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?
That 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
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 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.
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
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
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
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
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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