Wine basics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 December, 2011, 12:00am

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The French have been making wine for more than 2000 years. Today, the top global producer makes a full range of classic styles, from dry whites, reds, ros? sparkling, to sweet and fortified wines. France puts a premium on its good name through the highly regulated Appellation d'Origine Contr?l?e (AOC) system, which controls the quality and reputation of each wine region. For example, in Champagne the type of grape varieties, yields of grapes, time of harvest, length of ageing of the wine, and amount of dosage (sugar levels) will be dictated by the AOC. Here are the key regions:

Alsace On the German border, grape varieties include riesling, pinot gris, gew?rztraminer, pinot blanc, muscat, and a small quantity of pinot noir. Wines range in style from dry to dessert. In Hong Kong, Alsace wines are often underrated and provide good value for money.

Bordeaux Most famous for its reds, but its white and sweet wines receive as much critical acclaim. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot serve as the backbones of the Bordeaux blend. On the left bank, wines made in Pauillac, Graves and St Estephe have a larger proportion of cabernet sauvignon in the blend. On the right bank, merlot plays a more important role in wines from St Emilion and Pomerol. White Bordeaux wines, made from sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes, can be complex and have the potential to age for decades. Sweet wines come from late-harvested grapes infected with the botrytis fungus. Burgundy Most famous for pinot noir and chardonnay. Communes such as Volnay and Pommard offer slightly better value for money. For the whites try a Macon Villages, and for a treat a Puligny Montrachet from the Beaune. Vintage and harvest conditions play a key role in the quality of the wine and pricing.

Champagne Famed for its sparkling wines. The key is the climate, soil, winemaking and blending to produce the brand's house style. Champagne is made from blends of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. The bulk of champagne is sold as non-vintage, offering a consistent quality and style. In good years, vintage champagne will be made from grapes from the specific year. There are also ros?champagnes made from pinot noir and Blanc de Blanc made from 100 per cent chardonnay.

Loire A cooler region, the Loire produces elegant, medium body wines, with crisp acidity. Best known for white wines including sauvignon blanc from Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. Often overlooked are the chenin blanc (known locally as pineau de la Loire) wines from Vouvray and Savennieres.