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The greatest wine-producing country in the world? Many other places offer excellent wines, but what makes France stand out from the pack is the way in which they have provided the inspiration for countless winemakers in other countries in the form of benchmarks for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and many more.
So why not join us for our first ever in-depth online look at the wines of France. Each week, we’ll look a region or style of wine that producers all over the world seek to emulate and discover, learn something of each region’s history, and using the power of Google Earth, explore the famous vineyards and discover just why they are so special.
Regardless of whether you’re an out-and-out Francophile or someone who has always found French wine a little daunting, there’ll be something here for you. We’ve put together a selection of a dozen great wines (two per session) which you can have delivered for just £245. We’ll also provide you with background information on the regions, wines and producers, along with serving suggestions, food recommendations and advice on how to keep your just-opened bottles in good condition for the next few days.
The sessions run as follows:
Thursday 18th February: Rhône
Is this one region or two? Certainly there’s a difference in the wines produced in the Northern and Southern sections of the Rhone. We’ll try a St Joseph to see just how well Syrah performs on the granite-rich slopes of the northern part of the valley. Then we’ll head south to Gigondas, the thinking-man’s alternative to Châteauneuf-du Pape, to find out why, despite an array of grapes at the producers’ disposal, Grenache is the dominant force here.
Thursday 25th February: Bordeaux
Arguably the most famous wine region in the world, and definitely the place that provides the lion’s share of sales for the fine wine trade. We’ll try at a wine from the ‘Left Bank’, to see what it is that makes this prime territory for Cabernet Sauvignon (and hear about how much of this area used to be a swamp). Then we’ll cross the Gironde estuary to the ‘Right Bank’, where Merlot not just thrives but excels in appellations such as Pomerol and St Emilion, sampling a St Emilion Grand Cru en route.
Thursday 4th March: Alsace
Why isn’t Alsace better known? It’s arguably France’s most reliable wine region – although with those tall bottles, timber-framed houses and producers with names like Hugel, Mittnacht and Trimbach, sometimes you’d be forgiven for thinking it German. But the wines, unusually for France labelled by grape variety, are delicious and so food-friendly. We’ll try a dry Riesling from one of the most famous Grand Cru vineyards and then move on to a great example of the exotic Gewürztraminer.
Thursday 11th March: White Burgundy
Names such as Chablis, Puligny-Montrachet and Pouilly Fuissé need no introduction to wine lovers. They are among the world’s finest white wines, and they hail from especially favoured vineyard sites in Central Eastern France. What is it about these places that elevates the Chardonnay grape to such heights? We’ll sample a Chablis Premier Cru and a carefully-oaked wine from the hallowed Côte d’Or
Thursday 18th March: Red Burgundy
Ask wine lovers around the world what their greatest ever experience of wine has been, and it’s amazing how many of them say it was a red Burgundy. The very best examples leave you wondering how simple grape juice can be transformed into a drink that is so other-worldly and utterly compelling. No, we won’t be trying a mature vintage of Romanée-Conti (current price £20,000+ PER BOTTLE) in this tasting. However, prepare to be wooed by a wine from a village close to the famous hill of Corton in the Côte de Beaune and another from Mercurey a little further south in the Côte Chalonnaise.
Thursday 25th March: Loire
France’s longest river is home to a wide variety of wines and it would be easy to do an entire six-week course focussing on these alone! But we’re concentrating for this session on examples of the two main white grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. With the former, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé are the famous names, but we’ll be trying a Menetou Salon that outpunches all but the very best of those two famous places. The Chenin comes from some of the most sought-after slopes in Vouvray, and with a few years in bottle is showing just how well these wines age.
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