Variety Region(s) Where Important Chardonnay Burgundy; Champagne; Languedoc Chenin Blanc Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc Bordeaux; Loire Valley; southwestern France; Languedoc Gewürztraminer Alsace Pinot Gris Alsace Pinot Blanc Alsace Marsanne Rhône Valley Muscadet Loire Valley Riesling Alsace Roussanne Rhône Valley Sémillon Bordeaux; Southwest France Viognier Rhône Valley; Languedoc France’s Major Red Grape Varieties Grape Variety Region(s) Where Important Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux; Southwest France; Languedoc Cabernet Franc Loire Valley; Bordeaux; Southwest France Carignan Rhône Valley; Southern France Cinsault Rhône Valley; Southern France Gamay Beaujolais Grenache Rhône Valley; Southern France Merlot Bordeaux; Southwest France; Languedoc Malbec Southwest France; Bordeaux Mourvèdre Rhône Valley; Southern France Pinot Noir Burgundy; Champagne Syrah Rhône Valley; Southern France The many wine regions of France.

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