Vins de France: Home

Purple grapes

Most purple grape varieties get their name not from the colour of their pulp, which is generally pale as is the pulp of white grapes, but from their skin. The skin contains the coloured pigments and also some of the grape’s tannins (the rest is contained in the pips) that will be transferred into the wine during fermentation. Some grape varieties are darker than others, and some have more tannin than others, determining the intensity of the colour of the resultant wine. In parallel to significant improvements in the quality of wines being produced, volumes have been reduced dramatically.

The catalogue of vine varieties grown in France is available on line from the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin (ITV) website: www.vignevin.com

Cabernet Franc

More vigorous and more precocious than its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon, with which it does not really have very much in common, the Cabernet Franc is the king of red wines from the Loire. However in the Bordeaux region and in the South-West in general, it plays a supporting role, although highly-valued. It totals 45,000 hectares all over the world, with France accounting for the lion’s share – 36,650 hectares in production. It is also to be found in northern Italy and in Australia. Although this grape produces wines that can be kept, its tannins are more amiable than those of the Cabernet Sauvignon, making it more velvety and delicate when very young. Most typically it is at home on the banks of the Loire, notably in Saumur and Chinon. Its aroma of raspberry, cherry and liquorice over balanced tannins, all delicate and supple, have been loved here since the days of that epicurean Rabelais.

Where does this grape grow?
Bordeaux, Charente, Languedoc-Roussillon, South-West, Loire Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon

This world-renowned star of winemaking needs no introduction other than to say that it stems from Médoc, where it performs optimally alongside Merlot. It has a recognisable aroma of green pepper, and control over its tannins and their maturity has now been mastered so that it also releases other aromatic nuances such as blackcurrant, leather, cedar, spices and black fruit. Its tannins and thus ageing potential, plus its aromatic complexity, have earned it worldwide recognition through Bordeaux wines. It is also often "vinified on the fruit" to be consumed sooner, with great results in Languedoc, for example. There are at least 170,000 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon around the globe – from Moldavia to South Africa. This late variety has a hard skin and requires warm terroirs in order to reach ideal maturity. In France, it goes no further north than Bordeaux.

Where does this grape grow?
Bordeaux, Charente, Languedoc, South-West, Loire Valley

Carignan

Here is a grape that has suffered greatly from its poor image. Associated with mass production because it is a very productive variety, it was used for a long time to produce Vins de Table. Nowadays its merits are at last being recognised. A late variety that fears neither cold temperatures nor frost, it is quite happy on poor soil, and likes clay and a hot climate, without which it will never ripen. So this variety is quite at home on the shores of the Mediterranean. When yield is limited to 30-70 hl/ha, it produces superb wines: robust, good acidity, strong colour, perfect to assemble with Grenache for example. It originates from Spain and is still to be found in that country’s Priorat wine. It remains a good card to play, on the best terroirs, for wines with strong character (Fitou, Roussillon, Corbières, Côtes de Provence). Its aromatic signature really does make the mouth water: red fruit, spices, scrubland (typical Mediterranean vegetation) on a structure of supple tannins. Totalling over 160,000 hectares around the world, it is found as far away as Western Bengal.

 

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Rhône Valley

Cinsaut (aka Cinsault)

Cinsaut used to be grown on a massive scale but now only covers approximately 19,000 hectares in France and 45,000 around the globe. It gives wines that are fragrant and balanced and is included in Mediterranean rosés, in Provence for exampe. Its mouth-watering aromas of peach, raspberry and strawberry make it the king of summer rosés, with gentle savours reminiscent of pear drops. It gives its very best on poor, dry ground. Combined with Grenache and Syrah it has now become unavoidable for reds in appellations such as Minervois, Lirac and… Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Cinsaut grapes bring suppleness and harmony when assembled with Grenache and Carignan, countering the alcohol of the former and the astringency of the latter.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Rhône Valley

Gamay

Photo Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin. Another name for Gamay is Gamay Beaujolais, illustrating just how inseparable this couple is. 60% of the land on which Gamay vines grow is in Beaujolais, where it finds, on granitic soil, ideal conditions for really expressing itself. It is also to be found in Burgundy where the northern weather conditions suit it nicely and in the Loire Valley. Blackberry, cherry, strawberry and redcurrant compose the sweet, fresh and fruity palette of aromas in Gamay, that can also be described as a rascally, roguish and wily wine. It has a full quota of fruit, underpinned by a touch of acidity and relatively supple tannins, which makes it very pleasant to drink with all types of dishes. Its personality comes through even more strongly, and intentionally, in Beaujolais Nouveau.

Where does this grape grow?
Beaujolais, Burgundy, Savoy, South-West, Loire Valley

 

Grenache

Photo Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin. Originally from Aragon, which dominated the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages, Grenache stands out as one of the top-quality grape varieties in southern regions of France. Because it is susceptible to disease, the windy climates of Languedoc-Roussillon and the Rhône Valley suit it very well. There are approximately 88,000 hectares of Grenache and it is present in all appellations along the Mediterranean coast. It loves poor soil that is hot and stony. It features with pride in Vins Doux Naturels thanks to its sugar potential, and is incorporated into a host of appellations, forming a perfect couple with Syrah. Colourful, powerful and generous, Grenache expresses aromas of red fruit, prune, spices and, as it ages, mocha, cocoa, fruit jam and tobacco.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Rhône Valley

 

Grolleau

Known for Rosés d’Anjou with their recognisable sweetness, Grolleau is also nowadays used for delicate, fruity red wines as well as Rosé de Loire AOC wines (dry). It is also an ingredient in the sparkling Saumur AOC. Its aromas are of small red fruit such as redcurrant, as well as violet. Wines made with Grolleau grapes are always pleasant on the palate, fruity, delicately fragrant and with a discreet tannic structure. They are therefore ideal to be savoured when still young.

Where does this grape grow?

Loire Valley

Malbec (aka Côt)

The Malbec grape is often referred to as "Côt" or even "Auxerrois" in the South-West of France. This was the most common variety in the region before phylloxera. It is a descendant of the Prunelard and the Négrette, both of which originated in the South-West. Malbec accounts for at least 70% of the blend in Cahor wines. Perfect mastery of winegrowing techniques now means that many producers of Cahor wines are designing wines that are elegant, fragrant and perfect for laying down. The region also produces Cahors that accentuate the fruity aspect of the Malbec grape, intended to be drunk young. France has 6,200 ha of Malbec vines and ranks number two on the world stage behind Argentina. Cahors, its historical capital, is still the biggest producer in France.

Where does this grape grow?
South-West

Merlot

Who would have predicted that this grape variety - in the shadows until the 19th century - would have such a rich future? With 250,000 hectares around the globe, 114,000 of which are in France, it is the variety of choice in winegrowing around the world. From Bordeaux to Adelaide, from Santa Helena to Mendoza, it adapts perfectly to very varied climatic and agronomical situations. Yes some say that it is in the small village of Pomerol that it best fulfils its fine potential. A vigorous and early variety, it ripens perfectly in Bordeaux, where the deeper and colder soil around Libourne suits it perfectly. Merlot offers so many advantages: a beautiful deep red colour, a flattering aromatic palette of slightly spicy red fruit and sometimes prune, and best of all: a powerful yet sophisticated structure thanks to tannins that are velvety without fading into the background. If we add to this portrait its gift for complementing Cabernet Sauvignon, with which it is often blended, we need have no worries about its future!

Where does this grape grow?

Bordeaux, Charentes, South-West

Meunier

Photo Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin. Probably a mutation of Pinot Noir. Its downy leaves look as if they are covered with white fluff or flour (the variety’s name translates from French as "miller"!). Until the 19th century, Meunier was an important variety in all northern vineyards - from Ile-de-France to Lorraine and in Franche-Comté. Nowadays, practically all of the Meunier grapes grown in the world are to be found in Champagne, where they occupy 32% of total winegrowing acreage. Particularly suited to limestone and clay, Meunier puts up with difficult weather conditions: it withstands winter frosts rather well, and does not have too much trouble growing fruit after a spring frost. It tends to produce a lot of shoots and suckers. Its buds open late and it ripens early. A "rustic" variety, Meunier can thus even be grown on plots of land that are poorly exposed or at the bottom of a slope. It produces small, compact bunches of grapes that are cylindrical or conic in shape. The grapes are round, a bluish black with thick skin and abundant pulp and juice. Meunier produces rich and fruity aromas, supple, full-bodied wines that are moderately acidic and that evolve quickly. They are ideal for producing sparkling wines and contribute complementary roundness to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Champagne blends.

Where does this grape grow?
Champagne, Touraine

 

Mondeuse

This variety covers 12% of winegrowing land in Savoy, where it appreciates the stony limestone and clay scree on the hillsides. It is driven by two wines: Arbin and Saint-Jean-de-la-Porte. Coloured, tannic, with aromas of spices, white pepper and black fruit (blackcurrant). Mondeuse produces wines that keep for well over a decade.  

Where does this grape grow?
Savoy

Mourvèdre

Photo Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin. Mourvèdre originated in Provence in the 14th century but emigrated massively to Spain, perhaps when Provence belonged to the Catalonians. There are 9,200 hectares of this variety in France. It remains important for Provence and for Languedoc-Roussillon. A very late variety, it needs autumnal heat and is naturally at ease in coastal vineyards (Cassis, Bandol and Côtes de Provence). It has low yields and gives very concentrated grapes with a strong tannic structure and is thus inlcuded in blends for the tannins. A lot of colour and good laying down potential enables reds in the Bandol AOC in particular to age well. Pepper, game, truffle and black fruit are its key aromas. 90% of the 120,000 hectares of this grape around the world are in Spain.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Rhône Valley

 

Négrette

The Négrette grape is an ancient, local variety from the "Cot" family. It belongs to the same family as the Prunelard and the Cot, both native to the South-West. It buds early and produces small, tight clusters that are brightly coloured and can prove to be susceptible to powdery mildew and grey mould. Very versatile, the Négrette gives wines that are fruity and aromatic, sometimes evoking violets, sometimes more animal tones (notes of leather). In 2011, it was grown on a total of 1,200 ha in France. It is the main ingredient in Fronton wines, near Toulouse. It is used to make fruity reds and rosés to be enjoyed young, as well as wines to be kept that are described as "Haute Expression".

Where does this grape grow?
South-West

Niellucio (aka Nielluciu)

The Niellucio grape is behind the current success of Patrimonio wines and is also to be found in many other appellations. The twin variety of the Sangiovese (Chianti region), it is called Niellucciu in Corsica, where Niellu means black, dark, hard. It is the main vine in Corsica, accounting for 35% of the island’s vines, i.e. 2,000 ha. It withstands drought and proves suited to infertile ground. The Nielluciu has "a nose of hare fur and liquorice" and releases aromas of small red fruit with the occasional woody nuance. When it ages, spicy aromas develop, enhanced with animal notes. On the palate, these wines are unctuous and round, full-bodied and generous with a long finish. The Niellucciu is also used to produce very fruity, delicate and elegant wines of good quality in a very bright shade of pink.

Where does this grape grow?
Corsica

Pineau d’Aunis

Just like the Grolleau, the Pineau d’Aunis (or Chenin Noir) used to be cultivated for its massive yield. But this variety is difficult to grow and has low alcohol content, so has gradually been replaced by Cabernet Franc. It is now used only marginally. Invigorating on the palate and with a very peppery aroma, it nevertheless remains a very interesting variety that explains the originality of Coteaux du Loir wines.

Where does this grape grow?
Loire Valley

Pinot Noir

Grown by the Gauls before the Romans took over, Pinot Noir has always felt at home in Burgundy. It has since emigrated to Alsace, to Germany and even to the coldest corners of Spain and to Oregon in the US. It is a gifted but difficult child. In Burgundy, where climatic conditions are ideal, Pinot Noir gives spectacularly complex, balanced and aromatic results. Indeed, it is the only grape in red Burgundy wines and in reds from Alsace, translating into an amazingly diverse range of expressions. With 30,700 of the 88,000 hectares planted around the globe, France is the country that produces most Pinot Noir. Its garnet colour is not always as deep as that of more southern varieties, but its length and aromatic and gustatory sophistication make it a highly desirable variety. Small red fruit and cherry, rose or violet, undergrowth, spices... without doubt Pinot Noir is a safe bet. Its tannins are delicate and silky, giving wines that age well and that delight as much on their own as served with a meal.

Where does this grape grow?
Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, Jura-Savoy, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire Valley

Poulsard

The Poulsard grape is indigenous to the Jura. It is also known as Ploussard. 305 ha of this variety were being grown in France in 2011. It can range from a pale pink Rosé de Saignée (bleeding method) to a macerated red with a dazzling colour. The nose is a symphony of softness brimming with delicate aromas and spicy accents. Complex on the palate it grows richer with age. 

Where does this grape grow?

Jura

Sciacarello

This is the Corsican red variety with the fullest body. It only grows on the island. Its name means "crunchy to the bite" referring to the texture of its crisp pulp. Very expressive on Corsica’s granitic soil, it is very common in vineyards on the west of the island from Ajaccio to Sartène. It creates an elegant and powerful wine with round tannins that are thoroughly matured by the sun. Its main aromas are pepper and spice. It covers 900 hectares of Corsican land.

Where does this grape grow?
Corsica

Syrah

Legend would have it that Syrah was brought back from the Crusades in 1224, after a long journey home from the Iranian city of Shiraz. We now know thanks to genetic research that the "parents" of Syrah are in reality two other ancient grape varieties from the north of the Rhône Valley: Mondeuse and Dureza. So much for the legend! Syrah found in the Rhône Valley of its birth, the conditions it needed to flourish. Syrah is not very fertile. And it is a late variety. It needed poor, dry soil – such as on the steep slopes of Côte Rôtie – and the right climate. It is currently being planted at great speed, totalling 66,411 hectares in France and spilling out of the Rhône Valley all the way into Languedoc and Provence. Wines that contain Syrah are highly coloured and stand out for their smoky, peppery range of aromas structured around notes of violet, blackberry and bilberry. But it is the fine balance of its tannins – powerful and yet so velvety – that proves so irresistible. France now accounts for 70% of all the Syrah vines planted around the globe.

Where does this grape grow?
Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, South-West, Rhône Valley

Tannat (aka Tanat)

A tannic grape that originates from the South-West. Tannat was known for giving wines from the South-West that "rustic" touch, but thanks to technological advances in winemaking and above all to the passion and ambition of winegrowers, its reputation has changed. Tannat is a vigorous variety that gives wines with colour and strength. Its tannins have been mastered and are rounder nowadays, but retaining good aging potential. Tannat is the leading grape in the Madiran appellation at the foot of the Pyrenees, and is also to be found in the neighbouring AOCs of Irouléguy, Tursan and Saint Mont.

Where does this grape grow?
South-West

Trousseau

Photo Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin. 174 ha of this variety were grown in France in 2011. Originally from the Jura and known in Portugal as Bastardo, it apparently originates from the South-West of France, the fruit of crossing Petit Verdot and Duras. It has a nose of wild black and red fruit such as strawberry, blackberry and sloe, enhanced by spicy and slightly peppery notes. Its tannins are supple and delicate. The grapes are deep black in colour, giving a round, full-bodied wine.  

Where does this grape grow?
Jura

 

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