French make more wine than anyone else, some so sublime it defines wine at its best, some absolutely terrible. To help find your way with French vin, third of three-part primer; today, niche regions.
Provence. Southeastern wine area, next to Italian border. France’s most beautiful region—Riviera, Cannes—and traditionally where rosé reigns, although 13 varieties are grown and reds are on the rise. Like adjacent Langeudoc, Grenach is lead grape. If you must ask about price, you probably can’t play in Provence’s rosé realm.
Loire. France’s most diverse wine region, named for France’s most famous river; top grapes: Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, but just about every other white grape you can name has a row or two. If you have Loire lust, Sancerre is splendid, acidic; Pouilly-Fumé equally so. Sancerre is lighter, drier, vibrant, perfect for summer, especially with oysters. Pouilly-Fumé is fuller, goes famously with salmon, chicken, veal. Cabernet Franc is top red, notable for delicacy rather than weight and longevity.
Alsace. Northeast-most region; fought over by Germany and France for centuries; wine reflects this. Almost all Alsace wine is white; Riesling, Gewürztraminer are best. Easily identifiable because Alsace wines come in long-neck bottle (“flute”). Often excellent values—Ja wundervoll, monsieur!
Champagne. Capitol of bubbly is just 85,000 acres centered around cathedral city of Rheims, where Joan of Arc rallied troops and monk Dom Pérignon perfected method champenoise. Chalky white soil, cool climate, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay combine to create expensive, sparkling wonder. Pricey, yes. Wonderful, yes, too.
• Gassier Côtes de Provence Rosé Sables d’Azur. Firm, focused; red berry, red peach, cherry; crisp finish. $12
• Jean Reverdy Sancerre la Reine Blanche. Loire; ecstatic violets and blueberries nose; fruit driven palette; delicious; a white, but let it breath. $28
• Kuentz-Bas Gewürztraminer. Alsace; wonderful nose, good acid, rose petals. $27