The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

How to Learn to Love French Wines

Posted on | November 4, 2015 | Written by Garrett Kowalsky | No Comments

599px-French_vineyards.svgOver the past four years I have been proud to work with many clients, many of whom I now call my friends. I have worked with people who are already very aware of theirs likes and goals with regards to wine, but I have also helped shepherd newbies as they explored the wonderful world of vino and become accomplished collectors. Part of this is of course deciding if you want a cellar or some storage, and if you do, how best to balance it. Because, really, wine is like life in that to enjoy is best there must be balance in countries, regions, styles and producer. It is no secret that I’m a Burghound (lovers of the wines of Burgundy, in eastern France), so I thought I might throw out a few pointers to the readers who might be considering jumping in to the world of French wine, feet first.

One thing you must understand (and probably already do) is that France is riddled with unique climates and growing regions. In each, producers work with different weather, soil and grapes to produce profound wines. It is therefore important to explore many of these regions to make sure you identify favorites and make room for all of them on your shelves. I picked out the five areas where you should focus. If you are unsure of selection, ask your own portfolio manager or me what bottles are most “typical” or “representative” of the region.

Burgundy

This is the home of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and I would argue that no region in the world better uses these grapes as a blank canvas to their terror. There are some selections that are lithe and nimble, others big and bold, but most are assuredly seductive delicious.

Bordeaux

This is the home of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, two of the most planted grapes around the entire world. Not to mention the supporting cast of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Not only are the grapes deftly blended and unique by property, the style has been copied the world over (ever hear of Meritage or Super Tuscans?). Bordeaux is where it all started.

Rhone

There might be no other region where the differences in terroir are so visible. Often just looking at a hillside it is difficult to look at drainage, consider soils, and assess the lay of the land. Rhone is not like that. In the North the vines clearly struggle; they are gnarly and there is very little greenery, while in the South the foliage is much more lush. You taste these differences in the wine. Home to the brave grapes Syrah and Grenache, this growing area in Southeastern France is another must.

Champagne

If you hold the idea that Champagne is solely for celebrations, you would be wrong. Unless you treat every night like a celebration, then I would agree with you. Too long this style has been reserved for special events in America. Bubbles should be brought out to be enjoyed at all times and nowhere in the world will you find sparklers as good or as special as in Champagne.

Alsace/Loire Valley/Languedoc/Provence/and more…

I owe a sincere apology to the producers for lumping them in together here, but to be truthful, I am running short on space. Alsace is home to incredible whites and possibly the best Rieslings. Loire and Languedoc offer up interesting and approachable reds and whites, while Provence is where lovers of the best Rosés focus their attention. There’s so much to love from these regions that they really deserve some of your attention.

If you have hit at least 10-20 wines from solid producers from each of these regions, you should be able to start making informed decisions based on your preferences (take notes during this period!). I am 28 years old (29 in three weeks) and I have been enjoying wine since my family purchased a wine store when I was nine years old. Of my collection I would say about 300-350 bottles are French and the breakdown would be something like 70% Burgundy, 10% Bordeaux, 10% Rhone and 10% Champagne. But that is just my tastes and preferences. You can include all regions or omit most. You can become an avid fan of Riesling and Gewürztraminer from Alsace or you can swear of white selections and only put massive Chateauneuf-du-Papes from Rhone in your collection.

Like any interest or hobby, the key is to educate yourself and find your passion. If you take the time to review all of the regions above I think you are taking a massive step forward to understanding what you like and why you like it. From there the growth of your wine stash will come naturally.

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