According to statistics from INAO, the production and consumption of white wines in France is only one third of the total wine production in the country, and the lion’s share is accounted for by red varieties. This means that the French themselves prefer red, but this does not prevent them from producing great white wines, which are the unsurpassed standard for many producing countries. The well-known and widespread in the world varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and even Pinot Gris come from France, where each of these varieties has its own region and its own unique style.
Geography of white vineyards
As in any other country, white grapes – usually of higher quality and value – are grown in the northern regions, where the climate is cooler and the temperatures are lower. The result is a fresh, light and mineral wine character, a style preferred by white wine lovers. In the southern part of France, winemakers produce full-bodied and heavier wines from white varieties such as Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne.
In the coastal wetlands of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the French make more fruity and lighter wines from Muscadet in the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux and Picpoul on the Mediterranean coast. In the continental climate, on the border with Germany, silky and aromatic wines are produced from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, while in Burgundy you will find a huge variety of white wine styles from the only Chardonnay variety. And each of these wines requires special attention among those who want to discover “white” France.
Blanc de Blanc, that is, “white from white”, refers to champagne made from the only white Chardonnay variety. Most of this champagne is made from the vineyards Côte de Blanc (“Slope of white berries”). As a rule, these are refined samples with a characteristic wine style, that is, this is a champagne that can be enjoyed just like white wine. And in this case, it is also preferable to choose glasses of a wide shape – as for a calm wine. It has a rich and multifaceted aroma, a deeper taste and aftertaste compared to a traditional three-grape champagne when the red varieties are also added. Since Chardonnay grapes require more sun and time to fully ripen, and are also less frost-resistant than red varieties, Blanc de Blanc champagne can only be created under favorable weather conditions, which means in good years. For such champagne, the more ripe, sweeter and higher quality grapes are selected. The result is an exquisite long-lived wine with mineral and floral notes, while aged champagne acquires creamy notes, the aroma of nuts and dried fruits.
An extensive region in the northwest of the country with a rich variety of white wines. Along the banks of the Loire River, which originates in the Massif Central and flows into the Atlantic Ocean, varieties of white grapes popular all over the world are grown, but with a special “Loire” character. The brightest are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, two small appellations that use Sauvignon Blanc. These are vineyards located on both sides of the river. It is believed that Sauvignon Blanc from the right bank of the Loire, namely Pouilly-Fumé, grown on clay-sandy soils, has a slightly smoked (fr. Fumé) shade. However, in reality, the difference between these two vineyards is quite difficult for non-experts to grasp. In any case, many consider the Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc “the greatest in the world”. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé wines perfectly combine the subtle refreshing aromas of currant leaves, nettle, white spices and flowers with invigorating acidity and mineral taste. These wines are perfectly combined with local fresh goat cheese.
Another white variety, Chenin Blanc, dominates in the central part of the region. It is a complex and often unpredictable variety that adds a headache to local winemakers as it can rot at any time during harvest, as it is prone to noble mold, or Botrytis cinerea. Many experienced winemakers skillfully use this feature of the variety in the production of excellent late-harvest sweet wines, carrying out painstaking, often berry selection in the vineyards. A very successful 1985 was a fateful year for Loire wines from Chenin Blanc, when producers were able to harvest excellent dessert wines and offer more competitive prices on the market compared to the great sweet wines of Bordeaux. In the Vouvray appellation wines, the varietal characteristics of Chenin Blanc are most clearly manifested – high aromaticity, excellent minerality and a good level of acidity. All together it gives a very aromatic and juicy wine: from refined dry to velvety dessert. It is worth trying wines from this variety from the following appellations: Vouvray, Anjou, Saumur, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Coteaux du Layon, Touraine and Montlouis.
Going down the river to the ocean, we find ourselves in the Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine vineyards, where the wine of the same name is produced from the Muscadet grape variety. This variety is also called Melon de Bourgogne, and, as the name implies, it comes from Burgundy (and has nothing to do with Muscat). It was on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean that he acquired his second homeland. This wine is created to be served with seafood: light, unobtrusive, with a mineral note in the bouquet and high acidity. It refreshes perfectly and tastes like the sea. It is worth paying attention to the more full-bodied wines aged on lees (sur lie).
The most non-French and whitest wine region in France. Bordering Germany and historically located on German territory, the region has absorbed the culture and gastronomy of this country. Also Alsatian wines have a slightly “German” character. Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat are the elite of local wines. As a rule, the name of the variety is indicated on the label, which makes it easy to navigate the style of the wine. It produces both dry wines with a fruity character and late-harvest dessert wines (Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles) with huge storage potential. In Alsace there is a classification of Grand Cru vineyards (51 in total), but not all winemakers consider this gradation reliable and unambiguous.
Alsatian wines are among the most gastronomic and versatile when combined with food. A great combination with local cuisine, and sommeliers also prefer the wines of this region to oriental and Asian dishes. Juicy and balanced between sweetness and acidity, the taste perfectly emphasizes the piquancy of the dishes.
A small region in the east of France, located between Burgundy and Switzerland. It produces bright and unusual white wines from the local Savagnin variety, as well as from Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. This region is primarily famous for the excellent Vin de Paille (“straw wine”) and Vin Jaune (“yellow wine”). For more details see the “Travel” section.
Burgundy is the birthplace and Mecca of Chardonnay. Despite the fact that all white Burgundy wines are 100% Chardonnay, the styles and variety within one grape variety cannot be counted here. A distinctive feature of the local white wines from Chardonnay from other regions and countries is the minerality, which is especially evident in the northern regions of Burgundy. The fault of the mineral freshness is a special Cimmerian limestone layer of soil, rich in shell rock and shellfish remains. The most striking example – the wines of the Chablis appellation, personifying the standard of dry white wines.
In addition to the microclimate and soil where the grapes were grown, the quality of wine is also influenced by the methods of its production. Since Chardonnay gets along well with oak, it is important to consider the duration of its aging. If you prefer the richer and more oily character of white wines, the Chardonnay Cask is the best choice.
So, all the white wines of Burgundy can be divided into four main groups, which differ depending on the area of growth of Chardonnay.
- Bourgogne Blanc: inexpensive base wines without locality
(but from the territory of Burgundy!), as a rule, not aged in a barrel; they have a simple and unobtrusive character with light mineral notes and apple aroma.
- Chablis: wines with high minerality and good acidity, with hints of citrus.
- Côte de Beaune: Wines from this part of Burgundy are more often aged in oak barrels, have a rich and full-bodied structure with typical notes of vanilla, butter, hazelnuts, melon and even truffle. As a rule, these are wines with good storage potential.Here are the names of the wines that make up the elite of “white” Burgundy: Corton-Charlemagne, Pernand-Vergelesses, Meursault, Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Saint Aubin, Santenay.
- Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais: Whites from southern Burgundy are more often fresh and fruity in character and less often barrel aged. Always more attractive in price than Côte de Beaune wines. Pay attention to Rully, Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran.
The region that gave the world its burgundy color is primarily recognizable for its red wines. The whites seem to be in the shade, but if you look at the Bordeaux wine list, you will find decent light wines here as well. Firstly, the concept of “Bordeaux blend” also exists for white wines – it is a mixture of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle.
Mostly Bordeaux dry white wines are produced under the name Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Sec AOC. Even if the grapes are grown in some appellation, for example in the little-known Entre-deux-Mers, it is easier for the producer to sell his wine as Bordeaux. These are fresh and light wines with a pleasant acidity and fruity aftertaste. More complex wines are produced in Graves and Pessac-Léognan, where the structure of the wine is richer, more complex and with high potential. The most famous of these is Château Haut-Brion Blanc.
As a separate history of Bordeaux wines, it is worth noting sweet white wines from the Sauternes and Barsac appellations, headed by the renowned Château d’Yquem. Wines from these regions are more like a divine elixir, the velvety sweetness of which envelops and enchants, they will not leave anyone indifferent. The secret lies in the “noble mold” and humid climate, in which it attacks ripe grapes well, thus leaving the highest concentration of sugar in the berries. The potential of such wines is very high, and every year they only improve their taste.
On the banks of the Rhone River, grapes are mainly grown that love a hot climate and need an abundance of sun. Few white varieties are good for dry weather. Among the white grape varieties, there are three of Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. They are more common in the northern part of the region, where temperatures are milder in summer. These wines are characterized by a “hot” character, they are always full-bodied and full-bodied, with a very intense aroma and rich taste. Local wines often have a high level of alcohol, but in the experienced hands of the winemaker, the strength of the wine is not felt at all and gives the wine a strong but natural character.
Condrieu and Château Grillet are two small appellations that have given the world velvety and highly aromatic Viognier wines.
Saint-Joseph, Saint-Péray, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage are places where the unmistakable duo of Roussanne and Marsanne are used to produce white wine. Fresh, fruity in aroma, thick and rich in taste.
In the southern part of the Rhone Valley, quality white wines are rare. Interesting white wines in the “red” appellation Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Perhaps many did not even know that “papal wine” is also white. Connoisseurs of sweet wines should remember the names Rasteau and Beaumes-de-Venise.
Languedoc and Roussillon
In the south of France, you can find a wide variety of grape varieties and white wines of them: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Vermentino, Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picpoul, Maccabéo, Rolle, Chenin Blanc, Viognier , Muscat and others.
The Mediterranean mild climate is conducive to the cultivation of aromatic and sweet grapes, from which fruit and bright wines with a southern character are obtained.
This part of France is also famous for its sparkling (Blanquet de Limoux and Cremant de Limoux) and dessert wines (Rivesaltes).
Along with the variety of white wines, it is worth noting the rich French cuisine, ideally combined with local wines. Here are a few tried and tested combinations that have become a staple of a classic gastronomic duo.
- Loire refreshing wine Muscadet from the Atlantic coast is simply made for oysters.
- The Alsace white wine goes well with the traditional local Choucroute sauerkraut and savory sausages.
- Fresh and light white Loire Valley wines from Sauvignon Blanc are served with the local fresh Crottin de Chavignol cheese made from goat’s milk.
- One of the most sophisticated and aristocratic unions is a magnificent dessert wine from the Sauternes region and a delicacy in the form of foie gras foie gras pâté.