Shaken or Stirred: Which Makes the Best Martini?

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”

-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

Like a manhattan or an old fashioned, a martini is on its surface a simple drink to make: dry vermouth, gin (traditionally) or vodka (modern), and an olive as garnish. But a martini is something special; it’s lodged in the popular imagination, through no small fault of the man quoted above, Ian Fleming’s super spy James Bond. Whether through Fleming’s novels or film adaptations featuring Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, or countless others, if there’s one thing the average person knows about James Bond, it’s his preference of martini: shaken, not stirred.

The question is: Why? Does shaking vs. stirring change the taste of the martini? And if so, which is better? Naturally for this question we decided to hold a tasting to see how a martini fares when shaken or when stirred. For this tasting, we went with two gin martinis, made with Bombay, one shaken and one stirred.

Stirred Martini

Nose: The nose of a martini is a lovely thing, subtle and herbal and bitter. The stirred martini had notes of pine, bitter orange peel, and juniper — not too overpowering. The aroma of the vermouth was almost indistinct, and served mostly to highlight the aromas of the gin.

Palate: The initial taste of the stirred martini was briny, lightly acidic sea salt from the vermouth. Then came the gin, with the promise of the nose being borne out by juniper, bitter citrus peel, and a light Christmas-tree pine. Gin can be a tough thing for an alcohol novice to wrap their heads around, but a martini is a good, aromatic, interesting way to try something new.

Shaken Martini

Nose: The nose of the shaken martini was similar to the stirred martini, if perhaps a bit more piney. The decision of shaking or stirring didn’t seem to factor much into the nose.

Palate: Here’s where things get radically different. To start, the shaken martini was much colder, as a result of the gin being shaken up with the ice. (Many shaken martinis will even have ice chips in the drink, which some drinkers consider offensive.) The chill of the drink translated over to the taste, which was light and very, very subtle, almost to the point of not tasting like much of anything at all. There were slight notes of juniper and peel and pine, but they were buried beneath a watery simplicity. As the martini warmed up, the flavor became a bit stronger, but it was still more jumbled and indistinct than the stirred martini was.

Conclusions

So why did the drinks turn out this way? A lot of it has to do with the cold: Like a glass of white wine, it’s easy to over-chill a martini by shaking it, and the primary result of a too-cold martini is that it becomes much more thin and tasteless. This is compounded by the fact that shaking introduces more water into the drink via melted ice; a stirred martini will be a bit stronger, and thus more flavorful. As well, gin is a sensitive spirit and vigorous shaking has the result of muddling its taste. (There’s much talk of “bruising the vermouth” if you shake a martini, but it’s the gin that has the bigger problem.) All in all: A stirred martini is indeed more interesting and flavorful than a shaken one.

If there’s not much to recommend a shaken martini over a stirred one, then why does James Bond order them? The answer is twofold: first of all, Bond is the ultimate bad boy, and that extends to his choice in drinks. He doesn’t follow our rules, and from his first appearance in Casino Royale back in 1953, he was a man that blazed his own path. If society tells us to stir our martinis, of course Bond is going to be the type of guy who drinks them shaken. The other reason is more mundane. Look at his recipe again. In addition to the gin and vermouth, Bond requests a measure of vodka, making it a drink that he named The Vesper, after that book’s femme fatale. Vodka is a much heartier spirit than gin is, and if you’re drinking a vodka martini, shaking might actually be good for it, since vodka is best when it’s ice cold. Of course, given that Bond is drinking a martini with both gin and vodka in it, perhaps he just prefers a weaker drink with some water in the mix.

So that’s another taste test done, and another curious corner of the history of spirits explored. If you feel like trying this experiment yourself, let us know in the comments which style you prefer, and why!

Should You Let Your Whisky Breathe?

So now everyone knows that the shape of a glass can radically change the taste of the spirit inside it, right? But are there any other ways to improve the taste of your favorite beverage even further? What about letting your whiskey aerate before drinking, like we do with tannic wines? Does whiskey “open up” the way wine does after exposure to air?

In order to determine if aeration has any noticeable effect on the taste of whiskey, we’ve done another taste test experiment: This time we’ve let the same whiskey sit for three different lengths of time, to compare and contrast how much effect time spent in glass before consumption had on what’s inside. The whisky chosen for this experiment was Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask, and the glassware used was three Glencairn whisky glasses. We let one glass sit for ten minutes before tasting, one for five minutes, and one for no time at all. How did the whiskey fare in each glass? Read on to find out.

No Resting Time in Glass

Nose: Light, sweet, enticing aromas of honey, white sugar, and white flowers. Balvenie is always a favorite at Drinkhacker HQ for good reason; this is simple but wonderful stuff.

Palate: There’s a very brief rush of bitterness that fades almost instantly, leaving a sugary sweetness that lingers on the tongue. This is almost certainly because of the rum barrels that the whisky is aged in, making this an easy choice for those just getting in to trying whisky.

Five Minutes Resting in Glass

Nose: The honey is still there front and center, but it is now flanked with richer sugar tastes: butterscotch, a standard for whiskies, and the rum barrel comes through this time with a nuanced taste of coconut. Just nosing it, this is far more enticing and interesting than the initial pour.

Palate: Surprisingly, not much different from the initial pour. Though the nose had evolved, the palate remains loaded up with soft sweetness, though perhaps it comes across as a bit more subtle than the first pour. The taste buds at the tip of the tongue are fired up, and the whisky lingers on the tongue for some time.

Ten Minutes Resting in Glass

Nose: We can see a clear line drawn from the first pour to the last: Each pour deepens and enriches the aroma found in the glass. The honey here is rich and sumptuous, the butterscotch is decadent, and the coconut has been replaced by a general tropical fruit scent; subtle, sweet papaya and mango waft through the senses.

Palate: And yet again, on the palate it’s mostly the same story. It’s more subtle still — soft and lightly sweet, not overpowering. Easy to drink and tasty, Balvenie remains a whisky that both novices and aficionados can appreciate, but the core flavor has remained surprisingly consistent over the course of the tasting.

Conclusion

So what can we infer from all of this? Clearly it seems from this simple test that while aeration has an effect on whisky, it’s not as dramatic a change as if it were applied to, say, a heavy, tannic cabernet. The taste of the whisky remained surprisingly consistent from pour to pour; in fact if anything the whisky got lighter and more subtle with time. Where the changes occurred were in the nose, where the aromas got deeper and richer as time went on, and new scents floated up to the top of the glass.

All of this is likely because two contradictory things are happening in the glass as time passes: first, alcohol is evaporating from the glass, as we saw in the glassware taste test. This allows you to more readily access the aromas that are initially hidden by the ethanol fumes (though as we have seen, the right piece of glassware cuts these fumes pretty heavily just to start). Secondly, the water in the whisky is evaporating as well, which actually concentrates the remaining flavors left behind. In just ten minutes, neither of these phenomena are terribly significant in terms of the abv of what’s left in the glass, but clearly the shifting amounts of alcohol in the whisky and the free vapor in the glass open up subtle changes in taste — and more pronounced changes in aroma. These effects would likely be even more dramatic in a higher-proof alcohol, so if our article on bonded whiskey inspired you to pick up a bottle of Old Grand-Dad 100 Proof, trying this experiment with that whiskey will likely produce interesting, potentially exciting results.

To sum up the experiment, letting whisky breathe isn’t as essential as letting wine breathe, but you will find detectable changes on the nose and palate as you let your drink aerate. Hopefully these findings will help you enjoy your preferred whisky even more, and if you decide to do the experiment yourself, let us know in the comments!

A Brief History of Orange Flavored Liqueurs

Orange liqueur is a staple of any bar, used for dozens of different mixed drinks, from simple classics like the margarita, to obscure Prohibition-era drinks like the XYZ. But there are several different styles of orange liqueur, and it can be hard for the average consumer to tell just what it is they need. We’re here to give an overview of orange liqueur, and hopefully shed some light on, for example, what Grand Marnier is, and how it’s different from triple sec.

In general, there are two distinct styles of orange liqueur: triple sec and curaçao, but there is a tremendous amount of debate over which came first, and where, and how. Curaçao (pronounced ‘kura-sow’), a sweet creation of Dutch origin, and is named after an island off of Venezuela that the Spanish used to cultivate oranges during and after the conquest of the Americas. Unfortunately for the Spanish, but fortunately for us, the climate of the island proved woefully inadequate for growing oranges, and the fruit ended up tough and bitter. Eventually, the island was sold to the Dutch, who discovered that the peels of these bitter, inedible fruits could be dried out and added to spirits to give the resulting liqueur a distinctive, sweet orange taste. Curaçao was initially made using brandy, but these days most inexpensive curaçao is made with simple neutral spirits, like vodka. Because of conflicting stories, we don’t really know whether curaçao as a liqueur was first created by Bols in the Netherlands or the Senior family, which was based out of the island itself. Arguably the most famous brand of curaçao is actually French, however: Grand Marnier, which uses French Cognac for its spirit base. And then there’s blue curaçao, which actually is just the same thing as regular or orange curaçao, only dyed blue. The dye doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) impact the taste of the liqueur, and so is entirely for aesthetic purposes for mixed drinks.

So if that’s what curaçao is, then what’s triple sec? Triple Sec is a French spin on orange liqueur, and has its origins in two famous liqueurs: Combier and Cointreau. Both Combier and Cointreau claim to have invented triple sec, just like Bols and Senior Curaçao of Curaçao do with curaçao, though with triple sec we at least have a general idea of when triple sec came to be: both Cointreau and Combier were marketed starting sometime in the mid-1800s, with Combier claiming 1834 and Cointreau’s statement of ‘1849’ right there on the bottle. So how does triple sec differ from curaçao? Well, the French word ‘sec,’ meaning ‘dry,’ belies its intent: in theory at least, triple sec is meant to be less sweet than curaçao, though where they got ‘triple’ from is still somewhat clouded in mystery. Like curaçao, most triple sec these days are made with neutral spirits, with Cointreau specifically being made with a spirit derived from sugar beets.

So to reiterate the main points: curaçao is sweeter, triple sec is drier (in theory… really both are quite sweet). Grand Marnier is a brand of curaçao, whereas Cointreau is a brand of triple sec. Now that you have the basics, try a margarita with both and let us know in the comments which one you prefer!

What Is Bottled-in-Bond Whiskey?

Occasionally, a new whiskey drinker will notice something unusual with select bottles of bourbon or American rye: There are occasional bottles that seem to share a long thin sticker over the cap of a bottle, that states that the whiskey is “bottled-in-bond.” What does the phrase mean, and what does it mean in practice for the whiskey itself? There’s a lot of history in those words, so sit back and enjoy a dive into the strange world of American alcohol production pre-Prohibition, where a Wild-West mentality prevailed and regulations were a whole lot looser than they are today.

As you may know, American whiskey production is heavily regulated, and if you put certain things — such as, say, the word “bourbon” — on the bottle’s label, that means that the contents of the bottle are adhering to said regulations; in the case of bourbon, that it’s made from a mash of at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred-oak barrels, among other things. Whiskey aficionados might be surprised to know that this wasn’t always the case. Especially before the turn of the 20th century, alcohol fraud was rampant. Bottlers could — and occasionally did — add water to paint thinner, pour in some coloring to turn it brown, and sell it as a bottle of bourbon to unsuspecting consumers. Less-sinister bottlers might merely add flavoring or coloring to their product, or water it down to stretch their alcohol supply a little longer.

In the 1890s the makers of legitimate bourbon had had enough of cheap imitations cutting into their profit margins and they took the matter to the courts, led by a name that those who appreciate fine American whiskey might recognize: Colonel E. H. Taylor, founder of what is now Buffalo Trace. The fight was bitter, with the defendants claiming that Taylor and his friends were just out to create a monopoly, but President Grover Cleveland took Taylor’s side when, on March 3, 1897, he signed the Bottled-in-Bond Act into law.

So that’s the history, but what does bottled-in-bond actually mean? Basically, it creates an avenue for government oversight on spirits distilled in America. We’ve been talking exclusively about whiskey, and for the most part you’ll only see bottled-in-bond whiskey, but there’s no hard and fast rule about that, and there are other types of American spirits that are bonded: Christian Brothers now makes a bonded brandy, for example.

In order to be able to call itself “bottled-in-bond,” a spirit has to follow the strict guidelines contained in the Bottled-in-Bond Act: It needs to be labelled with the same class of spirits that it actually contains within, the label has to contain the name of the actual distillery or the trade name the distillery uses for the spirits, it has to have been stored for at least four years in wood barrels, it can’t have anything added to or subtracted from it, and it has to be bottled at at least 100 proof. If a bottle meets what’s expected of them under the Act, it’s adorned with a sticker over the mouth of the bottle that states the season of production, the date of bottling, the proof of the spirit, and the district the distiller resides in. While it is aging, bonded whiskey is actually stored in locked, bonded warehouses which are routinely inspected by the government to ensure the rules are being followed.

So what’s the big deal about bottled-in-bond? Well these days, not much. In the age of bourbon fanatics who can learn everything there is to know about their favorite spirit online, not much is hidden from the consumer anymore (except perhaps for the actual distillery a sourced whiskey came from). To be honest, the Bottled-in-Bond Act, as well as the subsequent Pure Food and Drug Act, may have been so successful as to drive most illegitimate bottlers out of business. These days, the bottled-in-bond sticker is more of a marketing tool, a nostalgic throwback to pre-Prohibition spirits production.

That’s not to say that bottled-in-bond is meaningless, of course; because a bonded whiskey has to be aged for 4 years and bottled at 100 proof, when picking one up you can be reasonably sure you’re getting a solid bottle, and bonded whiskey tends to be fairly inexpensive. Old Grand-Dad Bonded and J.T.S. Brown are hidden gems for those in the know, both great 100 proof bourbons for under $30. Rittenhouse Rye is a wonderful and inexpensive bonded rye that makes a great manhattan, and even Jim Beam has a worthwhile bonded offering. Next time you find yourself deciding on a bottle of whiskey, don’t be afraid of the lower shelves, and if you see that bonded sticker on any of them, pick one up and savor a taste of whiskey history. It might become your new favorite bottle.

A Brief History of India Pale Ale

Though sours and goses have been making strong headway into the craft market recently, IPAs remain kings of the mountain. High in alcohol, swelling with hops, both tart and bitter, there’s a lot to like about the crisp, bracing taste of a good craft IPA. But whether you’re a dedicated hop-head who can recite the IBUs of any given beer, or a more casual fan of the pine and citrus taste of a good IPA, you might wonder where the name “India Pale Ale” actually came from. Everyone knows what a pale ale is, of course, but what does this beer, which is the hallmark of American craft brew more than anything else, have to do with India?

Ale is one of the oldest styles of beer, with references being found in ancient archaeological sites in modern-day Iraq. But there are few cultures that are as synonymous with ale as the English. By the time of the various pagan conquests of England by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, the meadhall with its mead and its ale was firmly entrenched in the culture of the English. In addition to ale, another thing the English were once fond of was colonizing, in order to grow what was once the mightiest empire in the world. The British East India Company began running operations in India in the 1750s, and from the 1850s to the 1940s the British crown laid claim to the whole subcontinent. Throughout this almost 200-year stretch of British rule, both the government and the army of India were both filled with Englishmen.

All of these Englishmen pined for English beer of course, but the brewers back on the British Isles were having trouble getting their beer to last on what was a six-month voyage from London to Kolkata, then known as Calcutta. The solution was hit upon by a London brewer called Hodgson, who formulated a strong, heavily-hopped ale in hopes that the hops and the high alcohol content would serve as preservatives and keep the beer drinkable for longer. The plan worked better than anyone could have guessed, and soon India was importing strong, hoppy ales by the literal boatload.

Though IPA was of course immensely popular in India, the strong, hoppy quality didn’t develop a following at home, and with the advent of refrigeration and faster transportation methods, standard English ales could then survive the trek to India. These original IPAs, for the most part, faded away… for a time. Leave it then to the American craft brewers in the 1970s to pick up the style as they searched for an unusual type of beer that could help them stand out from the crowd. These American IPAs became the alcohol- and hop-monsters that we know and love today, no longer developed for preservation reasons but just for their taste. In a funny turn of events it was then the English brewers who began copying American IPAs to fill a niche market at home that just kept getting bigger and bigger.

So when you crack open a bottle of Bear Republic Hop Shovel or something similar, you’re drinking a beer with a history that has crossed oceans, crafted from the influence of three different nations. Talk about a glass of history!

How to Make a Perfect Old Fashioned Cocktail

So, you’ve mastered mixing the manhattan, and now you want to try your hand at another 19th-century classic cocktail? Another simple and delicious mixed drink with oodles of history behind it is the Old Fashioned, and for a drinker who has mixing manhattans down pat, an old fashioned is an excellent new recipe to try. The Old Fashioned was actually the first drink to ever carry the term ‘cocktail,’ which was coined when the drink was invented back in 1806. That means that the drink is only a few decades younger than the United States of America. Follow along, and let’s see how to best mix this storied, whiskey-based cocktail.

The main ingredients in an Old Fashioned are bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar or sugar syrup, bitters, and ice, served typically in a rocks or highball glass. There’s less of an argument over whether bourbon or rye is “proper” for the Old Fashioned than there is with a manhattan, so the choice of whiskey is more to each individual’s taste: Bourbon is going to be sweeter and rounder, rye is going to be spicier. Whichever you choose, however, because an Old Fashioned is typically served on the rocks, you’ll want to use a higher-proof whiskey that will resist becoming too watered down as the ice melts. For a bourbon, try something like Rowan’s Creek or J.T.S. Bottled-in-Bond, and if you’d rather use a rye, Knob Creek Rye or Cedar Ridge are good choices that crack 100 proof.

Angostura or a similar type of aromatic bitters are the typical go-to for an old fashioned, though Fee Brothers makes a chocolate bitters that could go well with a sweeter bourbon. For sugar, you have the choice between a sugar cube or sugar syrup; if you want the traditional 19th century experience, you can buy a package of sugar cubes and muddle one into your glass, but those pressed for time or less enchanted with the ritual of cocktail-making will be fine with just using a bottle of simple syrup. You also want ice cubes that won’t melt too fast since that can dilute your drink before you finish it. There are those who swear by Tovolo’s sphere ice molds because the large ice spheres melt very slowly, not to mention the aesthetic pleasure they offer. If the $16 asking price for Tovolo is too much for you, any reasonably large ice cube(s) will work as well.

Before you start mixing your drink, fill a mixing glass with ice and put it in the freezer for a half hour or so, which will keep the ingredients cold while you’re mixing them. For proportions, of course a lot of this is to personal taste, but a typical Old Fashioned uses 2 ounces of whiskey, 1/2 teaspoon of syrup (or a single sugar cube), and one or two dashes of bitters. If you’re using a sugar cube, before you add ice put the cube in the bottom of your mixing glass and muddle it into a paste, and then add a couple dashes of bitters before stirring in the whiskey and other ingredients; if you’re using the simple syrup, just mix the syrup, whiskey and bitters together in your mixing glass. Once you’ve mixed your ice, sugar, bitters, and whiskey in your mixing glass, strain the drink into your rocks glass over a fresh couple of ice cubes. The traditional garnish is a thin slice of orange or lemon peel, though many restaurants will use a slice of orange instead, which will add a more pronounced citrusy sweetness to the drink.

As you can see, the Old Fashioned is a simple drink that is another great way to practice your mixology. You can mix one up in just a few minutes, and its simplicity is what makes it such an easy-to-like cocktail. It also lends itself to countless variations, which usually involve swapping out the whiskey for something like brandy, or using tequila and agave nectar instead of whiskey and simple syrup. Let us know in the comments how you prefer your Old Fashioned!

Understanding the Wines of France

To an average wine imbiber, a trek through the new world wine section of their store of choice is a painless ordeal; a California Cabernet has “Cabernet Sauvignon” written right there on the label. Same with an Oregon Pinot Noir, an Australian Syrah, and just about any other “New World” wine. Blends might be trickier, but oftentimes they’ll have a breakdown of which varietals they’re made of somewhere on the label.

This is not so for the labels from most wine-producing countries in Europe, which to the uninitiated can seem maddeningly confusing and needlessly opaque. How can someone tell what is in a bottle of Les Cadrans de Lassegue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, for instance? The answer is that, while French wine labels might be vague, France’s wineries are dominated by the governmental body Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC (with France’s entry into the EU, technically the term is now AOP, but many wineries still use the designation AOC). The AOC’s laws are very, very strict about what grapes can be grown in what region of the country, in order to maintain the terroir, or the individual taste of a wine region, and so by knowing how these grapes and regions match up, you’ll always have at least a basic idea of what to expect in any bottle of French wine. Join us today to take a whirlwind tour through four of France’s top wine regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, and the Rhône Valley.

Bordeaux is the most famous of France’s wine regions — perhaps of all of the world’s wine regions — and is the region that most people think of when they think of French wine. Located just inland from the Atlantic Ocean on France’s southwest side, split in two by the Gironde estuary, some of the most expensive wines in the world come from Bordeaux, including the several-thousand-dollar Château Cheval Blanc, which featured heavily in the movie Sideways. The grapes most regularly used in red Bordeaux wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carbernet Franc, but of course it can’t be so simple as to just say that and call it a day. The split in the region caused by the Gironde also causes a split in the varietals of grapes used in the wines: on the left bank of the river, including areas like Médoc and Graves, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the wines, whereas on the right bank, typified by areas like Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, are heavily Merlot-based wines. White Bordeaux blends are typically made between the two rivers that form the estuary, and are blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle. Thanks to Bordeaux blending processes, a good Bordeaux can be endlessly complex, with fruit notes subordinate to tastes and scents like pencil lead, flat stone, loam, and others, depending on which grapes are used. They can be intimidating for new wine drinkers, but a Bordeaux blend has incredible aging potential and can continue to surprise you with new flavors and aromas hours after it’s been opened.

Across the country from Bordeaux, nearing the central east of France, is the region of Burgundy. The regional names you’ll see on the label for Burgundy include Chablis, Macon, and Beaujolais, but unlike Bordeaux, things are simpler here: With one exception, all red Burgundy is made with Pinot Noir grapes, and with no exceptions, all white Burgundy is made with Chardonnay grapes. So why not just slap the grape name on the bottle? Because terroir is still strongly in effect within Burgundy, and white Burgundies made in different regions, for instance, can taste completely different. A white Burgundy from Chablis, for instance, usually tastes very dry, with a white stone minerality, not at all like a Chardonnay someone used to California butter bombs like Rombauer would expect, whereas white Burgundies from Pouilly-Fuisse tend to be more woody and creamy. The one exception to the Pinor Noir-based red Burgundies are the wines from Beaujolais. As you may know if you join in the tradition of opening a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau around Thanksgiving, Beaujolais is made with the Gamay grape, which is more fruit-forward and immediately ready to drink than a drier, earthier Burgundy made from Pinot Noir.

North of Burgundy, in the upper northeast of the country, right on the border with Germany, lies the region of Alsace. In the history of the two countries, Alsace has always been a point of contention, and it has changed hands between the two countless times; this gives the region a strong German influence that is shared with their wines. Alsatian wines are made almost exclusively with white grapes, especially Riesling and Gewurztraminer. They’re made in a more dry, mineral-forward style than someone used to United States Riesling and Gewurz might expect, but like an Italian Pinot Grigio, they’re very refreshing and go great with food. Alsatian Rieslings especially also have excellent aging potential among white wines due to their acidity, and in good conditions can continue to age well for decades.

Too cold up in Alsace? Head south, starting in the Swiss Alps and ending at France’s beautiful eastern Mediterranean coast, near Italy, where you’ll find the wine-growing region of the Rhône Valley. For someone used to a more fruit-forward style of red wine like those found in California or Australia, the wines from the Rhône area might be a good jumping-off point into the world of French wines. The primary grapes used in Rhône blends include red grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault, as well as white grapes such as Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Viognier, though AOC allows additional varietals to be blended into the wines in more prestigious regions. Starting up in the north of the Rhône, around the Swiss Alps, you’ll find regions like Crozes-Hermitage that make spicy, savory Syrah that will age wonderfully for years. Further south you’ll find more of an influence of Grenache and Mourvèdre in the wines, from inexpensive Côtes-du-Rhône, to pricier, more complex Gigondas and Vacqueyras, to gorgeous, sumptuous blends from around the former Papal enclave of Avignon, called Châteauneuf-du-Pape. While the northern Syrahs tend to be savory and meaty, the climate of southern Rhône produces rich blends with a perfect balance of berries and the natural terroir that French wine strives for.

This is of course only very a basic overview of France’s four best-known wine regions. Whole books have been written about each of these, and there are many more lesser-known regions within the country, like the Loire Valley and the Languedoc-Roussillon. Hopefully this overview will help you try a new French wine or two, and discover the wonders that the country has in store for a curious drinker.

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