Wines of France and cepages
French wine is produced in several regions throughout France, in quantities between 50 and 60 million hectoliters per year (78 billion bottles). France has the world's largest wine production ahead of Italy and the second-largest total vineyard area behind Spain. French wine exports make up 34.01% of the world market share, ahead of Italian (18.03%) Australian (10.24%) and Spanish (9.18%) wine.
French wine traces its history to the 6th century BC, with many of France's regions dating their wine-making history to Roman times. The wines produced today range from expensive high-end wines sold internationally, to more modest wines usually only seen within France.
Two concepts central to higher end French wines are the notion of terroir, which links the style of the wines to the specific locations where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, and the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. Appellation rules closely define which grape varieties and winemaking practices are allowed in each of France's several hundred geographically defined appellations, which can cover entire regions, individual villages or even specific vineyards.
France is the source of many grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah) that are now planted throughout the world, as well as several wine-making practices and styles of wine that are copied and imitated in other producing countries. Although some producers have benefited in recent years from rising prices and increased demand for some of the prestige wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux, the French wine industry as a whole has been influenced by a decline in domestic consumption as well as growing competition from both the New World and other European countries.
French wine originated in the 6th century BCE, with the colonization of Southern Gaul by Greek settlers. Viticulture soon flourished with the founding of the Greek colony of Marseille. The Roman Empire licensed regions in the south to produce wines. St. Martin of Tours (316-397) was actively engaged in both spreading Christianity and planting vineyards. During the Middle Ages, monks maintained vineyards and, more importantly, conserved wine-making knowledge and skills during that often turbulent period. Monasteries had the resources, security, and motivation to produce a steady supply of wine both for celebrating mass and generating income. During this time, the best vineyards were owned by the monasteries and their wine was considered to be superior. Over time the nobility developed extensive vineyards. However, the French Revolution led to the confiscation of many of the vineyards owned by the Church and others.
The advance of the French wine industry stopped abruptly as first Mildew and then Phylloxera spread throughout the country, indeed across all of Europe, leaving vineyards desolate. Then came an economic downturn in Europe followed by two world wars, and the French wine industry didn't fully recover for decades. Meanwhile competition had arrived and threatened the treasured French '' brands '' such as Champagne and Bordeaux. This resulted in the establishment in 1935 of the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée to protect French interests. Large investments, the economic upturn following World War 2 and a new generation of Vignerons yielded results in the 1970s and the following decades, creating the modern French wines we know today.
Quality levels and appellation system
In 1935 numerous laws were passed to control the quality of French wine. They established the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system, which is governed by a powerful oversight board (Institut National des Appellations dOrigine - INAO). Consequently, France has one of the oldest systems for protected designation of origin for wine in the world, and strict laws concerning winemaking and production. Many other European systems are modelled after it. The word '' appellation '' has been put to use by other countries, sometimes in a much looser meaning. As European Union wine laws have been modeled after those of the French, this trend is likely to continue with further EU expansion.
French law divides wine into four categories, two falling under the European Union's Table Wine category and two falling under the EU's Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) designation. The categories and their shares of the total French production for the 2005 vintage, excluding wine destined for Cognac, Armagnac and other brandies, were:
Table wine: 1-Vin de Table (11.7%) - Carries with it only the producer and the designation that it is from France. 2-Vin de Pays (33.9%) - Carries with it a specific region within France (for example Vin de Pays d'Oc from Languedoc-Roussillon or Vin de Pays de Côtes de Gascogne from Gascony), and subject to less restrictive regulations than AOC wines. For instance, it allows producers to distinguish wines that are made using grape varieties or procedures other than those required by the AOC rules, without having to use the simple and commercially non-viable table wine classification. In order to maintain a distinction from Vin de Table, the producers have to submit the wine for analysis and tasting, and the wines have to be made from certain varieties or blends.
QWPSR: 1- Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure (VDQS, 0.9%) - Less strict than AOC, usually used for smaller areas or as a '' waiting room '' for potential AOCs. 2- Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC, 53.4%) - Wine from a particular area with many other restrictions, including grape varieties and winemaking methods.
The total French production for the 2005 vintage was 43.9 million hl (plus an additional 9.4 million hl destined for various brandies), of which 28.3% was white and 71.7% was red or rosé. The proportion of white wine is slightly higher for the higher categories, with 34.3% of the AOC wine being white.
In years with less favourable vintage conditions than 2005, the proportion of AOC wine tends to be a little lower. The proportion of Vin de table has decreased considerably over the last decades, while the proportion of AOC has increased somewhat and Vin de Pays has increased considerably.
In 2005 there were 472 different wine AOCs in France.
Wine styles, grape varieties and terroir
All common styles of wine red, rosé, white (dry, semi-sweet and sweet), sparkling and fortified are produced in France. In most of these styles, the French production ranges from cheap and simple versions to some of the world's most famous and expensive examples. An exception is French fortified wines, which tend to be relatively unknown outside France.
Numerous grape varieties are cultivated in France, including both internationally well-known and obscure local varieties. In fact, most of the so-called '' international varieties '' are of French origin, or became known and spread because of their cultivation in France. Since French appellation rules generally restrict wines from each region, district or appellation to a small number of allowed grape varieties, there are in principle no varieties that are commonly planted throughout all of France.
Most varieties of grape are primarily associated with a certain region, such as Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux and Syrah in Rhône, although there are some varieties that are found in two or more regions, such as Chardonnay in Bourgogne (including Chablis) and Champagne, and Sauvignon Blanc in Loire and Bordeaux. As an example of the rules, although climatic conditions would appear to be favorable, no Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced in Rhône, Riesling wines in Loire, or Chardonnay wines in Bordeaux. (If such wines were produced, they would have to be declassified to Vin de Pays or French table wine. They would not be allowed to display any appellation name or even region of origin.)
Traditionally, many French wines have been blended from several grape varieties. Varietal white wines have been, and are still, more common than varietal red wines.
In many respects, French wines have more of a regional than a national identity, as evidenced by different grape varieties, production methods and different classification systems in the various regions. Quality levels and prices varies enormously, and some wines are made for immediate consumption while other are meant for long-time cellaring.
If there is one thing that most French wines have in common, it is that most styles have developed as wines meant to accompany food, be it a quick baguette, a simple bistro meal, or a full-fledged multi-course menu. Since the French tradition is to serve wine with food, wines have seldom been developed or styled as '' bar wines '' for drinking on their own, or to impress in tastings when young.