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home > food & wine dictionary > France

Food and Wine Dictionary

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France is definitely a wine-oriented country. It produces over 20 percent of the world's wines, second only to Italy. It's the top per capita consumer of wines-per person, the French population consumes almost nine times that of the U.S. population. But more than that, in its effort to create the best possible wines, France has set the standard for what wines are meant to be. Except for Portugal's PORTS, Germany's RIESLINGS, and Spain's SHERRIES, the wine-producing world primarily uses French wines as benchmarks for excellence in high-quality wines. France's premier wine-growing regions each contribute extraordinary exemplars: BORDEAUX for the red wines made from CABERNET SAUVIGNON, MERLOT, and CABERNET FRANC, for the rich, sweet SAUTERNES wines made from SAUVIGNON BLANC, SÉMILLON, and MUSCADELLE, and even for the DRY white wines of GRAVES made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon; BURGUNDY for the elegant red wines made from PINOT NOIR, the superb white wines made from CHARDONNAY, and the light, fruity red BEAUJOLAIS wines made from GAMAY; CHAMPAGNE for superior SPARKLING WINES made mainly from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; the RHÔNE region for its red SYRAH wines and white VIOGNIER wines from northern Rhône region; the GRENACHE-based red wines from places like CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE from the southern region, and the ROSÉ wines of TAVEL; and the LOIRE for the dry, semisweet, and sweet wines made from CHENIN BLANC and Sauvignon Blanc. The wines of ALSACE, the other premier growing region, are not as widely imitated by the world's wine producers. However, as winemakers continue to make dry wines from GEWÜRZTRAMINER, RIESLING, SYLVANER, PINOT GRIS, PINOT BLANC, and MUSCAT, they're discovering that such wines are Alsacian specialties. Of course, all this doesn't mean that other countries don't produce superior wines. The Italian wines made from NEBBIOLO and SANGIOVESE or the California ZINFANDELS are superb. But no other country's wines are as widely copied as those of France. From South Africa to the United States to Chile to Australia, winemakers are planting French varieties and making French-influenced wines. In addition to their grape varieties and winemaking acumen, the French have contributed their system of quality control to the winemaking world. Their levels of quality-from lowest to highest-are VIN DE TABLE, VIN DE PAYS, VIN DÉLIMITÉ DE QUALITÉ SUPÉRIEURE, and APPELLATION D'ORIGINE CONTRÔLÉE. France did not achieve its esteemed position in the world of wine overnight. Grapes are thought to have been planted in France at least 2,1780 years ago, prior to the Roman occupation. The Romans, however, brought many practices with them that improved French wines including planting vineyards on the best slopes, pruning and managing the vineyards, and various winemaking techniques. Over the centuries, the French have learned which grape varieties grow best in which locations and have gradually perfected their winemaking craft. This information has been recorded in detail over time and has been a major factor implementing the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system that defines the top quality level for wines. This shouldn't imply that the French drink only top-quality wines. In fact most of the wine consumed is simple vin de table that's produced in huge amounts in southwest France, parts of the Rhône region, the LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON and PROVENCE, and in smaller amounts throughout the rest of France. But France is continuing to try to improve even these wines by encouraging practices such as the planting of specific higher-quality grape varieties, lowering YIELDS, and modernizing winemaking procedures.

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Material adapted from the The New Food Lover's Companion

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

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