Among the wine-producing countries of the world, the sunny and fertile land of France must undoubtedly be accorded the first place. Almost the whole region, from the Rhine to the Pyrenees, abounds in prolific vineyards, and wines of every description are produced under the most favorable conditions of climate, soil, and manufacture. The grand red wines of this favored country are universally acknowledged to be the finest in the world, and its white varieties, headed by Chateau Yquem and Montrachet, are hard, if at all, surpassed by even the renowned growths of Johannisberg, and Tokay, whilst in the matter of sparkling wines France is admittedly without a rival.
The heart of the industry may be said to lie in the department of the Gironde, the chief town and seaport of which is Bordeaux. The red wines of this district, known under the generic name of Claret, are of beautiful ruby color and are renowned for their elegance, delicacy and seductive bouquet. The finest qualities are produced in a narrow strip of land called the Medoc, which extends north from Bordeaux along the left banks of the Rivers Garonne and Gironde, and the Grands Cms of this beautiful vine-garden are divided into five different classes, known as the classed growths.
They are as follows :
- First Growths
Chateau Haut Brion
- Second Growths
Mouton Rauzan Segla
Leoville Barton Durfort Vivens.
Sarget Gruaud Larose.
Brane Cantenac Pauillac.
Pichon Longueville Lalande.
- Third Growths
Lagrange Saint Juhen.
Malescot Saint Exupery.
La Lagune Ludon.
M. d'Alesmeis Becker.
- Fourth Growths
Saint Pierre Saint Julien.
La Tour Carnet.
Chateau Beychevelle Le Prieure.
Marquis de Therme Pauillac.
Cantenac, Saint Laurent.
- Fifth Growths
Grand Puy Lacoste.
Ducasse Grand Puy.
Le Terte Arsac.
Haut Bages Pauillac.
Belgrave Saint Laurent.
Cos Labory Saint Estephe.
In addition to the above many other very good wines known as Bourgeois, growths are to be found in the Medoc, and the districts of Graves and St Emilion also produce wines which bear a very high reputation. It does not either at all follow that the better of these " unclassed " wines are always, as a matter of course, inferior to the "classed" growths, although technically they may rank after them.
With Clarets, as in fact with all wines, the vintage is of far greater importance than the name, however illustrious it may be. A Bourgeois growth of a good year, for instance, is very much to be preferred to a classed growth of a bad one. It is, therefore, of the first importance to realize the fact that the name of the Chateau or district from which the wine comes is only a guarantee of origin, not necessarily of quality, and that the vintage is practically everything.
Whatever the category to which they belong, all good red wines of the Medoc and the neighboring districts are recognized by certain well-marked characteristics which distinguish them from all other wines, and they possess the important hygienic quality that not only are they refreshing, wholesome and invigorating, and, in a word, true natural tonics, but they can be taken habitually as beverages, in even very liberal quantities, without being followed by any evil effects.
Sauternes and Graves Though rather overshadowed by the grand red Crus, the Gironde has still some reason to be proud of its white wines. These are generally known under the names of Sauterne, Graves and Barsac, the most famous being Chateau Yquem, which is one of the finest white wines in the world. Others of renown are Chateau La Tour Blanche and Chateau Suduirant. Of the Graves wines Chateau Carbonnieux has a considerable reputation, and among other Chateau Saint Bris may be mentioned as a dry, natural wine of extremely pleasant and flavor characteristics.
The vintage in the Sauterne country is usually rather late, and in the making of the best wines quantity is entirely sacrificed to quality, the grapes being allowed to hang for a long time before being picked, and only gathered when they arrive at the proper stage of mellowness. The result of this is that wines so made are very sweet and luscious, in some cases almost like liqueurs, and the best ones are very much esteemed and exceedingly costly. Burgundy Next to those of the Medoc, the generous vinous growths of Burgundy are the best-known French red wines in England. The finest qualities are grown in the department of the Cote d'Or, the sunward flank of a long low upland, whose grapes drink so deeply of the golden heat that the wines of Burgundy are much more generous than the wines grown farther south in the Gironde.
As in the case of Medoc wines, the best growths are kept distinct and have a very high reputation. In the front rank, we find the magnificent Romance Conti, Chambertin, Clos Vougeot, Richebourg and La Tache; and other well-known wines are Musigny, Corton, Nuits, Volnay, Pommard and Beaune. The higher-classed Burgundies 8 4 WINES OF FRANCE are full-bodied and velvety, of rich ruby color, and endowed with a beautiful perfume, and they are rightly considered to be among the most perfect of wines. Alcoholically they are somewhat stronger than Claret, and are also perhaps rather more prone to disagree with some people, if drunk habitually, than the lighter wines of Bordeaux.
Ordinary white Burgundies are usually known as Chablis and Pouilly and they are light, dry and generally wholesome wines. The finest white variety of the Cote d'Or is, however, Montrachet, which every Burgundian maintains is the finest white wine in the world. It is full-bodied, with a delicate soft flavor and great richness, and will keep for any length of time. When genuine it commands a very high price, but, like the grand Romanee, it is not often to be met with. Champagne The art of making effervescing or sparkling wines was first practiced in the ancient province of Champagne, hence the name but it has since spread to other parts of France and to foreign countries as well. It is said to have been discovered by a certain wine-loving prior about 300 years ago, and knowing what we do about the worthy monks of those times, and their appreciation of the good things of this life, we may accept this version of its origin without any misgivings as to its veracity.
The best Champagne comes from the neighborhood of Rheims and Epernay, but it is more generally known by the name of the shipper than by that of any special locality, and this being the case the prestige of the maker is, of course, all- important. Such names as Cliquot, Heidsieck, Krug, Lanson, Moet, Mumm, Pommery, Roederer, etc, will occur to everyone as carrying with them a guarantee of high-class quality and excellence.
The most esteemed wines are not the product of any one vineyard, but a blend of many, and it is in this blending, which forms what is called the cuvee, that the talent of the real artist is shown. At a subsequent stage, the wine is generally more or less liqueured, according to the taste of the country it is destined for, but this is not always done, and if no sweetness is added the wine is called brut. In this state many people prefer it, and there can be no doubt that these dry wines are more wholesome, and also more likely to be of good quality than the sweeter ones, as "liqueuring" can be made to cover up a good many defects that would soon manifest themselves if it were omitted.
The English, as compared with other nations, are certainly entitled to credit for their taste in Champagne, and as regards sparkling wines generally. The Frenchman with his Sillery or Saumur, the German with his sparkling Hock and Moselle, the Italian with his Asti Spumante, all favor sweetness, while the Champagne drunk in Russia is like liquid confectionery.
The soundness of the English taste is proved by the fact that the drier sparkling wines are far ahead of all others dietetically. Even the French are beginning to appreciate this, and it is nowadays not unusual to see Champagne upon a Frenchman's table with the inscription, "as shipped to England." For some considerable number of years attention has been given to producing sparkling wines in parts of France other than the Champagne district, and on the whole with satisfactory results.
There is, of course, no secret as to the actual manner of making a sparkling wine, and, given a sufficient variety of suitable grapes to form a cuvee with the requisite skill to carry out the different processes of manufacture, and appropriate cellars in which to store the wine at a low and even temperature, there is no reason why very excellent sparkling wines should not be produced in almost any part of the world, and in point of fact they are now to be found in most countries where wine is made. Good, however, as many of these wines are, it is generally considered that they lack the delicate finesse and flavor of true Champagne, and indeed it may be said, without fear of contradiction, that in good years no sparkling wine in any quarter of the globe can equal the best brands of Rheims and Epernay.
These grand wines, however, are only within the reach of the fortunate few, and it is a certain disadvantage to the public at large that the deservedly high reputation of the finest brands should be found in practice to cast a sort of halo over every sparkling wine that comes from the same part of France, and chooses to call itself Champagne. In too many cases these wines are very far from being what they profess to be and are often nothing but inferior and unwholesome concoctions doctored up to resemble their aristocratic betters, which it is needless to say they only do in respect of the prices charged for them. In place of such impostors as these, well-made sparkling wines from other districts of France, with fewer pretensions as to name and price, are much to be preferred, and fortunately, there is no lack of choice. Sparkling Saumur from the banks of the Loire, and several varieties of sparkling Burgundy are to be had in profusion, and if care is taken in selection they will generally be found to give satisfaction.
A very good sparkling white Medoc is also now making its way in this country, and a rather special interest attaches to this wine, not only on account of its being the youngest of the sparkling family, but because it comes from a district which, although its supremacy in viticultural matters is universally acknowledged, has hitherto been unrepresented by this class of wine. The above constitute the prin- cipal varieties of French wines which are known out of the coun- try itself. Large quantities are produced in the southern provinces, but with the exception of Hermitage, Roussillon, and a few others, they are almost entirely- used for home consumption.