La Belle France
By virtue of the fact that France has been producing outstanding wines for
the past few hundred years and that many of the wines made there are the
"benchmark" by which others are judged, it stands to reason that France is the
"center of the universe" when it comes to wine.
The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, was a U.S. Ambassador to
France and was a big fan of French wines. He had built two wine cellars into his home at
Monticello and surrounded the residence with grapevines. One cellar was for bottled wines,
while the other was for a barrel aging facility.
hired an Italian man to plant vines and make wine at Monticello. There is a modest wine
industry in Virginia today and some good vinifera wines are being made there. Jefferson
also imported top Bordeaux wines to the U.S. He was also a fan of Champagne. Further, he
advised George Washington and James Monroe as to what wines they should serve guests.
Since French wines were so highly regarded hundreds of years ago, it should come as no
surprise they're highly regarded today.
French citizen has grown up with wine on the table. It's been a part of their culture
forever. Keep in mind, though, this does not make each and every French person a wine
expert! There is a tremendous amount of "vin ordinaire" produced in France.
These are wines made from high yielding vineyards and are usually dry and not particularly
intensely flavored. These wines are put on the table without a shred of connoisseurship in
can tell you about a dinner we had with some people who live a few miles from Avignon. I
had purchased several vintages of Vieux-Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape at a shop, along
with some Cotes du Rhone. One of my traveling companions asked what I intended to do with
all these bottles. I told her we'd have them that evening with her aunt's leg of lamb. She
was horrified, saying her cousins would not appreciate such wines, since they drink such
modest quality "vin de table". I replied that, at the very least, her husband
and I would appreciate them.
It was an incredible evening, watching this group of French people discovering
wines made a few kilometers from their residences. They were amazed that wine could taste
Perhaps the most confusing issue for those who have experience only with American wines is
that many European wines are labeled with the appellation (or where the wine comes
from) as the most prominent name on the label. People familiar with American wines tend to
look for the brand name and type of wine, the "type" usually being the name of
the grape variety predominant in the wine. The French, on zee other hand, rare have the
grape variety on the label. Alsace should, then, be pretty easy for most people to figure
out, since most wines have the producer's name and grape variety clearly noted on the
When you buy a bottle of white wine labeled "Sancerre", for example, no place on
the label does it say "Sauvignon Blanc". Similarly, a red labeled "Cote
Rotie" is made of Syrah, but this fact is not noted on the front label. The laws in
France prohibit someone from legally making a Chardonnay-based wine and calling it
So you need to overcome your fear of having to familiarize
yourself with French geography and the corresponding wine laws of each area. Or simply
drop by the shop, tell us you want a French wine and what's on the dinner table and we'll
make some suggestions.
While many people think "Imported Wines" are special and, therefore, expensive,
best to think again. The exchange rate with the average French winery is far more
favorable to the consumer than with most Napa Valley wineries. We have some exceptional
wines from France which are VERY reasonably priced.
The French government was instrumental in encouraging growers in the vast south of France
to rip out those varieties which were prolific producers of vin ordinaire and upgrade with
more interesting, higher quality varieties. I can remember (not too many years ago)
tasting numerous Languedoc wines, Fitou and Minervois, and being appalled at the amazingly
poor viticulture and winemaking. That situation has changed DRAMATICALLY! Now there are
dozens of above-average to really exceptional wines coming from what had been a sea of
mediocre "plonk" (that's a British term for "everyday" wine).
We'll be delighted to give you our "Tour de France", selecting an assortment of
wines from famous and not-so-famous places in France.
FRENCH DESSERT WINES
SOUTH-WEST, LANGUEDOC AND OTHER OBSCURE PLACES
FROM THE FRENCH ALPS (SAVOIE)