An original never goes out of fashion. Explore three of France’s classic wine regions whose single white varietals have inspired wines all over the world. Nine whites represent Alsace, the Loire and Burgundy below from twenty-three wines blind tasted.
Alsace is one of those visually beautiful French wine regions that looks like it was lifted from a chocolate box. Half-timbered medieval houses bowing to each other across cobbled streets with flowers cascading from every window-sill. Stiletto church steeples with a mini platform to attract their good luck mascot, the stork to nest, and mountain top castles complete the fairy tale picture.
Alsace is mostly white wine country, owing to its cooler northerly location. Bordering Germany, the region shares a long history with its neighbour and several of Germany’s more famous grape varieties: Riesling, Sylvaner and Gewürztraminer are planted with French favourites, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat on the steep vineyard slopes of the rain-sheltering Vosges mountains.
While still Germanic in the outward appearance of its flute shaped bottles and often with Germanic family names, the contents of the bottles are distinctly French. Most whites are made in a very dry, food-friendly style unless they are identified as Vendange Tardive (late harvest) with modest sweetness or Selection de Grains Noble, referring to grapes raisined by botrytis and naturally honeyed.
Alsace is the only wine region in France where Riesling is permitted for quality wine status. Riesling is the undisputed king of all Alsace’s grape varieties – aristocratic and improving greatly with age. Its naturally high acidity and light to medium alcohol and body makes it perfect with fish, pork, chacuterie, onion tart and any rich or buttery dishes.
Burgundy or Bourgogne has given the world the most famous and food-friendly white grape variety, Chardonnay, named after a local village in the Macon district. The heart of the region is located between the two gastronomic capitals of France, Dijon and Lyons. Burgundy’s white wines are named usually after its district, village or vineyard in ascending order of prestige and price, rather than declaring the grape’s name, Chardonnay on the label.
The diverse styles of Chardonnay created by Burgundy’s winemakers have been adopted all over the world wherever Chardonnay is planted. While always dry, its styles vary from appley, nutty and buttery to lean, lemony and crisp, depending on whether they were matured in oak barrels or steel vats.
The unoaked wines best suit shellfish and freshwater fish and salads or pasta with pesto or garlic butter. While the oaked Chardonnays work well with denser fish, salmon and monkfish with light creamy sauces or white meat and poultry.
France’s longest river, the Loire is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc wines named after the villages of Sancerre and Pouilly (Pouilly-Fumé), located at the bend in the river when its progress northwards turns a sharp left. As the Loire flows westwards to the Atlantic, vineyards for white grapes change to Chenin Blanc and eventually, Melon Blanc’s Muscadet.
Sauvignon Blanc has been fashionable for many decades for their food-friendly, stark purity of fragrant lemony fruit, it is for their flinty minerality that they are prized. Especially perfect with goats cheese, Sauvignon Blanc has enjoyed global popularity as a refreshing aperitif.
Riesling 2016, Grand Cru Rosacker, Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr, Alsace
€27.99 – Available at Red Nose Wine, Clonmel and WineOnline.ie
Classic lemon zest and mineral aromas. From a single Grand Cru vineyard, its mandatory lower yield of fruit gives more concentrated depth of flavour. Lively grapefruit and refreshing integrated acidity. Mellow finish and very long aftertaste.
Food friend: Serve with skate wings pan-fried in butter with capers.
Riesling 2014, Les Princes Abbes, Domaines Schlumberger
€21.95 – Available at retail outlets nationwide including Searson’s, Monkstown and searsons.com;
La Touche, Greystones and World Wide Wines, Waterford.
This mature Riesling has evolved aromas of ripe melons and lemon marmalade. Delicious, tart yet rounded with lime curd and pithy pink grapefruit on the finish.
Food friend: Try with pork chops braised in dry cider with caramelised onions.
Pinot Blanc ‘Klevener’ Reserve 2016, Pfaff, La Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim
€16.99 – Available at Bradley’s, Cork; Next Door, Kilkee; Alex Findlater, Limerick and Redmond’s, Ranelagh.
Often an ideal choice in a restaurant for its versatility, this Pinot Blanc has more personality than most. Fresh apple fruit and core. Light-bodied and very balanced with moderate levels of acidity and alcohol.
Food friend: Pair with chicken roasted on a bed of sliced lemons and fennel.
Quincy 2017, Domaine des Ballandors, Loire
€24.99 – Available at 64 Wine, Glasthule; Red Nose Wine, Clonmel; Cashel Wine Cellar and
An indication of the traditional esteem of the Sauvignon Blanc wines from the commune of Quincy, a neighbour to Sancerre, it was the second AC awarded in France following Chateauneuf du Pape. Aromatic with green pea and vegetal scents, true to the varietal character of Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp and dry with bracing acidity and an attractive grassy finish.
Food friend: Perfect with a risotto verdi – studded with asparagus, peas, parsley and spinach, heavy on the butter.
Attitude 2017, Pascal Jolivet, Loire
€21.99 – Available at The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Next Door, Kilcoole, Wicklow and retail outlets nationwide
Delicious and refreshing with very harmonious citrus flavours. Light-bodied, understated elegance and excellent balance.
Food friend: serve with a carpaccio of salmon with lime.
Gemme de Feu 2012, Des Cuvées Exquises, Pouilly-Fumé, Domaine Landrat-Guyollot
€31.95 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop/Wines on the Green, Dawson Street, Dublin 2 and Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder, New Street, Killarney.
A salty note in the subtle bouquet. Pure minerality expressing the vineyard’s soil’s silex. Complex with a long and continuous note of terroir.
Food friend: Chill with a pizza topped with goats’ cheese, pesto and spinach.
Mâcon Villages 2016, “Les Sardines”, Domaine Robert-Denogent
€35.99 – Available in Dublin at Blackrock Cellar; Redmond’s, Ranelagh and Terroirs, Donnybrook.
Myles Creek, Kilkee and WineOnline.ie
There is nothing simple or generic about this Mâcon Villages as the price might indicate. A serious white Burgundy with complexity and depth of character. Pretty fragrance of appley cider. Impressive depth on the palate – apples and terroir, very well balanced and a long finish.
Food friend: Celebrate with Coronation Chicken, light on the curry paste.
Mâcon-Uchizy 2017, Mallory & Benjamin Talmard
€18.95 – Available at retail outlets nationwide including: Searson’s, Monkstown and searsons.com; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Martin’s, Fairview; Liston’s Food Hall, Camden Street; McHugh’s, Kilbarrack; Donnybrook Fair and Drink Store, Stoneybatter.
Apple fresh and citrus tones to highlight the pure Chardonnay fruit flavours. Lively and refreshing.
Food friend: Delicious with a creamy seafood pie garnished with a little raw samphire.
Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2012, Daniel-Etienne Defaix, Domaine du Vieux Chateau
€26.99 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop/Wines on the Green, Dawson Street, Dublin 2; Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder, New Street, Killarney and Nectar Wines, 3 Sandyford Village.
Golden colour of bottle ageing for six years. Unexpected bouquet of toffee apple and windfall apples and cider. This Chardonnay delivers an explosion of flavours, intense and full of local character and terroir. Chalk-dry; a palate of dried apple and lip-smackingly delicious.
Food friend: Savour with a baked honey glazed ham.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.