What’s the Best French Wine for You?
France is the third-largest wine-producing country after Italy and Spain, but it leads the popularity charts, as it has done so for centuries. French winemakers have influenced every wine-producing country in one way or another.
In fact, the most planted varieties worldwide are French, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. And it’s not only the grapes; the grape growing and winemaking techniques perfected in France since ancient times are now used globally. From the types of bottles used by everyone to the oak barrels where most of the world’s red wine ages — it all comes from France.
French wine is a complex topic, but it’s one best enjoyed with a glass of wine in hand. Let’s take a quick tour through the French wine regions and find the right wine for you.
French Wine Regions
Unlike New World wine-producing countries, you cannot categorise and study French wine by grape variety but by location. There are eight major wine regions in the country, each home to dozens of wine styles and grape varieties.
Understanding the customs and traditions in these regions is the fastest and most exciting way of getting to know French wine. This guide will cover the most important French wine regions with the notable exception of Champagne, which deserves its own guide.
The French appellation system not only protects wine styles but demands producers to follow strict rules in the fields and winery to guarantee the wine’s quality and typicity. This basically means French wine is good by law! These are the most significant wine regions in France and the wine styles you’ll find in them.
Bordeaux is the spiritual home of distinguished grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Here, Chateaux or wine estates blend these grapes for complex and robust red wines. Although most of the wine here is actually affordable, the best labels are some of the most expensive in the world, and these wines can age for decades.
Bordeaux is also a source of white wine made with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with a splash of floral Muscadelle. And let’s not forget about Sauternes, perhaps the most memorable dessert wine in the country — it’s also made in Bordeaux.
Notable Appellations: Bordeaux, Sauternes, Pauillac, Margaux, Saint Emilion, Pomerol.
Wine to Try: Chateau Maucamps Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2016
Producers in Burgundy specialise in two main wine styles: Elegant red wines made with Pinot Noir and expressive white wines made with Chardonnay. Again, this is the origin of such prominent grapes and arguably the source of their greatest expressions. Burgundy runs north to south in a series of slopes, which give ideal orientation to the vineyards — most of them going back to the Middle Ages. They were once tended by monks!
Notable Appellations: Chablis, Montrachet, Beaune, Corton, Mersault, Pommard.
The Rhône Valley is south of Burgundy. Here, the weather is warmer, which means the landscape turns arid and dusty. It is in this harsher climate where heat-resistant grapes thrive. Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre are the most popular red varietals, and they’re often blended to produce rustic but charming wines.
White grapes in the region include the floral Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, and they can also become bold, age-worthy white wines suitable for any occasion.
Notable Appellations: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes du Rhône, Côte Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Condrieu, Vacqueyras, Gigondas.
Wine to Try: Mont Redon RED Cotes du Rhone 2019
The Loire Valley is an extended wine region stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Parisian Basin. The wine styles change as one travels inland.
The refreshing Muscadet is typical on the coast, followed by dry, sweet and sparkling wines made with Chenin Blanc. Finally, Sauvignon Blanc dominates the Valley’s vineyards.
Red wine made with Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir is popular as well. The Loire Valley is one of the most complicated regions, as it has dozens of microclimates.
Notable Appellations: Muscadet, Vouvray, Savennières, Chinon, Pouilly Fumé, Sancerre.
Wine to Try: Domaine Pichot Coteau de la Biche Vouvray Sec 2020
Alsace - Jura - Savoie
Alsace is a beautiful wine region bordering Germany. The neighbouring country profoundly influences the region’s architecture, food and wine. This is white wine country, and producers craft their finest wines with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewürztraminer.
Jura and Savoie are two wine regions in the Alps and are a source of lesser-known wines that are often of the highest quality. Jura’s most famous wine is the notorious yellow wine, or Vin Jaune.
Notable Appellations: Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru, Crémant d’Alsace, Côtes de Jura.
Wine to Try: Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2017
Provence overlooks the sunny Mediterranean Coast, and it’s home to the famous French Riviera — the ultimate luxury destination. Provence is all about its rosé, perhaps the most charming pink wine globally. Think of a dry, refreshing salmon-hued wine that’s perfect for summer.
Several grapes are used in the area, including Syrah and Grenache, but there are others. The region’s white wines are lovely as well, and they’re made with Rolle AKA Vermentino.
Notable Appellations: Cotes de Provence, Bandol.
Wine to Try: Saint MAX Cotes de Provence Rose MAGNUM 2019
Languedoc-Roussillon covers most of Southern France. Most of the wine made in France comes from this warm area, although not all is of the highest quality.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t cellar-worthy wines in the area; there are many talented producers working with a wide range of grapes, from Syrah and Cabernet to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Producers label most of the inexpensive wine made in the area as Vin de Pays d’Oc.
Notable Appellations: Minervoise, Fitou, Corbieres, Banyuls, La Clape, Pays d’Oc IGP.
South-West France is a wine region in its own right, and it’s made of several appellations, most often championing local grape varieties and wine styles. Red wines made with Malbec and Tannat, or sparkling wine made with the ancestral method. Sweet or dry, red or white, there’s plenty to choose from in this less-popular region.
Since most of the appellations in the area are not as well known as Bordeaux or Burgundy, the wine from the Sud-Ouest has an excellent quality-price ratio.
Notable Appellations: Madiran, Gaillac, Jurancon, Cahors.
Wine to Try: Chateau Bouscasse Madiran 2013
French Wine Is Incredibly Varied
Now that we’ve taken a quick tour around the French vineyards, you know what grape varieties and wine styles to expect from every region. French wine is all about a “sense of place” or terroir, and it is true; the wine takes you places with every sip!
From age-worthy red wines to summer sippers, French wine producers have your back — there’s a French wine for every food pairing, occasion and budget. Yes, great wine can come from every corner of the earth, but everyone looks at France for inspiration.