The Rhône River winds its way all the way from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea. The main designations are the northern and southern Rhône. The famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape comes from this region, as does Hermitage. Northern Rhône is the place to find Syrah. This is a spicy and meaty grape, so if you’re a fan of these kinds of tastes, this region is for you. For a bargain Rhône wine, look for one produced under Vin de Pays Collines Rhodaniennes. The price is no indicator of the quality of taste, and you’ll be more than happy despite what you pay. Heading further south in the region, most wines are a blend, even the world-renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape can have up to fifteen different grapes in it.
The general flavors of this wine are strawberry, black pepper, and earth. As it ages, there’s a silky quality to the wine that makes it a perfect bottle to be savored in a prized wine collection.
It’s impossible to speak of quality French wine without mentioning champagne. It’s a common misconception that this appellation includes all sparkling wines. However, only those from the actual region of Champagne are allowed to take on this name. The region also produces non-sparkling varieties of wine — but those aren’t called champagne either. In addition to the region, the process of making this rarest of wines is what makes it celebrated by drinkers everywhere. The process starts with the fermentation of slightly under-ripe grapes. From this, the winemaker gets a low-alcohol (non-sparkling) wine. It’s bottled, then fermented yet again by adding some yeast and sugar. The bottle is capped and the carbon dioxide from the process is trapped as bubbles, and the wine is now sparkling.
Now comes the hard part. There’s a process called riddling where the champagne bottles are turned and lowered extremely slowly until they are completely upside down. That’s so that the leftover yeast or “dead” yeast migrates to the neck of the bottle. Finally, the neck of the bottle is frozen, and the cap is popped so that the yeast explodes out — in a controlled manner. Then, the bottle is ready for being corked and sealed in the form that it’s presented to you in a fine restaurant or supermarket.
Burgundy is a famous wine region, and a couple of the names of famous areas within it may be familiar if you’ve drunk their varieties before. There’s Beaujolais, as well as Chablis in the north. There are the basic regional wines simply labeled with their place of range. When you go up in quality, you’ll see them labeled by village, all the way up to the best wines from the prestigious “grand cru” vineyards. These are the top of the line wines overall. Funnily enough, for champagne the Grand Cru designation does not mean it’s better than other varieties, it just shows the area that it’s from. Now that you know the varieties, you can get out there and drink to your heart’s content.