Despite their own complacency, occasional arrogance and impressive
challenges from all-comers, France is still far and away the finest wine
producing nation in the world. Its famous regions Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Rhône, Alsace and increasingly Languedoc Roussillon read like a
desert island disc of fine wines, a whos who of everything you could ever want
from a wine.
Full-bodied, light-bodied, still or fizzy, dry or sweet, simple or
intellectual, weird and wonderful, for drinking now or for laying down,
Frances infinitesimal variety of wines is one of its great attributes. And
thats without even mentioning Cognac and Armagnac.
Frances grape varieties are grown, and its wines copied, throughout the
world. It also brandishes with relish its trump card, the untranslatable
terroir that shapes a wines character beyond the ken of human knowledge and
intervention. It is this terroir - a combination of soil and microclimate -
that makes Vosne-Romanée taste
different to Nuits St Georges,
Ch. Langoa-Barton different
to Ch. Léoville-Barton.
France is a nation with over 2000 years history of winemaking, where the
finest grapes and parcels of land have been selected through centuries of trial
and error, not through market research. Its subtleties are never-ending and
endlessly fascinating. Vintage variation is as great here as anywhere rain,
hail, frost and occasionally burning heat can ruin a vintage. But all this
creates interest, it gives the wines personality, and generates great
excitement when everything does come together.
However, this is not to say that French wine is perfect. Its overall quality
remains inconsistent and its intricate system of classification and
appellation controlée based on geography rather than quality is clearly
flawed. Appellation Contrôlée is one of Frances great attributes but can also
act as a straitjacket to experimentation and improvement.
Nevertheless, the future is bright for France; quality is better than ever
before driven by a young, well-traveled, ambitious generation of winemakers -
while each year reveals new and exciting wines from this grand old dame.