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Learn More About Wines
French Wine and Cognac/Brandy

The Composition of the Grape

Wine is fermented grape juice. Grapes are grown in warm climates, such as France, Italy and Spain. Our climate is not suitable for the growing of grapes. Table grapes do not produce wine. Good table grapes are large and fleshy. Good wine grapes are small and juicy.

The greatest wines of Burgundy in France are produced from the Pinot Grape. The grape most frequently planted is the Gamay grape, whose yield to the acre is much greater. France usually produces a billion gallons of wine annually, but the great bulk of it is ordinary table wine, chiefly consumed in the region where it is grown.

Wine adds to the enjoyment of good food. Wine is a food in itself. It is rich in solids, beneficial ferments and in vitamins. Best of all it promotes good cheer and a happy disposition. Natural wines are wines matured naturally, such as the still wines of France. Fortified wines are wines with distilled wines added. Vintage wines are wines sold under the year in which the grapes were gathered. Table wines are wines of average type and quality.

Bouquet: The aroma and quality
Corky: The wine has been affected by the cork rotting
Dry wine: Wine with a little grape sugar
Brut: A Dry Champagne
Sec: Dry
Must: Grape juice
Still Wines: Wines that do not sparkle
Wines from the Wood: direct from the casket
Magnum: 2 bottles. Jerobaum: 4 bottles and Rebobaum is 6 bottles.

Wines that blend with certain dishes

Hors D'Oeuvres: Dubonnet, or Cocktails, Sherry, French or Italian Vermouth.
Oysters: Dry white wine, Chablis, Champagne, Graves or Marsala.
Soup: Sherry or Marsala.
Fish: Still Hock (German), Sauternes (Sweet), White wines or as for Oysters.
Entrée: Red Claret, or Light Red Burgundy.
Joint: Red Burgundy or Red Claret, Chianti (Italian).
Game: Champagne or Red Burgundy.
Sweet: Champagne or Sauternes, especially Chateau D'Yquem.
Dessert: Port Vintage or Brown Sherry.
Coffee: Liqeuers or Champagne.

Wine Terms

Champagne Rose: Pink Champagne, Claret: Red Bordeaux,
Clos: Enclosed vineyard in Burgundy,
Cognac: Brandy,
Armagnac: Brandy.
V.S.O.P: Very special old pale, 25 to 30 years old.
1 Star: one year old. 2 Star: 3 years old. 3 Stars: 5 to 6 years old.
4 Star: 7 to 8 years old.
Cote du Rhone: Hills of Rhone valley.
S.O.P.: Special old pale.
C.R.U: Growth, it refers to wines classified as comparable quality and character.
Premier Cru: First Growth or top classification.
Grand Cru: Finest growth granted only to Chateau D'Yquem.
Sauternes are rated as the worlds finest sweet wines.
Fine Champagne: Superior Cognac made from the vineyards of Le Grand Champagne and Le Petitte , which are two areas in Charente.
Fine: Spirits made by distillation of wine or cider.
Liqeuer: It is a distilled spirit sweetened with sugar, flavoured with macerated fruits, flowers, herbs, berries or roots.
Irish Mist: Whiskey base, with honey.
Rhum: Basis: Mollasses, extract from Sugar cane.
Bordeaux/Red: St. Emilion, Medoc, St. Julien, Margaux and St. Estephe.
Chateau wines, Red: Chateau Pontet Canet, Chateau la Garange, Chateau Leoville Barton, Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Cos D'Estournel.
Bordeaux White; Graves Superior, Lauderne Blanc, Chateau Voigny, Graves Parmasac, Graves Launier Blanc, Sauternes, La Flora Blanche,
Chateau, White: Chateau Cotet, and Chateau D'Yquem.
Burgundy Red: Beaune, Beaujolais, Pomard, Moulin a Vent, Clos de Conti, Vosne Romaneo, Gevrey Chambertin, Volnay, Nuit St. Georges, Clos de Vougeot.
Burgundy White: Chablis, Pouilly Fuisse, Corton Charlemagne.
Cotes du Rhone: Chateau Neuf du Pape.
Italian wines Red: Chianti (Classico) Orvieto Spaletti (White)

Champagne Area

There is a law which states, that, only six types of grapes can be used to make Champagne. They are: Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, which are black and Chardonney, which is white. The Second class grapes are: Pinot Meunier, Merchal and Arbanne, which are black. True Champagne is very bright and pale in colour and the bubbles are extremely fine. It should not suddenly foam up and die, but the bubbles should continue to come up for a long time after it has been poured. The harvest is not large, but the quality is excellent. All grapes are hand-picked, which gives it a mellow taste. After the harvest, the producer or shipper takes over the pressing.

Dom Perignon discovered Champagne. He was Cellar man at the monastery of Haut Villiers, nearly three centuries ago. Champagne is a blended wine, as the grapes and types of grapes are mixed. After pressing, the juice is put into the shippers casks and brought to his cellars, where fermentation takes place. The wine is then bottled before it is fully fermented and corked with a temporary cork, then a little sugar added, then a second fermentation takes place. After fermentation, the wine can then be left for six years, before being sold.

The following firms are among the best producers of Champagne:
Charles Heidsieck, G.H. Mumm, Pomery and Greno, Veuve Cliquot, Moet and Chandon and Bollinger.


Genuine Cognac comes exclusively from an area of 150,000 acres, situated around the river Cheronte, on the west coast of France. This area is between the Bordeaux and the Valley of the Loire region. Under French law no Brandy may be called Cognac unless it is made from grapes grown in this limited area. The Cognac area itself is divided into many districts. In the centre or the heart, is known as the Grand Champagne area and surrounding it is a belt known as the Petit Champagne area, then as the area spreads out, you come to the Borderies, Fins Bois, Bois Ordiner, Bois communs and Bois Alternoir districts.

For the most part, white grapes are used in the making of Cognac, only one red grape is used and that is St Emilion. When the second distillation is completed, a clear white liquid is obtained, of about 70% alcohol. It must not exceed 72% alcohol, after the distillation. The wine is stored in old oak casks, where during a period of years, it undergoes a slow and subtle transformation. The surface alcohol gradually evaporates. Wood and air produce chemical changes, and little by little, the harsh, fiery product of the still is transformed into a most delicate spirit or Liquor.

It is from the oak casks, that the Brandy obtains it's colour. The oak used is known as Limousin oak, which is grown around Limorges, only this kind of oak will do. So long as it remains in the wood, the Cognac continues to age, becoming smoother with the passage of years. After bottling, this aging process stops. Therefore, the age of a Cognac means the number of years it has spent in the cask, previous to having been bottled. Cognacs must be at least three years old before they are put on the market.

© Cathal Henry



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