For Many centuries the big name wines of the world were from the classic wine regions of France, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone Valley. While many have discovered the treats of Spain, Italy and Australia among others, the French have rallied and are now producing better wines particularly in the south of the Country. France is habitually among the world’s leading producers of wine in terms of volume produced! Meaning not all French wine is good in fact quite a lot of it is mediocre or just plain bad!
France’s main wine regions are Bordeaux in the South West, Burgundy in the centre near Lyon, the Rhone Valley to the South of there and the Loire Valley which follows the course of the river from Nantes in the west inland.
Bordeaux is perhaps the most famous region and it has given us the Grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec in reds and Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc in white. Many wines produced here tend to be called Chateau XXXX. This region, it may surprise you produces more wine than all of the continent of Australia. While dry tannic reds dominate here, there are many crisp dry whites along with some of the most famous Dessert wines, Sauternes. Many of the wines of Bordeaux are name after the small village where they come from e.g. Margaux, Pauillac and St. Émilion.
Next to Bordeaux in fame is Burgundy which boast the queen of white grapes Chardonnay as its primary grape and the fickle Pinot Noir as its red counterpart. As in Bordeaux the wines are named for the villages from which they hail. The super lean and minerally Chablis being a fine example of the French idea of Terroir – a sense of place- grown on chalky limestone soil this chardonnay tastes like no other. Almost all the wine produced in Burgundy is made from either the light and ethereal Pinot Noir or the terroir reflective Chardonnay. The most famous villages are located in the Cote d’Or while further south the Maconnais and Cote Chalonnaise produce more fruit driven styles.
Most producers here tend to label their wines after their family name with prefixes such as Domaine being commonly used. In the Southern part of Burgundy the area of Beaujolais is located, the wines made here are from the Gamay Grape variety and can be found labelled as Beaujolais, or again after their individual villages such as Fleurie, Brouilly and Morgan among others.
To the south again of Burgundy is the Rhone Valley an area that stretches along the river Rhone south from Lyon to Avignon. The northern half of the Valley is famous for its Syrah based wines, in fact most of the famous appellations here allow only Syrah and maybe in rare case some Viognier. Famous appellations here include Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Cornas, and St. Joseph in the reds and Condrieu in the white.
While most Cotes Du Rhone wines come from the Southern Rhone, the area also has some notable appellations such as Vacqueryas, Lirac, Rasteau and the ever popular Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Most of the southern Rhone reds are based on a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, the wines of Chateauneuf can include up to 13 grape varieties including 5 white grapes such as Rousanne.
The Loire Valley is the final of the big four wine producing areas and itself is divided into 4 distinct districts, the river mouth around Nantes where the Muscadet rules, the neighbouring areas of Anjou famous for its rosés, and Touraine which produces reds from the Cabernet Franc variety under the village names Chinon and Bourgueil as well as others along with delightful whites based on Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. One of the more famous Chenin Blanc appellations is Vouvray which can be off dry. Finally the upper Loire is home to the most famous appellations of Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, (not to be confused with Pouilly Fuisse from the Macon), and Menetou Salon. While all these areas can produce rosé and even reds it’s their Sauvignon Blanc wines that people really enjoy.
Other wine producing regions in France include Champagne which uses 2 red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier along with Chardonnay to produce the world’s most famous sparkling wines. Alsace on the German border and very influenced by its location as it mainly produces the German variety Riesling in various styles and Gewürztraminer along with some excellent Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio). Provence which is most famous for its rosé wines and the huge Languedoc and Roussillon which is most famous for vast litres of plonk but thanks to New World flying wine makers has been turning out some superb wines based on Syrah, Grenache and even Cabernet.
A note on Classification
There are 4 main classifications, the largest is AOC/AC which says where the wine come from and that it is made from the approved grapes e.g. Sancerre, Lirac, and Pomerol. The next is VIN délimité de qualité Supériuere VDQS which has similar restriction but is not as classified as AOC. Next is Vins de Pays VdP, which usually states where it is from e.g. Vins de Pays d’Oc and sometimes also the grape variety. Finally then you have Vins de Table which can be made of just about anything!