by David Applefield
So, like nearly everything else in France, wine has become an art form and an economic force. France produes nearly half of the wine made in Europe, and because of the high quality-and higher prices-French wine accounts for approximately three-quarters of the money generated by European wine sales.
The French, of course, drink almost exclusively French wine, but the wine makers do worry about the impact of lowered trade barriers in the European Union. Those with the most cause for worry are the makers of the medium-range of quality, because in that area, Italy, Spain and Portugal can put up a mighty competition with lower prices. The makers of the famous wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy and Champagne need only worry about having bank accounts that accept all currencies! (See Vintages)
Figuring out French wines can seem intimidating, but in reality, it is much easier that trying to decipher the wines of most other countries. That is because the French wines are regionals, that is, named for the region in which they are produced. Almost every other country uses varietal names, so that you have to master the names of grape varieties before you can order. Horrible when you discover that the Pinot Noir (black pinot grape) can make a white wine, and that there is a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet franc grape, and they all make different kinds of wine. Isn´t it nice to know that Champagne is just Champagne no matter what grape they make it with? And while Burgundy wines can be either red or white, they stay Burgundy. The same is true for all the wine regions of France-Bordeaux, Alsace, the Loire, Provence, the Rhone Valley. If you know those names, you are already on your way and can make the big connection of brain to palate with tasting and trying the different regions´ selections.
Now, while wine does not have to be expensive to be good, it is unfortunately true that most good wines are priced more highly than poor ones. Unfortunately true, as well, is the fact that France makes a lot of bad wine, and if a bottle costs under 20 FF, you are almost assured that it won´t be very good. That doesn´t mean that it may not be enjoyable in certain circumstances, like an impromptu picnic or for washing down a pizza, just don´t serve it at a dinner party or bring it as a gift to one. (See Buy Wines)