How Discuss French Terroir With No Fear

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May 18, 2017

by PETER BOURNE, Writer

Learn to navigate French wine labels and you’ll unlock secrets that go more than soil deep.

The wines of France can be a mystery, as few are labelled by their grape variety. You need some insider knowledge to decipher, say, the hierarchical growths of Bordeaux’s Médoc and the terms “premier” and “grand” of other appellations. But strip back the clutter and you’ll find the majority of French wines are made with grape varieties that are the cornerstone of our domestic wines.

Unlike Australia, however, where we grow any grape in any region, the wine laws of France dictate mandatory grape varieties, with no room for innovation or experimentation.

The French appellation system (as these laws are known) acknowledges the synergy between a specific site and a single grape variety or complementary group of varieties. This synergy is at the heart of the concept of terroir – that indefinable word that links soil, site, climate and aspect with history and human endeavour. Terroir essentially acknowledges the cultural importance of wine to the French.

Here’s a short cut to France’s major grape varieties and their home soils. 

2015 Domaine Pichot Coteau de la Biche Vouvray Sec
Loire Valley, $30 

Australian chenin blanc can be insipid but it shines in the Loire Valley and this wine from Domaine Pichot is a fine example. It’s citrus-fresh, lean and tight, with subtly spiced flavours. If you enjoy young Hunter Valley semillon, this is for you. Try it with a Niçoise salad. 

2015 Christian Moreau Père & Fils Chablis
Chablis, Burgundy, $55 

This is chardonnay at its best from a Chablisienne traditionalist. It features white nectarine and pink grapefruit, with minerally overtones, and racy acidity to drive the finish. Freshly shucked oysters, please.

2012 Château du Cèdre Cahors
Cahors, South West France, $43 

Malbec with a dollop of merlot and (the appropriately named) tannat, for extra punch, combine to give this wine a rich mulberry and blackcurrant bouquet with an underlying earthiness. Smooth and satisfying, it would go perfectly with shepherd’s pie and peas.

2012 Château Sénéjac
Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, $54

Vineyards adjacent to the Margaux appellation define this elegant, perfumed “claret” with tobacco, raspberry bush and dark berries, a juicy heart and dusky tannins. Roast leg of lamb would be an ideal match. 

2013 Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme Châteauneuf du Pape
Rhône Valley, $99

With 90 per cent grenache and the balance mourvèdre, this wine features blackberry and dark plum, plus a whiff of sage and wild thyme. It’s bold but not brash, with abundant tannins to conclude. Pair it with rare sirloin and horseradish sauce.

Shop these wines at Qantas epiQure