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The Whiter Side of France

When thinking about summer white wines, Bordeaux and Burgundy rarely arise as primary candidates. After all, aren't Bordeaux and Burgundy necessarily red wines?

wThat is a common misconception. Bordeaux along with Burgundy are just as respected for thier white wines as are the Loire Valley and Alsace. In fact, some of the world's best white wines are made in Burgundy and Bordeaux.

But when it comes to French white wines, it would still be fair to assume that Alsace and the Loire Valley wines remain some of the better values.

The Best of the Best
Unlike Bordeaux and Burgundy, Alsace and the Loire Valley are better known for their white wines because these two regions specialize in growing white grapes.

Both regions are located in northern France, where the cooler climate and a shorter growing season are better suited for white grapes.

In Alsace, the primary grapes include the Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The highest quality wines are the Rieslings, which also account for the most grapes planted.

The Loire Valley, in turn, is best known for the Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc grapes. But unlike Alsace wines, Loire Valley wines are classified by style and include some of the country's best known styles.

From Pouilly Fumé to Vouvray
The four main styles of Loire Valley wines are Pouilly-Fumé, the Muscadet, Sancerre and Vouvray.

The Pouilly-Fumé is a dry, fully bodied wine that is made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The Muscadet is light, dry wine made from Melon grapes.

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The town of Sancerre, and surrounding vineyards

In contrast, the Sancerre is a balance between the fulled bodied Pouilly-Fumé and light bodied Muscadet made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. And the Vourvray, made from Chenin blanc grapes, is the most versatile style and can be either dry, semisweet, or sweet.

Latest Trends and Best Values
Of all the Loire Valley white wines, the most known style once was the Pouilly-Fumé. But over the last few years, the Poulilly-Fumé has been overtaken by the Sancerre (though both have a similar style and the Sancerre tends to be more expensive).

But despite the growing intrest in the Sancerre, one of the best values remains the Muscadet. Unlike the Sancerre, the Muscadet remains an affordable style that has undergone a similar remarkable increase in quality without the accompanying increase in price.

The Whites of Bordeaux and Burgundy
Along with the growth in Sancerre wines, another significant shift in French wines has been the growth in Bordeaux white wines.

These wines are classified by the name of the chateau, or vineyard, that produced the wine. As always, the type of soil and direction of slope are the primary factors affecting the quality.

The levels of quality are the village wine, or wine that bears the name of the village; Premier Cru, or a specific vineyard with special characteristics; and Gran Cru, a specific vineyard with especially good soil and growing conditions.

Banking on Burgundy
Out of Bordeaux and Burgundy appleations, the best known vineyards are in Burgundy, whose white wines are among the world's most renowned.

These wines include the Chablis, the Côte De Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise, and Mâconnais.

Of those wines, the most famous is the Chablis, whose name unfortunately has become associated with some very undistinguished wines due to the lack of “copyright” protection. However, the French are serious about their Chablis wines, which use the same classifications for quality as Bordeaux wines, and a French Chablis is assuredly very different wine than the generic “Chablis” wines.

Choosing the Right White
Choosing the right white really is just a matter of taste. If anything, experts say the quality of French white wines has gotten significantly better in recent years, resulting in a wider selection of good French white wines.

The most important factor therefore will be the grape variety. And as with most wines, the best way to learn which variety has the most personal appeal is through experimentation. In other words… cheers!


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