On this page;
Information about the wine producing regions of France – Day-tripper.net the web magazine for visitors to France.
Wine growing regions, bottles shapes and general information.
French wines are not consistent in quality or taste. A bit like opera, when the various factors combine well, it is wonderful. A commercially produced wine may have consistent quality and taste, but is often dull and uninteresting. Strict controls ensure the individuality of French wines. This page is all about French wines and how to appreciate them fully.
– London Wine Academy. Gift vouchers for courses and tasting events. Tel: 0845 555 1100. www.londonwineacademy.com
Without a doubt France is the greatest wine producing country in the world. Ranging from the best quality vintages down to a humble vin de pays (local wine) there are about 700 wines. The wines are basically made the same way, but how they turn out depends on the choice and colour of the grape and how long they are allowed to remain in the fermenting vats. As a general rule rosé wines do not keep very well, white wines have a relatively short life, and it is the heavier reds that you buy to lay down for years to come.
Wines greatest attribute, its variety, is also one of its drawbacks. Wine lists in restaurants or on shop shelves can look daunting. However most producers now put the names of the main grapes from which their wines are made on the labels. To begin with, the names of the seven main grape varieties from which most wines are made will help you decide. They are Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Riesling for whites, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah (or Shiraz) for reds.
Basically there are 2 categories, still or sparkling. There is a third type you may come across called pétillant – a wine with a slightly natural bubble which you can just feel on the tongue.
Wherever you stay in France you will find wine to accompany your meal. It may be a flowery German style Riesling of Alsace, a light rosé from Provence (which will give an immediate touch of summer Sunday, a light hearted and fruity Beaujolais, through to the heavier clarets and the important red wines from Bordeaux.
The largest wine producing areas are in the centre of France – Bordeaux and Burgundy (Bourgogne). The best known is probably Champagne however. Here is a list and short description of each wine growing area.
The distinctive whites of Alsace are rich in aroma and full of ripe flavour. Riesling, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris are generally considered the finest, but good wines are also produced from Sylvare and Pinot Blanc grapes. Grapes; Red is made from the Pinot Noir grape, white from Gewurtztraminer and Riesling.
Best for soft, fruity reds that generally mature early (Drink at 1-3 years, 2 to 8 for crus). Famous for fresh, fruity Beaujolais Nouveau, released on the third Thursday of November after the harvest. Of conventional Beaujolais wines Beaujolais AC is the best appellation. The finest examples are Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnié and St-Amour. Made from the Gamay grape. Beaujolais Villages is a step up in quality from ordinary Beaujolais. Best are the named village wines such as Juliénas, Fleurie and Brouilly. Grapes; Chardonnay and local Gamay. Local suppliers; Marc Doudet (www.duboeuf.com), Henri Fessy, Paul Janin (www.louis-jadot.com), Jean-Charles Pivot, ChâteauThiven.
This world famous region is home to hundreds of excellent red and white wines,
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabinet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Verdot grapes produce honeyed wines with blackcurrant and cedarwood perfume – the most important areas are; Haut-Médoc, Pessac-Leognan, Graves, St-Emilion and Pomerol. Tend to taste of tannin when young – best for laying down. If buying a young Bordeaux wine open it at least two hours before you drink it.
Little known, but accounting a fifth of all production, some sublime examples using Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion grapes – usually blended together. New technology has transformed production of dry wines, including Bordeaux-Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers and Pessac-Leognan. The most famous Bordeaux whites are sweet- especially Sauternes and Barsac.
Best for light to medium reds. Covering the vast tract of Eastern France from Auxerre to Lyon. The Pinot Noir grape produces an incredible variety of flavours. In the south the Beaujolais grape produces juicy, fruity, strawberry and plum flavours. Top reds come from Cote d'Or, home of the world famous Grand Cru vineyards such as Clos de Vougeot and Chambertin. Mercurey, a wine from Burgundy's Côtes Chalonnaise is expensive but worth it. Newer, but no less fascinating, are the Hautes Cotes and Chablis. White Burgundy is renowned as the world's finest white wine. The best are totally dry but with the richness of honey and hazelnut, melted butter and sprinkled spice – Aloxe-Corton, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. Other styles include the steely Chablis, Rully and Montagny. Grapes; Pinot Noir, Gamay and Chardonnay.
One of the great country wines of South-West France made from Malbec, Merlot, Tannat and Jarancon Noir grapes. Dark and highly tannic, Cahors requires a lengthy bottle age to soften.
The northernmost outpost of Burgundy. The best Chablis is white and dry with a light and unassertive fruity flavour. There are 3 qualities; grand cru, premier cru and petit Chablis.
Look out for Chablis Grand Cru from Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudesir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos and Les Blanchots. These wines should ideally be drunk when 1-2 years old, although some of the best can improve from 3-5 years.
The world's most famous wine which must come by law only from the vineyards of the Champagne district around Reims. Moet et Chandon remains one of the most prestigious houses, best known for vintage Dom Perignon. Krug Grand Cuvee is generally light and elegant with a faint aroma of vanilla. Roederer Cristal is a big, creamy, classic champagne. Laurent Perrier's non-vintage is generally one of the best buys. Try Bollinger Cuvee Tradition for a classic, robust and complex champagne to remember. Other brands; Alfred Gratien, Billecart-Salmon, Charles Heidsieck, De Venoge, Henriot, Gosset, Jacquesson, Lanson, Pol Roger, Pommery, Ruinart, Salon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot. Grapes; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.
Côtes du Rhône. www.vins-rhone.com
Over 90% of Rhone Valley wines are either red or rose. Juicy, spicy and easy to drink. Côtes du Rhône AC should be drunk within two years. Quality can vary enormously, but opening it a few hours before you drink it can take away the rough edge. The best known AC Rhône red is Chateauneuf du Pape – a full wine with a high alcohol content, best served with strongly flavoured food. Grapes; Syrah, Grenache and Muscat. www.chateauneuf.com
Côtes de Jura. www.jura-vins.com
The local white Sauvignon grape makes strong tasting whites, and Chardonnay is used for some good dry whites. Good reds and roses from Pinot Noir. Best producers include Arlay, Bourdy, Grea and the Puplin co-op.
Historic sweet white from the Western Pyrenees. Jurancon Sec can be crisp, dry and refreshing. Best producers include Cauhape, Clos Cancaillau, Clos Uroulat, Cru Lamouroux and Guirouih.
Large area running from Nîmes to the Spanish border, now turning out some exciting reds, most notably Corbieres and Minervois and some new Cabernets, Merlots and Syrahs.
Pouilly and Sancerre. www.vins-sancerre.com
Pouilly-Fume has a strong pungent smell reminiscent of gunflint – great potential but not always good value. Sancerre from Bue, Chavignol, Verdigny or Menetreol provide the perfect expression of the brightness of the Sauvignon grape. www.vins-centre-loire.com
France's oldest wine region is enjoying a revival. There are four small, high quality AC's (Appellation Contrôlée) – Bandol, Bellet, Cassis and Pellet. The large Cotes de Provence is mainly given over to the production of reds and rosés which are fruity but should be drunk young (map).
A wide range of reasonably priced mainly red, wines. Try the fresh, fruity Vins-de-Pays and raisin-flavoured Vins Doux Naturels. Banyuls, are "vins doux naturel" – a speciality of Roussilon, and are powerful and sweet. Cotes du Roussillon, to the south of Perpignan, provides some of France's best value reds.
High Alpine vineyards produce fresh, snappy whites with lots of taste; from feather-light, sparkling Seyssel Mousseux – sharp and peppery, to Crepy – a light acidic wine which should be drunk as young as possible.
Val de Loire. www.interloire.com
Cutting right through the heart of France, the Loire Valley is home to many of the world's most famous wines including Muscadet. The dazzling whites of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are from the upper reaches. The Touraine region makes a good Sauvignon Blanc. The best reds are from Chinon and Bourgueuil. For good sparkling wine try Vouvray and Montlouis, Anjou is famous for its rosé but its best wines are white – such as the very dry Chenin from Savennières. Grapes; Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. www.muscadet.org
The newest appelation and one of the best value wines.
There are two basic red wine bottle shapes; the narrow, high shouldered "bordeaux bottle" and the wider, sloping shouldered "burgundy bottle". In very general terms, wines sold in Bordeaux bottles are either from the Bordeaux area, made in the image of red bordeaux or simply share bordeaux's characteristics of being relatively tannic (i.e. slightly tough and possibly worth ageing), and not very full bodied (wines from the Languedoc). Red wines in Burgundy bottles are typically from greater Burgundy (including Beaujolais and Mâcon), or from the Rhône Valley, or made from Pinot Noir grapes, or are meant to taste softer and perhaps more full bodied than average.
There are three different white wine bottle shapes; the bordeaux and burgundy and a taller slimmer shape which is used for aromatic wines such as those from Germany and Alsace, and from Riesling and Riesling-like grapes generally.
How much alcohol is one of the most useful statistics about a wine. Generally, less alcoholic wines come from the coolest climates, sunnier climates produce more sugar in the grape which ferments into alcohol. There is quite a difference between 12 and 13% (percentage of pure alcohol by volume).
Just as a BMW will get you from A to B, so will a Skoda Estelle. But given the choice, most people will take the BMW. Wines made in stainless steels vats may be economical but will it taste as good as a wine aged in an oak barrel for example?
As a guide the following wines generally offer good value for money and poorly made examples are relatively rare;
White – Alsace wines, many Chardonnay's especially St Véran and other Mâconnais whites.
Reds – Corbières, Minervois and Coteaux de Languedoc witha Château or domaine name. Beaujolais Villages or Cru Beaujolais. Estate bottled Côtes du Rhones and Gigondas, Bourgueil, Chinon, and Anjou-Villages.
This information has been collected from a number of different sources and books collected over the years. We have extracted that which we feel is of interest or use to anyone wishing to know more about French wines.
We found Jancis Robinson's books very information and useful. A wine writer and journalist "par excellence" Jancis Robinson is best known in England for her BBC television series about wine. We also found books by Robert Joseph, who writes for the Telegraph newspaper, informative. Joanna Simon, who writes for the Sunday Times is another favourite.