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Q. When was the appellation d'origine controlee (AOC) system, which guarantees the geographical origin and style of French wines, created?

A. 1936.

Q. What else does the Paris-based Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) regulate apart from wine?

A. More than 30 varieties of cheese.

Q. What percentage of all French wines is included in the AOC system?

A. Around 40%. At least 15% of AOC wines, according to an admission made by INAO in 1995, fail to measure up to the rigorous standards.

Q. How are the wines outside the AOC system classified?

A. At the bottom of the pyramid are vin de table (or table wines), which account for 28% of the wine production. They don't offer much in terms of quality, but, as Robert Joseph points out in French Wines , there are notable exceptions like the innovative and sweet Pouilly Fume (pronounced poo-ee foo-may ) made by Didier Dagueneau in the Loire Valley, or Rebelle, the award-winning blended red wine produced by Dulong, the Bordeaux firm.

Above the table wines are the vin de pays (regional wines), which contribute a quarter of the wine produced in France. These were not designed to be more than daily drinking fare, but a number of vin de pays labels command a higher price than their AOC rivals. The successful players in the vin de pays market at Aime Guibert of Mas de Daumas Gassac and Robert Skalli of Skalli Fortant de France.

VDQS, or vin delimite de quality superieure , is a shrinking category. Most VDQS wines have been promoted to AOC status. The few wines that remain in this category are there mainly because of administrative reasons.

Q. What are the five main wine-producing regions of France?

A. Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Rhone Valley and Loire Valley.

Q. When and where was the first attempt made to classify French wines?

A. 1855. To make it easy for the delegates to the Universal Exposition in Paris to order wine, the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce commissioned the classification based on prices commanded by the red wines of the Medoc region and Chateau Haut-Brion in Pessac-Leognan, and the dessert wines of Sauternes. Under this classification system, Bordeaux's wines are divided into five ‘growths'.

Q. What is the Bordeaux Index?

A. Like a stock market index, it helps wine merchants track price movements of the wines of various vintages produced by Bordeaux's blue-chip chateaux. It matters to people who buy wine for investment purposes.

Q. What were the two vintages of Bordeaux that critics got all wrong?

A. 1970 and 1982. The intensely tannic 1970, unlike what the critics predicted, retained its toughness throughout its life. The under-rated 1982, which the critics had dismissed because it was short of tannin, turned out to have more tannin than had seemed the case.

Q. Name the American wine critic who's today acknowledged as the most influential judge of Bordeaux wines.

A. Robert Parker, the lawyer turned wine critic who first published his newsletter, Wine Advocate , in 1978. He used an original 50-100 point scale to grade individual wines. Without him, many previously little-known Bordeaux estates would not enjoy the international prestige or command the high prices that they do today.

Q. Which was the legendary Bordeaux wine that made the famous London diarist, Samuel Pepys (pronounced Peeps ), break his vow to give up wine?

A. Haut-Brion (pronounced oh-breeon ).


Q. What are the grape varieties that go into a rose wine?

A. A rose (pronounced ro-say ) is made from the juice of black grapes (as in red wines). But the contact between the juice, which is colourless, and the grape skins is minimised to get the delicate colour that has become the hallmark of a rose. Champagne rose, though, is made by mixing red and white wine.

Q. What are four Ss of wine tasting?

A. See (the colour and clarity), sniff (swirl the glass and take a good sniff), sip (slowly!) and spit or swallow (spitting is a good idea if you have many wines to taste and don't wish to ingest too much alcohol).

Q. What is the colour palette of wine?

A. Pale straw, as in a two-year-old dry Riesling; gold, as in a three-year-old Sauternes made in a good vintage; brick red, as in a wine from Burgundy; almost violet, which is typical of a young red wine of every kind; and ruby red or almost purple, as in a mature red from Bordeaux.

Q. What is the percentage of the bottles of wine that get corked?

A. As much as 3-6% (another estimate puts the percentage at 2-8%), which is why there's a growing movement for screwcaps and other such alternatives to cork.

Q. Why do some wines smell of rotten eggs?

A. Sulphur is added to wine as an antiseptic (to prevent bacterial contamination) and an anti-oxidant when it is bottled. When wine is insufficiently aired in the cellar, the sulphur turns into hydrogen sulphide, which reacts with alcohol to produce mercaptan. It is this compound that produces the smell of rotten eggs.


To chill wine, put it in a bucket full of water and ice cubes for 10 minutes before serving. Wines that are too cold can be warmed in tepid water. The ideal serving temperatures are:

Light reds such as Loires and Beaujolais – 11-13 degrees C

Younger red Burgundy, Rhones and older Bordeaux – 14-16 degrees C

Older Burgundy, tannic young Bordeaux and Rhones – 16-18 degrees C

Light, dry and semi-sweet white wines such as Vouvray – 6-9 degrees C

Rose, Champagne, aromatic white wines like Riesling and fuller bodied ones such as Sancerre and basic Chabli – 8-11 degrees C

Richer white Burgundies and Bordeaux – 11-13 degrees C

Source: Robert Joseph, French Wines: The Essential Guide to the Wines and Wine-Growing Regions of France (London: Dorling Kindersley, 1999)


When you taste wine and are asked to describe it, there's a terminology that you must master. What follows is a list of these terms and their meanings.

Acetic – Wine with a vinegary taste caused by bacteria that produce acetic acid.

Austere – An acidic white wine or a tannic red one.

Balanced – A wine whose component flavours are in harmony.

Biscuity – The rich flavour of mature white Bourgogne and Champagne.

Buttery – The character of wines such as a good white Burgundy.

Closed – Wine whose smell and flavour are hard to discern. Such wines may well open out with time and exposure to air.

Fat – Flavoursome wine made from ripe fruit.

Finish – The flavour that lingers in the mouth after the wine is swallowed.

Flabby – Wine lacking acidity, which will deteriorate further with time.

Green – Wine made from unripe grapes, which happens when the summer is cool.

Hot – Wine with too much alcohol for its flavour to express itself.

Long – Wine whose flavour lingers on the palate much after it has been swallowed.

Meaty – Wine with a texture so dense that you almost imagine you could chew it.

Rich – Wine with plenty of flavour and a high alcohol content.

Short – Wine whose flavour fades fast on the palate.

Stalky – Wine spoiled by the woody flavour of grape stalks.

Structure – A wine's structure has a number of components, including tannin, acidity, sugar and fruitiness, in relation to its alcohol content.

Tannic – A tough red wine with the mouth-puckering character of strong, cold tea.

Volatile Acids – These are acids that evaporate at low temperatures. One of these is acetic acid, which in excess gives wine an unpleasant vinegar-like character.

Yeasty – The characteristic flavour of good Champagne.

Source: Robert Joseph, French Wines: The Essential Guide to the Wines and Wine-Growing Regions of France (London: Dorling Kindersley, 1999)

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