France is the world’s leading fine wine producer. Its key regions – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Rhône, Alsace and, increasingly, Languedoc Roussillon – set the benchmark internationally for a diverse range of wine styles. The country’s grape varieties are grown, and its wines emulated, throughout the world.
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 and its famous regions – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Rhône, Alsace and increasingly Languedoc Roussillon – read like a who’s who of all you could 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, France’s infinitesimal variety of wines is one of its great attributes. And that’s without even mentioning Cognac and Armagnac.
France’s grape varieties are grown, and its wines emulated, throughout the world. It also brandishes with relish its trump card, the untranslatable terroir that shapes a wine’s character beyond the range 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 2,000 years of winemaking, where the finest grapes and parcels of land have been selected through centuries of trial and error rather than 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. Yet all this creates interest, giving the wines personality, and generating 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 d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) based on geography as opposed to quality is clearly flawed, sometimes serving as a hindrance to experimentation and improvement.
Nevertheless, the future is bright for France: quality is better than ever before – driven by a young, well-travelled and ambitious generation of winemakers – while each year reveals new and exciting wines from this grand old dame.