France is renowned for its wines, and rightly so, with around eight billion bottles of the drink produced throughout the country each year! There certainly isn’t just one type of wine made in the country, as there are numerous different regions, each known for producing a diverse flavour, colour or type of wine. Great growing conditions in each area has meant that an extraordinary variety of grapes can be found, from Chardonnay to Syrah, meaning that an incredible array of blends can be produced. We take a look at each of the key wine regions in France, and what they have to offer!
Sat in Eastern France, along the River Ill, and bordering Germany, Alsace is primarily a white wine region. Due to its close proximity to Germany, many of the grape types grown here also find their home across the border in Germany. Varieties include Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. All of the 51 Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace use Riesling grapes, making it the most popular grape type. With such a strong Germanic influence in the region as a whole, the wine produced in Alsace is quite different from any other produced in France, with a focus on dry or fruity white wines. Wines from this region will be labelled ‘Alsace’ with the main type of grape used clearly displayed on the bottle, rather than using a more specific area descriptor.
Most of the wine produced in Beaujolais is red, made from the Gamay grape. In fact, only one percent of Beaujolais wine is white! The beloved Gamay grape provides hints and aromas of cherry, plum, violet and peony. The region sits directly below Burgundy and contains 12 appellations, including Beaujolais AOC and Beaujolais-Villages AOC, as well as 10 Crus. The region is perhaps best known for its Beaujolais Nouveau, a vin de primeur, which can be sold within the year the grapes were harvested! The Beaujolais Nouveau is always released on the third Thursday in November.
As one of the largest wine regions in France, and sat along the Atlantic Coast, Bordeaux has long been a region to export wine around the world, making it one of the most popular. Bordeaux is best known for its red wine, which tends to be blended from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The medium-full bodied wine that Bordeaux is famed for often presents fruity plum and blackberry notes. Only 10% of wine from this region is white, but of these, Sauvignon Blanc is the most popular.
Bordeaux as a wine region tends to be split into two distinct areas; the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The Left Bank area, which also contains Médoc and Graves, produces wines that are bold, work well with red meat and are one of the best types for achieving perfect ageing. A typical blend from the Left Bank will see a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon used, followed in order by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, then Petit Verdot. Conversely, the Right Bank, also known as Libournais, includes Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. These wines are slightly softer and will be made up of a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in that order.
Also known as Bourgogne, Burgundy is one of the most renowned French wine regions. Two of the most famous grape types, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, originate from Burgundy, making it one of the few regions in France that has an equal focus on both red and white wines. Burgundy is split into the most appellations of all the French regions, with four main parts and two areas that are sometimes considered to be regions in their own right; Chablis, and Beaujolais (mentioned above). Burgundy wines can be some of the best for ageing, with quality bottles able to be left for up to thirty years!
Champagne, as the name may suggest, is renowned for its sparkling wine. There are a wide number of top brands of Champagne produced in this region, including Krug, Bollinger, Moët & Chandon and Mumm. Not all sparkling wine from France is Champagne, as it can only count as such if it comes from the region of Champagne. The growing conditions of the area are responsible for the unparalleled wine they produce, as attempts to replicate it in other areas have never quite been up to scratch. While most Champagne is white sparkling wine, there are rosé varieties available too.
Jura is one of the smaller wine regions in France. The wine produced here is often likened to that from Burgundy, due to the fact that they often use the same grape varieties; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. However, Jura also grows the Savagnin grape, which is only found in this region. This grape variety is used to make Vin Jaune, a yellow-coloured aperitif wine.
In terms of volume, this area is the biggest wine producing region in France. The Mediterranean weather conditions mean that the grapes ripen quickly, creating rich, full-bodied wines with a high alcohol content. Wine from this area is often sold under the label ‘Vin de Pays d’Oc’. Many of the bottles made will be cheaper blended red wines; however, the region is also famous for its Sparkling Limoux, which is thought to be the inspiration for Champagne!
The Loire Valley is split into four sub-regions, each making wine from different grape varieties, although most wine produced here is white. Upper Loire produces Sauvignon blanc, Touraine and Anjou-Saumur use Chenin blanc and Cabernet Franc for their white and red wines, and finally, Pays Nantais uses the Melon de Bourgogne grape. After Champagne, Loire Valley is the second largest producer of sparkling wine in France.
As one of the warmest regions of France, Provence produces a number of red and rosé wines. Most famous for its rosé, the wines are delicate and sweet, with hints of watermelon and strawberry. Provence also contains the small region of Bandol, which uses the Mourvèdre grape to produce a deep black-red, plumy wine, which can be aged for 20 years!
Rhône Valley in the south-east of France is best known for its red wine. Most wine from the region is sold as ‘Côtes du Rhône’ and is blended from a few grape varieties grown in the south of France, such as Syrah, Grenache and Viognier.
There are a number of other smaller wine regions in the south-west of France, including Bergerac, Cahors and Gascony. Cahors is best known for their red wine, with rich and dark reds on offer, while Bergerac is more about the white. Cahors is also the original home of the Malbec!
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Image Credit: Sylvain Naudin (Alsace)
Image Credit: Colin (Bordeaux)
Image Credit: Pancrat (Burgundy)