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French White Wine

As an Aussie from South Australia, one of the premier wine growing regions in the world, I am very familiar with the product. However, with my limited High School French, I could run into difficulty when dining out in France later this year. I have checked out a few wine lists at various restaurants, on line, and am completely unfamiliar with most of the white varieties apart from Riesling and Chardonnay. Guess we can always stick to what we know. Wondering what other types of white wine we could try with our meal (not dessert wine).

Posted by
4684 posts

The French generally label white wines with geographical area rather than variety, except in Alsace (which is the only area where a lot of Riesling is grown). Some major geographical areas and the varieties used are:

White Bordeaux - mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon
White Burgundy (better where smaller local area name is used instead of Burgundy: try Chablis, Macon): Chardonnay
Upper Loire Valley (Vouvray, Touraine) - mix of Chenin and Sauvignon
Mid Loire Valley (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume) - Sauvignon Blanc.

Posted by
446 posts

Viognier is a favorite of mine and is grown mostly in the Langedoc region. Has a nice, flowery, perfumed taste, although not overdone. Sometimes it's blended with Chardonnay, but it's great on its own. Laurent Miquel is one good producer. Not expensive. http://www.laurent-miquel.com/us/index.html

Posted by
875 posts

Cremant is a wonderful sparkling wine from the Alsace region. If you see it on any menu, I would recommend it.
I agree with the other recommendations provided also.

Posted by
13225 posts

Here is a nice article about the white wines of Burgundy, made withthe Chardonnay grape:

http://www.forbes.com/2002/05/30/0530winefeat.html

We love your Australian wines but also love the white Alsatian wines, particular the Pinot Blanc. Alsatian wines generally are labelled with the grape, so you can choose between Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurtztraminer. I'd say of those, the Pinot Blanc is most similar in taste to your Australian chardonnay, maybe from the Adelaide Hills area. but you should try some white Burgundies too.

Posted by
446 posts

"Cremant is a wonderful sparkling wine from the Alsace region. If you see it on any menu, I would recommend it. I agree with the other recommendations provided also."

You should be aware that Cremant is a slightly sweet champagne, designed to go with deserts. So, if you are expecting the usual dry champagne (Brut), don't order Cremant.

Schramsberg makes an excellent Cremant here in California, made from the Flora grape, and designed to serve with deserts. (Flora is a special California wine grape, created by crossing Semillon with Gewürztraminer.)

According to one website, Crémant d'Alsace is made primarily with the Pinot Blanc grape. And, it is slightly sweet.

Posted by
977 posts

What a wonderful resource this site is. Thank you for your input - very helpful. Our taste in white wine is more towards the sauvignon blanc/riesling/chenin blanc blends. Chardonnay was the 'star' wine several years ago, but has fallen out of favour of late with wine drinkers.

Posted by
13225 posts

In that case, what you might like is a white Bordeaux--made mostly with the Sauvignon Blanc grape (often with a little Semillon as well).

Also wines from the Languedoc.

Posted by
977 posts

One more question. Wine Lists in hotels and restaurants in Australia list wine by the bottle and also allow you to purchase some listed wine by the glass. Does this apply in Europe? I am partial to a red wine, especially in the cooler weather. However, my husband can't drink red.

Posted by
4125 posts

1) House wines are usually good and can be ordered by the glass, carafe, and half-carafe.

2) There are Burgundy cremants as well, it's not just an Alsatian thing.

Posted by
1006 posts

Hi Judy,

I took the Villages and Vineyards of Eastern France tour last year and we had a blast learning about French wines!

If you like sparkling wines, then you definitely will want to try a Cremant. I like the Burgundy Cremants the best. Another poster noted that Cremant indicates a sweeter wine; however this is not the case. A sweet wine is indicated as a demi-sec. Cremant is merely a designation having to due with french technicalities in regions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparkling_wine#Cr.C3.A9mant

Also, white Burgundy is made with chardonnay grapes. As another posted noted, french wines are designated by region, not grape. The white Burgundy is very different from the chardonnays that you are used to; in fact all of the french wines will likely be drier and less bold than what you are used to. They are fantastic though and go very well with food. :)

Have a wonderful time!

Posted by
4684 posts

The best Sauvignon Blanc in France, in my opinion, is Sancerre. Vins de Pays are more often labelled with variety but posher restaurants tend to go with AOC.

Posted by
3313 posts

Chardonnay was the 'star' wine several years ago, but has fallen out of favour of late with wine drinkers

I think that mischaracterizes what happened. There was indeed a fad for big, oakey California (and possibly Australian) chardonnays a decade ago but it had nothing to do with white Burgundies. The fad moved on but loyalists to white Burgundies remain convinced they are among the premier wines of the world. And touring their vineyards is easy to do from Beaune.

Posted by
4125 posts

I visited Burgundy about five years ago not even thinking I'd drink any white wine.

Well, the whites really knocked my socks off. Not to be missed if you go, especially wines from the Chablis region.

Posted by
977 posts

Doug. White Burgundy is a rare commodity in South Australia. I cannot remember the last time I drank a glass of white burgundy. Western Australia's Houghton Winery is the major producer of White Burgundy, it is their signature wine.

Posted by
4125 posts

Judy, Australia makes some wonderful wines. Maybe there are some whites in the Burgundian style.

But by definition, Burgundy wines can no more be made in Australia than Australian wines can be made in Burgundy.

Posted by
977 posts

True - Aussie wines had to drop all traditional French names several years ago. The biggest change for many people was losing the name Champagne. I still refer to the sparkling celebration drop as champagne, as do most people.

Posted by
597 posts

Getting to know French wines can be as much of a challenge as getting to know French cheeses. In ordinary restaurants, the best advice is to drink the local wine. It will be cheaper, probably a new experience for you, and may be better suited to the local cuisine.

The biggest difficulty is that grape variety is often not shown on the bottle, or on the wine list. This is invariably the case with more expensive wines. Each known type of wine is supposed to have been made from specific grape types, and it is only the "vin de pays", theoretically cheaper, which may have the variety shown. In fact, some winemakers prefer to make vin de pays, since they are then not restricted to a particular grape or method. Some of the most interesting wines are now vin de pays, rather than the more famous and closely specified Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Sparkling wines are made all over France, and come with different names. There is Blanquette de Limoux from south of Carcasonne (sometimes seen as Cremant de Limoux) as well as Cremant de Bourgogne from Burgundy and other sparklers from Alsace and the Loire region. A nice sweet sparkling wine is Clairette de Die Tradition, which has the same sort of flavour as the Muscat grape.

Every region has its speciality in red, white, aperitif, sparkling, desert, etc, because each region expects to be self-sufficient. It's best to drink local, although that does not work in Paris, which is too far north for significant viticulture.