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Wine information > French wine history
French wine history
I have deliberately restricted the notes to the chief wines of current consumption so as not to confuse the reader by an indigestible mass of information, much of which would anyway be irrelevant to his purpose.
Wines of the Bordeaux regionThe term Claret, as we use it in England, is generally understood as a description of a red wine from the Bordeaux district (department
of the Gironde), the finest wine-bearing group of vineyards in all France, and therefore in the world.
Actually it should embrace all wines, white and red, in this district; but Sauternes and Graves are not popularly known as white Clarets.
There is thus a certain lack of definiteness in the term, but certainly it cannot be honestly used as a trade description of the wine of any other district or country, and the qualification, Australian, Californian, Spanish, must be added, according to country of origin.
Claret is a relatively simple wine in its process of vinification, containing the least amount of sugar, alcohol, and acid these substances being, of course, present in all wines, the proportion giving the specific character. Claret is unfortified with any spirit and therefore will not keep sound for more than a few hours,
certainly not more than six or eight, after being opened. It is a sensitive wine, easily spoiled by bad treatment. When maturing in bottle it should be kept at an even temperature of 60° Fahr. ; never subject to vibration nor exposed to sunlight or strong daylight.
Fine Clarets will mature for thirty or even forty years in bottle.
The general character of fine Claret is a delicacy, lightness, softness, and elegance of taste and bouquet as compared with other
Descriptions of Claret may be otherwise confusing to the amateur, and need a little explanation. Vague territorial descriptions, as Medoc, St. Emilion, give no clue to specific quality except that the very vagueness of the descriptions suggests the fact that they may be inferior wines of a good district trying to claim some of the credit of the better wines from such districts. Similarly, well-known district names, Margaux, St. Julien, are thus vaguely used.
The name of the actual chateau not merely some vague place name will
appear on the bottle of wine that is produced by that particular chateau. The formal official classification of the various classed growths is usually a sound guide to the standard of the wines included.
The classifications are obviously not infallible nor absolutely exclusive. There is still room for the judgment of the merchant and the connoisseur to find good wines outside the lists, and perhaps occasionally less good wines within it, though it is fair to say that the standards are zealously maintained, as far as the vagaries of the weather year by year permit.
All Clarets need a full six months in bottle before they can be drunk with any pleasure. The classed growths, as also the lesser growths, are never bottled till they have been two years in wood, and they require a good time in bottle to come to perfection. Old Clarets will throw a deposit and, of course, with great age, lighten in colour. They should be brought from the cellar very carefully a few hours before consumption.
Some Claret connoisseurs prefer to bring them up the night before. T'he bottles should be stood up to allow the deposit to settle. An hour or two before drinking, the cork should be very gently drawn, and, to avoid splashing and frothing, the wine poured through a funnel with a curved end which directs the wine down the sides of the decanter, which must be thoroughly clean and should be slightly warmed. The bottle should be tipped very gently, so that the pouring may be stopped immediately any signs of deposit appear.
Claret should be drunk at the temperature of a comfortably-warmed room, say 65' to 70° Fahrenheit.
Claret, at a formal dinner where there are several wines, is served with the entrees or roast.
Besides the bottle (reputed quart, actually 0.76 litres) and the half-bottle (reputed pint, 0.37 itres), the Magnum or double bottle (1.5 litres), the Jeroboam (4 litres), and the Imperial (6 litres) are sometimes used for bottling the red wines of Bordeaux. Wine bottled in large bottles takes longer to come to perfection, but develops qualities through obscure reactions within the bulk that are not attained by the same wines aged in smaller bottles.
The Gironde is divided into six main districts: Medoc, Graves, Sauternes, Entre deux Mers, Cotes, Pa1us.
It may be said that the wines of the Medoc are the classical characteristic red Clarets of the finest general quality. They are lighter than those of the Cokes (St. Emilion and Pomerol districts) which are nearer to the fuller, heavier character of Burgundy.
It should be noted that the fourth wine in the first growths, Chateau Haut-Brion, is actually a wine from Pessac in the Graves district.
The classed growths of the Medoc
Malescot St. Exupery
Marquis de Terme
Vin de GravesThe term Vin de Graves is given to the wines grown on the gravelly soils of the Graves district. These wines have body, beautiful
colour, finesse, very pronounced seve, and fine bouquet. Among them may be noted (besides the Chateau Haut-Brion classed with the first
of the Medoc) :
Bon-Air (ler Cru)
Camponac (ler Cru)
Olivier (ler Cru)
Smith Haut Lafite
The white wines are generally dry, and the
best have high bouquet and flavour, such as:
The white wines of Graves are drunk with:
oysters and fish.
Wines of SauternesThe commune of Sauternes lies south of the Bordeaux district. This and the communes of Bommes, Fargues, Preignac, and Barsac, are
grouped as the Sauternes-Barsac districts.
Sauternes are of golden colour soft, sweet and highly perfumed. They are ideal sweet light wines, warming and comforting without being
heady or bilious. The most famous of these,is the Chateau Yquem, which is in a class by itself.
The classification of Sauternes
Grand First Growth
Leading growths of St. Emilion and Pomerol
Ausone (Ier Grand Cru)
Belair (Ier Grand Cru)
Magdelaine (Ier Grand Cru)
Beausejour (Ier Grand Cru)
Canon La Gaf£eliere (Ier Cru)
Fonplegade (Ier Cru)
Pavie (ler Cru)
Coutet (Ier Cru)
Petrus (ler Cru)
Trotanoy (Ier Cru)
Nenin (ler Cru)
Pomys (Crfi Bourgeois Supe'rieur)
Wines of BurgendyBurgundies are the wines that come from the
Haute-Bourgogne (Cote d'Or), Basse-Bourgogne (Yonne, etc.) of Maconnais (Sao^ne et Loire), and Beaujolais (Rhone).
They are, in general, fuller in body and of greater alcoholic strength than Clarets. Burgundy is the most fragrant of all red wines, is equally pleasing to the eye and to the olfactory sense; it possesses a fine clear dark-red colour which no mixture of grape-juice, spirit and sugar can ever approach.
Burgundy fulfils on the palate the promises held out by its fine colour and charming bouquet; soft and velvety, Burgundy never is 'sugary;' warm and generous, it never is ` spirity ;' delicate,
it never is vapid as the last sip is swallowed. Burgundy leaves in the palate a most pleasing 'farewell,' never a watery or fiery taste. The popular belief that Burgundy is a heavy, inky wine is due, like many such beliefs, not to facts, but to fiction. The black vinous brews sold under the name of 'Burgundy' or the appella-
tion 'Burgundy-type' by retailers often more ignorant than disho-nest, are a gross libel upon the highly-bred, delicate, and delicious wines of Burgundy.' A characteristic passage which, as
the reader will guess, is quoted for its warnings as well as for its appreciations. Among the best wines of the Cote d'Or vineyards may be mentioned:
The classification of Burgendy
Grand First Growth
Clos de Vougeot
Nuits St. Georges
whilst many fine wines come from Pommard, Volnay, Beaune, Chassagne, Savigny, etc.
Red Burgundy is, at a formal dinner, drunk with the roast. Burgundy will go on maturing for thirty or forty years. For decanting, use the same procedure as with Claret.
Maconnais & Beaujolais winesWines from the Maconnais and the Beaujolais. The Maconnais comprises in the department of Saone et Loire the arrondissements
of Macon, Autun, etc. The most esteemed wines of this district are those from Macon and its environs. Nor do the wines from the
Beaujolais (arrondissement of Villefranche in the Rhone) lack either lightness, finesse, or good taste.
Celebrated wines of this district include:
Romaneche, Thorins, Moulin-'a-Vent, whilst Pouilly (from the communes of Fuisse and Solutre') is the most famous white wine here-
Wines of ChablisThe white wines of Chablis are sometimes
incorrectly spoken of as white Burgundies. In reality their character is very different. They are of good alcoholic strength, and vigorous without the alcohol being too pronounced to the palate. They have body-delicacy and charming aroma, and are distinguished
also by their remarkable whiteness of colour and limpidity.
They are the favourite wines for consumption with oysters. They should be served cold. Chablis will go on maturing for years.
The Chablis wines are now classified by the
leading brokers as follows:
The principal crus of Chablis.
Mantee de Tonnerre
Mont de Milieu
Many villages round about Chablis also produce white wines of goad quality.
VermouthVermouth is the product of the southernmost
vineyards of France. The basis is a white wine fortified with spirit and aromatized with various herbs and other aromatic and tonic materials. French Vermouth has in general a drier character than the Italian. Is much in favour for aperitifs, and is excellent with aerated water as a beverage.