The French wine regions arguably have the richest wine history in the world. There are age-old traditions still followed by these winemakers that offer insight into this rich winemaking culture.
But this has not come without challenges. France has quite a rocky history.
They’ve experienced some of the world’s most significant losses, in the form of a deadly pest that nearly took out their industry. But they’ve also celebrated some incredible achievements like being the first to establish regulations regarding wine quality and production.
But let’s get into the French wine regions and what they’re producing.
An important thing to note about France’s wine regions’ layout is that every area is based around a water mass. Whether it is around the ocean, like the Languedoc-Roussillon, or around rivers, like the Loire, The Rhone Valley, and Bordeaux.
Bordeaux – One of the most famous French Wine Regions
Bordeaux, one of the most famous French wine regions, is situated in the west of France and produces both red and white wines. It is, however, most famously known for its powerful and age-worthy red blends.
The rivers that run through Bordeaux, The Garonne, and the Dordogne river, split Bordeaux into two sections. This is known as the left bank Bordeaux and the right bank Bordeaux.
Both these sides of Bordeaux produce red blends, but either side focuses on a different variety.
Left bank Bordeaux makes bold and robust Cabernet-Sauvignon based wines. More often than not, Merlot is added to the blend, and winemakers can also add Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carménère. The addition of these grapes to the blend will differ from producer to producer.
On the right bank of Bordeaux, however, the focus is on Merlot-based blends. These wines are generally softer and are most often merely a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
The white wines from Bordeaux (known as white Bordeaux) blend Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. These whites are minimal and only take up about 10% of the region’s production. It is nonetheless an iconic blend of this region.
If we head east, just off the center of France, we’ve got the region of Burgundy. This region only really focuses on one white variety and one red variety; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Burgundy isn’t just known for producing some bold Pinot Noir styles, but it is actually where Pinot Noir originates from.
On the other end, Burgundy is also producing the world’s most decadent, sought-after Chardonnay’s. These wines are known for being oaky, buttery, and extremely rich.
So, when someone refers to a white Burgundy or a red Burgundy, it essentially means either a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
In the most northern part of Burgundy, you find the region of Chablis. Here, Chardonnay is also produced, but a completely different style as white Burgundies. Chablis wines are lean, crisp, and unoaked. They are often said to have a steely mouthfeel, which has a lot to do with the soil in this region.
If we go just south of Burgundy, you’ll find the region of Beaujolais. The area once was known as part of Burgundy but has established itself as an independent region. Here, Gamay Noir is produced and range from easy-drinking styles to some serious, robust wines.
The Rhone Valley
Just beneath Burgundy, we have the Rhone Valley. This French wine region extends along the famous Rhone River. Although this is essentially one region, the northern section of the area is vastly different than that south,
In Northern Rhone, the emphasis is on Syrah. Often, the wines are made with 100% Syrah, but a small amount of white wine (Viognier) is allowed. As for white wine, Roussanne and Marsanne are most commonly seen in the north.
It’s in this northern part where you find the famous appellations of Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage that produces full-bodied and some of the most esteemed Syrah-wines.
Geographically, the Northern Rhone is also a ‘thin’ region, with most vineyards very closely situated along the river. It is also known to be significantly cooler and dryer than the South.
However, when you move down to Southern Rhone, the region almost branches out into a wider area with warmer temperatures.
Southern Rhone – one of the most interesting of the French wine regions
The Southern Rhone is almost like the rebel-child of the valley since it has less strict rules and allows a massive range of wines to be blended. Where in the North, they’re growing mainly Syrah and a handful of whites, the Southern region grows 23 varieties.
Here the wines are always blended, with Grenache often taking the leading role. It is most commonly a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, making up the famous GSM blend. It’s also in Southern Rhone, where the famous French wine region of Chateauneuf du Pape is situated.
Considering the proximity of the Languedoc to the Southern Rhone Valley, it comes as no surprise that the grape varieties grown here are similar to those produced in Southern Rhone. The Languedoc makes some incredible red blends with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Carignan.
But the Languedoc region is sort of a jack-of-all-trades. Apart from the blends, single-variety wines are also produced. One of the most unique ones is a wine from 100% Carignan that offers intense savory, licorice, and dried fruit aromas and flavours.
Along with the blends and single-variety wines, the region also produces fortified red wine and sparkling white wine. The sad reality is that the region’s wines aren’t well-known internationally, but they offer an incredible range of wine styles.
While most French regions focus on bold reds or crisp whites, there has no mention of rosé wines at all. Interestingly, an entire region focuses on the production of some of the world’s most terrific rosés.
Located along the South-eastern coast, this Provence is France’s rosé region. Not only is it the biggest producer of rosé in France, but for a large part of the world.
Other than the rosé, dry Mourvedre is also produced here, but bold, meaty, and slightly herbaceous notes. These reds are known to have excellent ageability and longevity.
South West – one of the most underrated French wine regions
The South West is a large and scattered wine region, located just below Bordeaux. Most of the wines from this region don’t make it across international borders and are mostly enjoyed by the locals.
The wines’ anonymity is quite sad since some genuinely spectacular white and red wines are produced here.
When it comes to red wines, Malbec and Tannat are often produced as single-variety wines. The white wines, however, are more commonly blended. The grapes used for these white blends include Colombard, Ugni Blanc, and Gros Manseng. These aren’t big and complex whites but offer great value on every-day drinking wines.
Alsace – The Most Aromatic of the French Wine Regions
In the north-eastern part of France, you’ll find the region of Alsace. Since this region is on Germany’s border, it shares many traditions, styles, and grape varieties with Germany.
Alsace is known for making crisp; aromatic white wines produced to preserve the purity of grape and its flavours. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat are considered the noble grapes of Alsace and make up most of the production. Other than that, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Auxxerois, Chardonnay, and Chasselas are the other whites grown here, but on a significantly smaller scale. Pinot Noir is the only red wine that is allowed to be grown here but makes up less than 10% of the growth.
Essentially, Alsace is where some of the most aromatic and crisp wines are produced.
Champagne – One of the most famous French wine regions
If we head toward the top, center of France (just above Paris), you find the world-famous region of Champagne.
The grapes grown to make Champagne are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a lesser-known grape, called Pinot Meunier. These grapes can either be used individually to make Champagne or can be blended.
These sparkling wines are world-famous and are considered the best quality of sparkling wine that you will ever find. Legally, unless the wine is produced from Champagne’s region, sparkling wine cannot be called Champagne.
But for a more in-depth look at the famous Champagne wines and other sparkling wines, take a look at this article.
introduction to Champagne and other sparkling wines
In the north-western part of France sits the vast region of the Loire Valley. This is an incredible region that stretched out all along the Loire River.
Because of this region’s length and the diverse terroir, it is split up into four sections. Each of these sections produces a different style of wine.
On the far left end, right next to the ocean, you’ll find Pays Nantais. The focus here is on white wine, namely Pinot Gris, Folle Blanche, Melon Blanc, and Muscadet.
Just right of that, towards the center of the region, you’ll find Anjou-Saumur. Here, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc are the focal wines with refreshing acidity and excellent structure. There is also a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon planted, but the climate is more suited for Cabernet Franc.
To the right of Anjou Saumur, you’ll find Touraine. It’s a significant part of the region that produces red, white, and rosé wines. However, white wine is the primary focus, with Sauvignon Blanc covering about 80% of the vineyards. Chenin and Chardonnay are the other whites used here.
As for the reds, Gamay Noir takes the lead with Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir filling grown in smaller amounts.
Central Loire Valley
On the complete right-hand side of the Loire Valley, you’ll find the Central Loire Valley. Here you’ll find the world-renowned appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-fume. These two appellations are celebrated for producing two very different styles of Sauvignon Blanc.
In Sancerre, a refreshing, chalky style of Sauvignon Blanc is produced, with a distinct crispness.
On the other hand, in Pouilly-fume, you’ll find a style of Sauvignon Blanc that is oaked, with distinct smoky and flinty notes.
Other than these two famous whites, Gamay and Pinot Noir is also grown in Central Loire, made in a light, fresh, fruity note.