The Great Wines of Northern France
The Northern section of France excels in the production of white wines. There are four distinctly different and famous regions: Champagne, Burgundy, Loire Valley, and Alsace.
The Champagne region is France’s northernmost wine-producing area. Grapes here have a difficult time ripening, as the weather is generally cooler, and the growing season shorter. In fact, growers and producers in Champagne have an average of three out of every ten years when they can claim a vintage year.
To make the most prized sparkling wine on the planet, the growers favor Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are red wine varietals, but often add little or no color to the final product. To get the Rosé color, Pinot juice is left to macerate with the harvested grapes for an extended period.
Another wine growing region that specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is Burgundy. Some of the greatest and most expensive of these varietals is grown here on specific plots of vineyard property. Red and white Burgundy can be cellared for decades, increasing complexity and becoming silky smooth.
For white Burgundy, look to names like Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Chevaliers-Montrachet, and the pinnacle Chardonnay in the world, Le Montrachet.
For red Burgundy, Pommard, Volnay, Nuits-St.George, Vosne-Romanee, Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Echezeaux are the most noteworthy.
For both red and white Burgundy, drinking them with delicate food preparations is preferable, as the focus should be on the wine.
Also in the Burgundy region is Chablis, which makes stunning, mineral-driven wines made from Chardonnay grapes that typically do not see any oak aging. The wines are lean and complex, and pair well with all kinds of food. Great Chablis will age three decades. Drinking a great, older Chablis is a mesmerizing experience.
From the Sauvignon Blanc grapes, we get Sancerre, Pouilly Fume’, Menatou-Salon, Quincy, and Reuilly. Meant to be consumed within two years of the vintage, these are fabulous with cheese, and whitefish with herbed sauces.
From the Chenin Blanc grape, we get Vouvray and Savennieres wines, known for their high acidity when young, as well as their ability to age well. Also, Muscadet grapes produce excellent wines that are rounded and firm. Oysters are the classic food match.
Ninety percent of the wine production in Alsace is white wine. They are distinctive with impressive aromatics, balance, and acidity. Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer head the list of varietals. All are great with paté, cold cuts, and rich foods.
There is also lovely sparkling wine production here, called Cremant d’Alsace. You can get these beautiful sparkling wines for $20-$30 — a knockout value. For more information about these wines, visit the WineSellar & Brasserie Web site. winesellar.com