I’ve just put in a new window display, using the upcoming Tour de France for inspiration. During the Tour, we’re going to run a themed tasting event in-store one evening (to be “officially” announced fairly soon along with a date and more details) so I thought I’d entertain the geeky organised side of my brain and arrange a French wine window by region, in a rough resemblance of the route this year’s Tour de France is taking. There’s a nice little sheet in the window talking people through the different regions in sequence in the window, and I’ve copied in the text below for anyone who’s interested. It’s a good, if basic, introduction to many of France’s best-known wine-producing areas.
Tour de France Window
The window display you are looking at resembles the Tour de France route for 2010 (if you imagine a map of France and squint really hard from a funny angle). This year, the route passes through Rheims (in the heart of Champagne territory) having left from Rotterdam. Here (top right of display), the likes of Veuve Clicquot grow their vines and craft some of the most amazing wines in the world.
Leaving the bubbles behind, we head south and swing round past the fabled Chablis vineyards (they’ll probably need some binoculars, or perhaps a telescope to spot them from the actual route, but bear with us here!) where the growers make some of the finest wines produced from the Chardonnay grape. They are full of fresh crisp flavours and a steely minerality that you have to taste to be able to even begin to understand what on earth “minerality” is like, but trust me, it’s an accurate description!
Further south again and our hard-working cyclists are now passing through Burgundy, the home of some of the great Pinot Noirs and rich buttery Chardonnays of the world. North to south through Burgundy, we take in some of the big names like Cote de Beaune Villages and Macon-Charnay before dropping in on the Beaujolais winemakers in small little tucked away spots like Fleurie, Brouilly and Morgon.
The Tour then hugs the border for a while before reaching the south coast down in Provence, a sunny region where 2 in every 3 bottles of wine made is rose. Coming back inland for a bit, we travel up the Rhone valley, starting with the famous vineyards of Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, and moving north through the increasingly popular and well-known Cotes du Rhone villages like Seguret, Gigondas and Cairanne. Further up the valley we find the Northern Rhone growers who are the possessors of some of the finest Syrah (Shiraz to you Aussie red fans) the world has to offer, and finally reaching Condrieu, the very best Viognier you will find on this Earth.
Heading south again, the riders are now on their way through the Midi, which includes famous regions like Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet, Minervois, and further south again, Cotes du Roussillon-villages. These wines encompass a wide range of styles, with crisp refreshing dry rose, rich, warming and chocolatey reds and light, floral and elegant whites, just to name a few.
Into the heart of the South-West region we find ourselves facing up to some huge reds from the Madiran producers, rammed full of tannic structure and power, and treated to similarly full-bodied, yet elegant, reds of Cahors. Cahors is the original home of Malbec, the grape which has since become synonymous with Argentina, and is known for its massive structure and in-your-face dark fruits. The French treat it much more gently, coaxing out some gorgeous flavours and utterly unique aromas that simply have to be experienced to be believed.
On the home stretch now, and as we head up to Bordeaux (left hand side of the window now), we pass through the vineyards of Bergerac and Monbazillac, the far more affordable younger sibling of Sauternes. Equally sticky, syrupy, honeyed and delicious dessert wine, the prices in Monbazillac make their wines a far more appealing prospect if you’re thinking of trying something new. A real rich and gorgeous treat with mature cheeses and rich cakes.
Into Bordeaux then, perhaps the most famous and revered of all the French wine-making regions, their reds are among some of the finest (and most expensive) in the world, often fetching jaw-dropping prices. At their best they are the most elegant, silky smooth, delicious wines you will find anywhere, and achieve a quality that the New World winemakers still aspire to catch up with. The whites can be very good too, usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand white drinkers, take note) and Semillon (fans of Aussie whites, sit up too), they offer really crisp and zingy refreshment, and are becoming far more affordable and much better quality than they used to be. Well worth a try at some point.
Finally we pass through the Loire en-route to the finish at Paris. A huge region that spreads across a wide stretch of France, here we are talking about classic wines such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Menetou-Salon and Saumur. Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are two of the grapes which make some of the most popular wines of the region.
More about the Tour de France can be found on the official website. There’s a cracking map showing the route here: