There is no denying that France makes some of the best, the most famous and the most popular wines in the world.
Virtually all of the regions within this wine loving country can lay claim to a local wine specialty, so it can be a challenge when choosing French wine for both the experienced and the uninitiated wine drinker.
However there are some basic tips which can be followed to help understand French wines, whether your preference is sipping a red Burgundy wine, sampling unusual Jura wines or never being able to get too much Champagne!
Firstly, the highest level of French wine is known as Appellation Contrôlée, abbreviated as AC or AOC. Under French law, the AC labeling assures the buyer that the wine is exactly what the label defines it to be – the location, the specific grapes used and the method of production. What a superb guarantee!
For the purpose of these handy French wine selection tips, let us assume we are choosing an AC wine and that we have already a preference for either a red, white or rosé wine.
Alcohol Level of French Wines
The first rule to follow when looking for a quality French wine is to ensure that for the type of wine, the alcohol level is sufficient to provide the development of flavor required.
The rule of thumb to follow is at least 13% for a big fulsome red wine, somewhat less at about 11% for a delicate white wine and something in the range of 12% to 13% for a rosé.
The alcohol level is related somewhat to temperature so after hot weather it can be easier for the wine maker to obtain higher alcohol levels so this guide can be a little inaccurate, but is a good overall indicator.
Bottling of French Wines
This second rule for choosing French wine relates to who has bottled it. For a quality outcome, it needs to be Chateau or proprietor bottled. If this is not the case, then the wine is most likely a blend of similar wine types from different producers.
The wine blending scenario does not necessarily produce a bad product, but it will not be the best outcome.
You may see the term négociant used sometimes – these are merchants who combine either grapes or wines from different producers and sell the resultant wine under their own name. Once again, the quality will not match that of proprietor bottled.
Award Winning French Wines
Another tip for choosing a quality French wine is to check the label to see if the wine has won any awards, especially gold medals.
This may sound a no brainer, but in France with so much wine on offer and so much competition, a high profile award is sought after by wine makers who will proudly display it on the bottle.
Numbered French Wine Bottles
Check the label to see if the bottle is numbered for the next quality tip.
In a similar vein to the wine award, if the wine producer believes he has an excellent product on his hands he might make the extra effort and number his bottles, sometimes with a serial number as well.
All of this can make for interesting reading on the wine label and is a pretty good test for wine quality.
Cork Length in French Wines
This might seem an odd quality tip but it pays to check that the cork is sufficiently long for the wine it is protecting. This might be a challenge if the foil wrapper is covering the cork but try and get an idea of the cork length.
This consideration is more relevant for wines that are to be cellared for a while before drinking because a long cork gives better assurance that the wine will be secure from air intrusion.
The other thing to bear in mind is that if the wine maker has used a short cork then perhaps costs were being cut which may have also compromised the wine quality.