Not that most of us need convincing, but drinking a good glass of French wine does have many health benefits. If you are getting ready to choose your next bottle of wine, many studies support the benefits of drinking red wine in moderation.
If you are not a wine expert, you may not know some of the fun facts and intricacies that go along with the bottle of red wine you are drinking. France is a country dedicated to making wine. It is one of the largest producers and has truly mastered this fine art. You can trace the French wine-making tradition back to the Middle Ages.
Fun Facts about French Wine
When looking for a premier wine-making country, France is well-known for holding century-old secrets. It has survived the test of time and has made wine an integral part of its cultural heritage. France produces 80 billion bottles of wine a year, a staggering 53 liters per capita. Here are some interesting facts about this wine-making region.
Wine did not originate in France. It was first born in Mesopotamia, then spread to ancient Egypt. The Greeks brought their wine-making secrets to Gaul sometime back in the sixth century B.C. to southern France where it was set up by Greek colonists.
French Champagne was invented by a monk. An early advocate of wine, Dom Pierre Pérignon accidentally discovered the sparkling wine now widely known as champagne. Dom researched and intensified new methods of making wine which was primarily used for celebrating mass. Some of the best original vineyards were owned by monasteries who were considered to produce the most superior wines.
Coca leaves and Bordeaux wine is the ancestor of Coca-Cola. A French chemist, Angelo Mariani, was intrigued by the health benefits of cocoa and began combining Bordeaux with the coca leaves. The wine’s ethanol extracted cocaine from the coca leaves and was thought to improve health and vitality. Coca wine was popular with historical celebrities such as Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison, Ulysses Grant, and Pope Pius X.
The American John Pemberton created a coca wine drink recipe in 1885. He was forced to change his recipe during the prohibition and he developed a non-alcoholic version. It was eventually mixed with coca leaves from South America and kola nuts, giving it a source of caffeine. It eventually evolved into one of the most popular soda drinks in the world.
When France was invaded and occupied during the Second World War by the Germans, the wine in France was plundered. French winemakers began a resistance movement to store precious bottles of wine in secret wine cellars. This act of preservation is a source of national pride in France.
Good soil is what makes wine great. While the variety of grape is important, wines in France are labeled by the soil in which they are produced. Crucial factors such as the amount of sun, temperature, and humidity are what alters the flavors of wine. This is the reason that the same grape variety grown in a different region will produce a different flavor of the wine.
The “Young Wine”
Another interesting fact about wine is that it doesn’t always have to be old or aged to be good. When choosing a bottle of wine, you probably look at the date and wonder if the year you are choosing was a good one for that winery. There is a wine produced from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais Nouveau, that has a fascinating story behind its origin.
Grapes produced for Nouveau are hand-picked from the province of Beaujolais. The recipe originated more than a century ago and was produced by locals to celebrate the completion of the harvest season. The best-known producer is Georges Duboeuf who has been credited as a marketing genius.
While this is known as a “young wine”, Duboeuf used the Nouveau to clear out large quantities of it to create a flow of cash immediately following harvest season. In 1970, an idea was invented to create a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This became a national event that spread to Europe, North America, and Asia.
The fame of Beaujolais, known by the French as Vin de Primeur, has spread and popular slogans announce its much-awaited arrival each year. There are dozens of vintners now producing this popular red. The Beaujolais region extends 34 miles wide and has nearly 4,000 vineyards producing 12 types of AOC Beaujolais varieties.
Facts about Vin de Primeur
Beaujolais is released on the third Thursday in November, regardless of when the harvest starts. All Gamay grapes for Beaujolais must be hand-picked. California wines with Gamay Beaujolais on their labels are not the same grape variety as France and will have different growing habits and tastes.
The easy drinkability is due to the carbonic maceration or whole berry fermentation. This process preserves the fresh, fruity taste without removing tannins from the grape skins. This wine is meant to be drunk while young. It should be consumed by May following its release.
What makes this wine special is that it tends to have the characteristics that make it similar to Pinot Noir but it has its unique qualities as well. It exhibits a light-bodied, tart flavor, reminiscent of red fruit such as cherries and raspberries. Serve Beaujolais at around 13 degrees C. as it is more refreshing and will be fruitier than if served at room temperature.
French Wine Culture
The French have interesting and unique ways of testing their wine in our modern-day and age. When you see them swish the wine around in the glass and smelling it before they take a sip it is one of the ways they determine the quality of the wine. Here are some of the unique ways they look at their wine.
Swishing the wine around gently is testing to see if the wine “cries” (pleurer). This is when the wine drips down the glass like a teardrop. They are looking for the consistency of the tears. If there are no streaks of tears, it is not considered to be a good wine.
Another term to test wine is the “robe” or dress. This test looks for the color and texture on the tongue, much like you would a good fabric, hence the metaphor-based material reference.
Other qualities the French look for in their wine include the fruit level, level of sweetness, the body (similar to the difference between skim and whole milk), and the finish (the tastes the wine leaves behind after it is swallowed).
France is a country that produces eight billion liters of wine per year. It is a serious business and truly an art. They have spent thousands of years perfecting their wine and have made it an integral part of their culture and heritage.
If you are a pinot noir fan and looking for a new wind to try from France with a rich heritage, and steeped in culture and tradition, give Beaujolais Nouveau a try. This young, fruity, yet flavorful wine will not break your budget. Served slightly chilled, this may be your new table favorite to pair with salads, meat, cheese, chicken, and fish.