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Essential Winemakers of France ©Opening a BottleAh, France. How does one sum up the world’s most imitated wine nation in a few sentences? Well, the French have managed with a single word: terroir. It is a simple concept, yet no other language has a direct translation for it.

Terroir is the notion that the origins of a wine — its soil, the topography, the weather — can be conveyed to the senses. It is the distinct aromas of Pinot Noir when it comes from Gevrey-Chambertin, the weight of Syrah when it hails from the Côte-Rôtie, and the lingering mineral finish of Chardonnay when it originates in Chablis. Drink enough vin from France and you start to notice terroir in the best bottles, and it keeps you going. There’s a lot to explore.

My list for the Essential Winemakers of France has been curated with terroir in mind. It tilts a bit toward one of France’s most unique and peculiar regions: Alsace. This is not by design. Alsace is simply the region I know better than any other, and I have found the commitment to quality and organic viticulture to be especially strong there. Plus, your dollars will go a little further in Alsace, which cannot be said for Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Alsace’s diversity of grapes also plays a hand in its prominence. For instance, one producer — Albert Mann — is listed as much for Pinot Noir as Riesling.

As this list expands, look for it to lean heavily toward Alsace, Beaujolais, Chablis and the Rhône.

See also the Essential Winemakers of Italy.

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