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France
Wine has been made in France for over 2000 years.  During the Roman Empire vine cultivation was extended to such a degree that a surplus ensued, and in AD 92 the emperor Domitian decreed that half the vines outside Italy be uprooted. When replanting was later permitted, vineyards extended into northern France.  The French wine quality being so good, the Romans enthusiastically imported them, and as the great northern trading nations rose to prominence, France was their natural trading partner.  The Middle Ages, AD c.400-1200, saw little progress in viticulture. From about 1200, monasteries kept alive the art of wine making. Later the nobility also owned extensive vineyards. The French Revolution and the secularization of the German vineyards by Napoleon, however, removed many vineyards from ecclesiastical hands.

From the beginning of the 13th century, the wines of Bordeaux (an area under the English crown from 1152 to 1435) were commonly shipped to England, the Hanseatic ports, and the Low Countries.  Drinking habits were largely governed by changing fashions at court, political relations with producing countries, and changing rates of excise duty. During the 18th century heavy duties on French wines and an English alliance with Portugal led to a sharp rise in English consumption of Portuguese wines.  For convenience in commerce, the Bordeaux merchants classified their finest red wines as early as 1725, but it was not until 1855 that such a classification, based on the market price for each wine, received official recognition. The wines of the Médoc district were divided into five classes, or crus. The 1855 classification stands today with only one recent significant change.

During the middle and second half of the 19th century the European vineyards suffered from a series of disastrous diseases and pests, particularly mildew, Oidium, and the plant louse, Phylloxera. First discovered in 1863, Phylloxera spread across Europe, destroying the vines by attacking their roots. Not until about 1880 was the grafting of European vine species onto immune American rootstock accepted as the only viable solution. Selective replanting also led to improved grapes.  Simultaneously, a movement began to ensure the authenticity of wine, culminating (1936) in France when the appellation controlée (quality control) law, now the model for similar legislation in other countries, came into effect. The law allows only wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne region, for example, to be called "champagne."

There are extremes in the topography of the grape growing regions in France.  From the northern cool, damp, chalky cliffs of the Champagne region, to the hot, parched terraces above the Mediterranean at Banyuls, just yards from the Spanish border, and In between, almost every conceivable type of wine is made. 

 

France's vineyards are roughly divided into three.  On the Atlantic coast, from the Lorie Valley, down through Bordeaux and on to the western Pyrenees, the climate is maritime.  The presence of the gulf Stream moderates the climate but rain carried in on the westerly wines is a continual problem.  In the Loire Valley, mesoclimate and well-drained soils are crucial to the chances of decent wine. 

 

In Bordeaux, though the Landes pine forests draw off much rain, free-draining gravel beds are necessary for the great Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen.  This influence spreads up the Dordogne, Lot, Garonne and Tarn rivers, gradually diminishing until the Mediterranean influence takes over east of Toulouse.  Above Lyon, the climate changes again.  It becomes more continental as the Mediterranean influence wanes, and to the west, in the upper reaches of the Loire, the Atlantic influence flickers and dies.  Vineyards can stretch much further north on this eastern side of France, but they don't find it easy to ripen their grapes. 

Bordeaux
Bordeaux wine is created from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, and to a lesser degree Petite Verdot, and Malbec.  The same blend in the US is named Meritage. The Major areas are known as "communes".  These include the most well known of: Medoc, Haut-Medoc, St. Estephe, Pauillac, St. Julien, Margaux, Pessac-Leognan, Graves, Pomerol, St. Emilion, and the sweet wines of Sauternes, and Barsac.  Well known chateau's here are; Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion, Ausone, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Leoville-Las-Cases, Pichon Lalande, and more.

Burgundy
Burgundy is a region with a collection of sub-areas, with some of the oldest vineyards in France.  Once large homogeneous estates, Burgundian vineyard holdings are nowadays incredibly fragmented due to the Napoleonic laws which decreed that every inheritance be equally divided between all offspring.  Similar to Bordeaux, Burgundy's classification system is a ranking from the basic "Bourgogne" up through "specific regional", "Village" wine, then "Premiers Cru" and finally "Grands Crus".

 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the two grapes that make the serious wines here.  The main wine regions here  being; Chablis, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, and Beaujolais.   Some of the better known wine areas, and vineyards are; "Les Bougerots", "Vaudesir", and "Les Clos" in Chablis,  "Gevrey-Chambertin", "Chambolle-Musigny",  "Vougeot", and Vosne-Romanee" in the Cote de Nuits.  With "Pernand-Vergelesses", "Beaune", "Pommard", "Meursault", "Puligny-Montrachet", and "Chassagne-Montrachet" in the Cote de Beaune.  "Rully", and "Mercurey", in the Cote Chalonnaise, and Poully-Fuisse in the Maconnais.  In Beaujolais there are "Moulin-a-vent", "Fleurie", and "Morgon".

Champagne
Champagne is the world-famous sparkling wine created with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes. There are quite a few bottles of Champagne popping every New Year's Eve!

Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is most well known for its use of Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc and Cabernet Franc. They create two named wines many recognize - Sancerre and Vouvray.

Rhone Valley
The Rhone Valley is well known for its spicy, fiery red wines, although it does make a very small amount of white and rose wine as well. The Rhone is in the southeast of France, from Vienne to the north to little Riez in the south. Perhaps best known of all Rhone wines is the Hermitage, in the northern section.

 

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