At the heart of understanding French wine is the concept of terroir, the idea that where a particular place can leave its imprint on the grapes that are grown there. It is why the wines are labelled according to place names rather than grape varieties. The words ‘Appellation d’Origine Protégée’ (AOP) (formerly AOC - the ‘C’ is for Contrôlée) on a bottle mean that there are limits on where, how and from which grapes a wine has been made. So, the label says Sancerre, not Sauvignon Blanc. It would be great if it said both; it does not.
(IGP wines (Indication Géographique Protégée), formerly known as Vins de Pays, have less stringent requirements for production and can carry the grape names. So too can a Vin de France, for which the grapes can come from anywhere in the country.)
But don’t let the labelling deter you. No other country apart from maybe Italy offers the range of styles and flavours found in France. A key to getting the most out of them is that in France, wine is hardly ever drunk without food. Modern winemaking means that most can be now enjoyed by themselves, but they’re all the better when served at mealtimes. If in doubt what to serve, think about what the locals might eat - Beaujolais with Lyonnaise sausages, Provence rosé with bouillabaisse and so on. Read More