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Understanding French Wine: Part 2

Question from Pippa: I want to get into French wine but I’m overwhelmed by the wine label and have no idea what it all means. Do you have any helpful tips to understanding French wine?

 In nut shell: In my last post (Part 1), I looked at the Appellation d’Original Contrôlée system (if you have no idea what I’m walking about you need to read this blog post first). This week I’ll look at everything else you need to know when understanding French wine and a French wine label. This week will be much more straight forward than last week I promise but I can’t summarise it in a nut shell. You’re going to have to read the clam shell, sorry.

In a clam shell: So now we understand what Appellation d’Original Contrôlée means we can look at everything else that will confuse you when trying to pick a French wine.

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Understanding French Wine: Part 1

Question from Pippa: I want to get into French wine but I’m overwhelmed by the wine label and have no idea what it all means. Do you have any helpful tips to understanding French wine?

In a nut shell: I’m going to have to do this in two parts (one this week and one next week) because there is a lot to learn and I don’t want to bore you! Baby steps. I’ll look at Appellation d’Original Contrôlée today (you’re not meant to know what this means yet, I explain below) and everything else next week.

Understanding French wine is incredibly confusing for us aussies because we call it by the grape (e.g. Pinot Noir) and they call it by the region (e.g. Burgundy). So how do you know what you’re getting when there is no grape variety in sight? It’s a little complicated, there is no short answer and there are always exceptions but I’ve done my very best to simplify things for you. Take this little cheat sheet with you when you’re picking a French wine to ensure your next vin is très bien.

In a clam shell: What on earth is appellation something something contrôlée or AOC?

This is the most important piece of information you’ll need to know when selecting a French wine. The region that the wine comes from is generally sandwiched between the words appellation and contrôlée. For example Appellation Chablis Contrôlée means that the wine is from the region of Chablis, which is in Burgundy, France. It’s going to be 100% Chardonnay because that’s the grape you have to grow if you own a vineyard in Chablis. Read more

Vintage and non-vintage and why it matters

Question from Nick: I know vintage means old but what exactly does it mean in the context of wine and why does it matter?

In a nut shell – Vintage in the context of wine means the year that the grapes were harvested (i.e. picked) and it matters because every year the climate is a little different to that of the previous year. This difference in temperature, rainfall, sunshine etc. can significantly change the wine.

In a clam shell – So we’re happy that ‘vintage’ on a bottle indicates the year that the grapes were harvested. Simple! If there is no vintage date we can assume that the wine was made from grapes harvested from several years (but more on that later). Read more

More than a glass…

Question from Claire: Does the wine glass really make a different?

In a nut shell: Absolutely! The more surface area of wine that comes in contact with oxygen the better. There are always exceptions (like for super old wines which don’t like much oxygen) but put simply, that’s your answer… absolutely.

In a clam shell: If it’s a cheap bottle of wine a mug is perfectly fine. What you taste is what you get and it’s probably not going to get any better with the assistance of the right glass but if it’s a decent bottle and you want to smell and taste all that it has to offer go with the right glass. Read more

What’s the deal with buttery Chardy?

Question from Caroline: I find Chardonnay incredibly frustrating. I love that creamy rich flavour that some Chardonnays have but often when I open a bottle I get fresh citrus fruits. How do I avoid this lucky dip?

In a nut shell – That buttery flavour comes from a special winemaking technique and not the Chardonnay grape itself which, on its own, is quite citrus driven and fresh. The oily texture and creamy flavour is created through a special kind of fermentation.

In a clam shell –With a buttery Chardonnay, after the wine is fermented (yeast is added to grape juice and as the yeast eats the sugar, alcohol is produced) the wine undergoes an additional fermentation called Malolactic Fermentation which is used to soften harsh acidic flavours (think Granny Smith apples, lemons and limes). A different kind of yeast from the initial fermentation feasts on the harsh malic acid in the wine and farts out lactic acid which is softer and more creamy. So if you’re a fan of a buttery Chardonnay (I am!) look for Chardonnays that have undergone Malolactic Fermentation or MLF (no not THAT MLF). Read more