There is a saying among wine aficionados that on the journey to wine understanding, all roads eventually lead to Burgundy. I am not sure I agree with that as my heart seems to be in Italy, but there is no denying the impact that Burgundy has had on the wine world and that some of the most ethereal wine experiences one can have come from Burgundy wines. Many tomes have been written on the subject but the purpose of this article is to give a basic primer on the subject and eventually delve deeper into the Burgundy experience in subsequent articles.
The Loire River is one of the most important rivers in France. Over the course of its 650 miles, the Loire River Valley is the longest winegrowing region in the world. The river begins in the mountains of the Ardeche in south-central France, before flowing gently north and then west, flowing out to the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of France. Many of France’s Kings had built chateaux’s along the river earning it the nickname of the Royal valley. In fact, at one point, the Loire Valley was the seat of Royal power in France.
The Rhone valley produces many great wines such as Hermitage and Chateauneuf du Pape . It also produces great value wines such as Cotes du Rhone . Straddling both categories are some very good wines at reasonable prices including wines from the region of Gigondas (pronounced “zhi-gon-dahs”). Often referred to as the poor man’s Chateauneuf du Pape, these wines are very similar to the style of wines of Chateauneuf albeit slightly lesser in quality. The quality on many Gigondas wines has, however, greatly increased over the last decade.
Along the French border with Germany lies the region of Alsace (all-SAHss). The region’s customs are a combination of both the French and German culture, a result of the political turmoil this region has long experienced. Alsace has changed ownership four times in the past few hundred years. Since World War I, this area has belonged to France. The wines, however, bear as much resemblance to the wines of Germany as they do to the wines of France. To be more precise, the wines of Alsace are a hybrid of the two, yet distinct from either.
One of the most famous wine regions in the world is Chateauneuf du Pape. Chateauneuf du Pape covers almost 8,000 acres in the southern Rhone Valley of France. The officially demarcated wine region enjoys a very warm climate, baked by the Mediterranean sun. While both red and white wines are made here, it is the red wine that has made this area famous.
About 110 miles southeast of Paris, at the northern tip of the Burgundy wine region France lays Chablis. Chablis is the name of a village that has given its name to a region producing some of the best white wines in the world. The region of Chablis encompasses 19 towns and is about twenty by fifteen kilometers in size. In France, by law, wines are named after the place where they are fashioned and not the grape varietal. The wine producers of Chablis have spent hundreds of years determining which grapes produce the best wines for their soils and the answer: crisp, mineral-driven wines made from the Chardonnay grape.