The wine regions of France produce the template for premium wine production no matter where else in the world wines are made.
France is not the largest producer of wines, in fact Italy has been the largest for a long time. But with French wines it is about quality control and the 'Appellation Controlée system' which ensures the wines reputation is protected.
Other countries are producing good wines and Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sauvignon Syrah and Pinot are made in many of the world's vineyards.
The fact that the grapes are in these vineyards indicates that the original model was of course French.
So if would like to know a little more about French wines and the wine regions of France here is a brief résumé.
Understanding wines can be confusing, but the trick is not to get too hung up on the details, just enjoy the wine! That’s a good starting point.
The grand chateaux of Bordeaux produce the finest clarets and sweet whites. The Bordeaux region lies in the Gironde département. Red Wines of Bordeaux sometimes called ‘claret’ by the British, is the most popular image of France’s best wine. You may see vintage bottles of Bordeaux wines at auctions commanding exceedingly high prices.
Grapes: Bordeaux reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
Bordeaux whites: Dry and sweet wines – Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle.
Pays Nantais: Grapes: Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet), Folle Blanche (Gros Plant). The Muscadet is France's most exported wine. About 50% of Muscadets have the words ‘sur lié’ on the label which refers to a technique in the making of these wines. These are the better wines so look out for these on the labels.
Anjou: Grapes: Chenin Blanc (whites)
Saumur: Grapes: Reds – Cabernet Franc; Whites – Chenin Blanc; Sparkling – Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc.
Touraine: Grapes: Reds – Cabernet Franc, Gamay; Whites – Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Romorantin.
Upper Loire: Grape: Sauvignon Blanc (whites): Sancerre, Menetou-Salon and Reuilly: Grapes: Pinot Noir, Gamay (reds/rosés)
Champagne is the most northerly area of the wine regions of France and produces the finest of the sparkling wines.
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay. There are also the rosé or pink Champagnes, made by adding a little still local red wine to the white Champagne.
The Blanc de Blancs are champagne using only the chardonnay grape. Blanc de Noirs is white champagne made from the black grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Prestige Cuvée – these are usually a vintage wine, often aged longer than ordinary vintage wines.
This area offers a blend of both German and French culture. Alsace shelters between the Vosges mountains and the river Rhine and it grows both French and German grapes. Most wine regions of France are complicated to the novice, but it is much easier to understand wines in this area as they are named after the grape varieties and not the villages or properties as in other regions of France. Most of the Alsace wines are dry to medium dry white wines.
Gewurztraminer – a deeply coloured wine with a strong alcohol content which goes well with the regions patés and terrines.
Reisling – a racy wine good with fish dishes.
Pinot Gris – a spicy, fruity (orange perhaps or buttery and honey).
Muscat – refreshing with a musty spice.
Pinot Blanc – creamy, slightly appley wine.
Sylvaner – a pungently almost cabbagey wine.
Auxerrois – a simple full-textured wine.
Chasselas – light neutral tasting wine.
Edelzwicker – a blend of any of the above grapes.
Pinot Noir – the only red grape in Alsace. A sharp, cherry fruit wine.
There are some passionate controversies as to whether Bordeaux or Burgundy have the finest wines. The annual production is far less than that of the Bordeaux wines. Some examples of fine Burgundy wines are:
Chablis: Grape: Chardonnay
Cote de Nuits: Grapes: Red – Pinot Noir; White – Chardonnay and small amounts of Pinot Blanc
Cote de Beaune: Grapes: Red – Pinot Noir; White – Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Aligoté
Maconnais: Grapes: Red – Pinot Noir, Gamay, César, Tressot; White – Chardonnay, Aligoté, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sacy
Beaujolais: Burgundy's southern most wine region. Grapes: Red – Gamay; White – Chardonnay
The Rhone valley consists of the northern Rhone and the southern Rhone.
Northern Rhone: Grapes: Red – Syrah; White – Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane
Southern Rhone: Grapes: Red – Grenache, Cinsaut, Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan, Gamay; White – Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Roussane, Marsanne, Muscat, Viognier
The Provence area is known for the pale rosés.
Grapes: Reds – Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsaut, Syrah, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tibouren, Braquet; White – Clairette, Ugni-Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Rolle, Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, Terret
Grapes: Red – Carignan, Grenache, Cinsaut, Mourvedre, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec; White – Clairette, Rolle, Terret, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Muscat, Maccabéo, Marsanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay
Gascony and South-West
These are small wine regions of France. They are the areas from Bordeaux down to the Spanish border. Very traditional vineyards, where they are proud of their traditions.
This of course is home to such fine French delights such as Foie Gras, magnificent pork, poultry and Toulouse sausages!
Grapes: Reds - The Bordeaux varieties plus local varieties.
Jura and Savoie
These small wine regions of France to the east of Burgundy are dominated by white wines.
Jura: Grapes: White – Savagnin, Chardonnay; Red – Trouseau, Poulsard, Pinot Noir
Savoie: Grapes: White – Jacuere, Roussette, Malette, Rousanne, Chasselas, Chardonnay; Red – Mondeuse, Gamay, Pinot Noir
Eau De Vie De Marc
Then there is eau de vie de marc known as simply, marc, these days and is another beautiful French creation to imbibe in! Learn about eau de vie an afterlife for grapes.