Understanding French Wine Regions
Understanding French wine can be daunting, especially when you start to delve deeper into the mix of regions, grape varieties, complex laws and labels that make up the country’s wine industry. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a short guide to French wine so you can get an idea for the types of wine that you can expect from each region.
Bordeaux, on the west coast of France, produces some of the most expensive and prestigious wines available in the wine world. The region is most famous from producing fine, classic reds, mostly made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. However, it also produces Sauternes, a sweet dessert wine and full-bodied white wines from the Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle grapes.
Burgundy is another French wine region of France producing exceptionally high quality wines, often with prices to match. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the key grapes grown in these regions. The style of Chardonnay can vary considerably from very clean crisp wines from Chablis in northern Burgundy to oaked, buttery versions from the areas around Côtes de Beaune in the south of the region. Similarly, Pinot Noir can vary from full bodied versions from Northern Burgundy to lighter versions from the south of this French wine region. If you are looking to splash out, then a Grand Cru wine like Gevrey-Chambertain might be your thing, while the Côtes de Nuits Villages will suit Pinot Noir fans on a budget. The region at the very south of Burgundy is called Beaujolais and here you will find light, fruity, easy-drinking red wines at all qualities and prices.
North of Burgundy is Champagne. This French wine region produces the famous sparking wine of the same name. The uniqueness of the wines coming out of the region is the bubbles and characteristic honeyed toasty notes. Champagne has become such an iconic wine over the years that prices can be extremely high. If you are on a budget but fancy something sparkling, you might prefer to taste Cremants. These are sparkling wines made outside the Champagne region but using all the same wine-making techniques.
To the south of Burgundy, is the French wine region of the Rhône. Syrah is the principal red grape that you will come across in the north of this region. On the white front, Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier are all grown. The mountainous terrain means that grapes often have to be hand picked which can drive up prices. In the southern areas of the Rhône, the red wines are mainly Grenache based, so are fruiter and softer. Châteauneuf du Pape is the most famous southern Rhône red but can be very pricey. Côte du Rhône villages on the other hand, offer good value at lower prices.
In the north west of France, is the region of Loire. The French wines from this region don’t command the high prices of some of the other French wine regions, making them a good choice if you are looking for a decent bottle of wine at a reasonable price. White wines are big here; Muscadet is grown near the coast, moving through to Chenin Blanc inland and ending up with Sauvignon Blanc as you hit Sancerre in the middle of the country. Sancerre produces very dry, clean and crisp wines and offers fantastic quality but again at a price to match. French rosé wines are also widely produced in the Loire.
Possibly the most distinctive French wines are those coming from the Alsace region of France. Situated on the eastern border, the cooler climate means that the wines are more Germanic in style than typical French wines. White wines are prominent here – Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris in particular.
Finally, any tour of the French wine regions wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the South of France. The regions of Provence, Languedoc and Roussillon do not have the same stature as Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhône but they make some excellent French wines. Provence is big for Rosé, while Languedoc-Roussillon makes some excellent, inexpensive red blends.
It is hard to do the French wine regions justice in a page, but hopefully this article will have given you a brief insight into what you can expect from this amazing wine country.