Land and Wine: The French Terroir

For centuries, France has long been the world’s greatest wine-producing country. Its wines are the global gold standard, prized by collectors, and its winemaking regions each offer unique tasting experiences, from the spice of Bordeaux to the berry notes of the Loire Valley. Although grape variety, climate, and the skill of the winemaker are essential in making good wine, the foundation of a wine’s character is the soil in which its grapes are grown. Who could better guide us through the relationship between the French land and the wine than a geologist, someone who deeply understands the science behind the soil? Enter scientist Charles Frankel.

In Land and Wine, Frankel takes readers on a tour of the French winemaking regions to illustrate how the soil, underlying bedrock, relief, and microclimate shape the personality of a wine. The book’s twelve chapters each focus in depth on a different region, including the Loire Valley, Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, Provence, the Rhône valley, and Bordeaux, to explore the full meaning of terroir.  In this approachable guide, Frankel describes how Cabernet Franc takes on a completely different character depending on whether it is grown on gravel or limestone; how Sauvignon yields three different products in the hills of Sancerre when rooted in limestone, marl, or flint; how Pinot Noir will give radically different wines on a single hill in Burgundy as the vines progress upslope; and how the soil of each château in Bordeaux has a say in the blend ratios of Merlot and Cabernet-Sauvignon. Land and Wine provides a detailed understanding of the variety of French wine as well as a look at the geological history of France, complete with volcanic eruptions, a parade of dinosaurs, and a menagerie of evolution that has left its fossils flavoring the vineyards.

Both the uninitiated wine drinker and the confirmed oenophile will find much to savor in this fun guide that Frankel has spiked with anecdotes about winemakers and historic wine enthusiasts―revealing which kings, poets, and philosophers liked which wines best―while offering travel tips and itineraries for visiting the wineries today.

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  • University of Chicago Press

3 thoughts on “Land and Wine: The French Terroir

  1. Well grounded and spirited discussion of French wines A great book to connect French wines with the terrior. The wine info is accurate an intimate…describing wines from the area in general and small specific vineyards and wine makers are also included. The geology (Charles Frankel is a geologist) is sometimes repetitive. He describes each wine region in total (meaning you can really read each chapter separately) instead of giving an overview for all of France and then specific differences for each wine region. I am a wine lover and not a…

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  2. a lovely guide this is by far the best guide to t he wines of France t hat I have ever read. Charles Frankel, a paleontologist, surveys all the best places (most of them?) where they grow wine in France, without forgetting, here and there, to forget his dinosaurs. The guide gains by both, because it gives an idea of the terroir and the quality of the grapes. Every section is well done and explained. I suspect that Frankel favors slightly the Bordeaux wines even over the Bourgogne ones, but I may be wrong. In…

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