How French Vodka Compares To Its American Counterpart

Vodka is a spirit born of resourcefulness, a fascinating drink in that it can be made from so many different plants but still come out tasting more or less the same. American vodka, though most commonly made using a variety of fermented grains, can also be distilled from potatoes, or even corn, and inevitably comes out clear and nearly flavorless, though the base ingredient makes a noticeable difference in flavor between different varieties.

A distant cousin of American vodka, however, is French vodka, a term often used to describe vodka that is distilled from grapes. French vodka made from grapes is sweeter and fruitier than American vodkas and doesn't have the same bite as many American vodkas. Various grapes can be used in French vodka, as they can in wine, with each varietal delivering its own unique terroir. The category is much smaller but has managed to make a distinct global impact.

Grape vodka vs. other vodkas

American vodka can be divided into several different categories, starting with wheat, barley, and other grain vodkas, as well as potato vodka, both of which are comparable to their predecessors all over the world, most notably in Eastern Europe. Corn-based vodka is a slightly newer and more American proposition and mimics the American invention of bourbon, which used the native corn available in abundance in the American South to make its own take on European rye whiskey.

Now, not all vodka made in France uses grapes. Grey Goose, for example, is one of France's most well-known premium vodka brands, and it's made from Picardie winter wheat. But other major players, like Cîroc, use grapes as a base. Cîroc vodka is made by distilling the white wine grapes mauzac blanc and ugni blanc five times to achieve its signature flavor. Ugni blanc grapes are perhaps best known as the most common base for Cognac, a type of brandy, so Cognac drinkers may find that this style of vodka is up their alley, even if they're not normally sold on the stuff. The French brand Idol also uses a grape base, only that brand makes its vodka from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, which are distilled seven times.

French vodka's flavor

Each different genre of American vodka can be distinguished by different tasting notes. Vodka made from grains like wheat or barley is generally considered to be the most neutral and may even retain a distinctive bite, while potato-based vodka has a more noticeable earthy flavor. Corn vodka is a little sweeter than both, which is why brands like the Texas-based Tito's have become popular (they're also naturally gluten-free).

Meanwhile, French vodka made from grapes borrows from the traditions of the surrounding regions, where grape-based eaux-de-vies like Cognac and Armagnac are popular. The niche category is well regarded for its subtle sweetness, which is nothing like a grape-flavored vodka but maintains a very light touch of the original fruit the spirit is made from, with brands like Cîroc even having natural notes of citrus. But if you're curious about trying it, you won't need to go all the way to Bordeaux to get your hands on some. While France popularized this style of vodka, there are American vodka brands that make and sell grape-based vodka, including Napa Valley Distillery and Crown Valley.