One of the most famous wine producing regions of France, Bordeaux in the southwest of the country, is synonymous with quality wine. Covering the largest wine growing area in France, the region produces predominantly cabernet-based reds, with sweet and dry whites as a minority. Bordeaux wines are often referred to as ‘clarets’ in English, and while the geo-specific appellation covers an area stretching some 100km both north-south and east-west of the port city, many wines from this area benefit from more specific appellations such as Medoc, Graves and Saint Emilion. Unlike other French wine production regions, Bordeaux operates classifications of many of its top wines, best of which are sold under the label of ‘grand cru,’ with other quality wines labelled as ‘cru bourgeois.’
Located in the central-eastern part of France, Bourgogne (Burgundy) is a relatively small, yet incredibly influential wine making region. The vineyards here run along a narrow strip of land on the hills of the region’s capital, Dijon. Bourgogne is home to some of the most expensive wines in the world, but the region also produces a variety of more affordable quality wines. The region can be roughly divided into five sub-regions: Chablis, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Buaune, Cote Chalonnaise and Maconnais. Navigating this long-established region can be a taunting task, but a good rule of thumb is that it’s known for producing high quality Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
The most northern wine making region in France, Champagne, is known around the world as the producer of authentic sparkling wine. Due to the latitude of the region, grapes struggle to ripen here; hence the dominant style of acidic sparkling wine. Unlike wines from other regions in France, Champagne is not dependent on vintage, but usually comprises of a blend of different vintages. Because the quality of the champagne ultimately depends on the skill of the blender, as well as the quality of the grapes, champagnes are rated and promoted by producer not by appellation. While majority of champagnes are white, rosé champagnes exist also.
The Loire Valley region in north central France is the country’s second largest producer of sparkling wine. The area is also known for whites made from Chenin blanc, Sauvignon blanc and Melon de Bourgogne grapes, as well as ‘vin gris’ or ‘grey wine,’ which is in fact very pale rosé produced from black grapes. Historical findings suggest that vineyards have existed in the Loire Valley from the 1st century AD. There are plenty of Loire wines sold as appellations protégées, while others are sold under the vin de pays label.
Quite possibly one of the most underrated wine making regions of France, Jura wines are grown on the west-facing slopes of Jura hills that look out across to Saone valley with Burgundy and Switzerland on the other side. Wines made here are quite unusual and often fruity, the most famous being the ‘yellow wine’ or ‘vin jaune’, which is made with a similar process to sherry. The most significant Jura whites are made from the unique Savagnin grape variety, grown only in this region.
COTES DU RHONE
Cotes du Rhone wine is most famous for its expansive vineyard, which covers some 200 km along the Rhone valley. Producers of blended wines from a variety of grapes grown in southern France, Cote du Rhone wines are Mediterranean wines with the southern area of the vineyards, in fact, in Provence. There are a number of smaller prestigious wine makers from this region, but the vast majority of wines from here are marketed under the appellations Cote du Rhone or Cote du Rhone Villages.
Provence is a large wine production area in the southeast of France, known predominantly for rosés. The most famous rosé wines from the region are Cotes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix. However, the region also produces some rich, full-flavoured reds and ‘vin gris,’ which is a very pale rosé.
Languedoc region lies along the Mediterranean coastal plains in southern France. The area benefits from long hours of sun resulting in quickly and well ripening grapes. Wines from this region are, in turn, rich and full-bodied, and often have a higher alcohol content than the average wine. Once known as a region producing mid-range table wines, in recent decades the quality of wines from this region has evolved considerably with up to 40% of the region now benefitting from appellation controlled labels.
Due its geographical location along the borders of Germany and Switzerland, the wine making culture of Alsace is steeped heavily in Germanic tradition. The area produces mainly dry or fruity whites, made from grapes such as Riesling, Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer. The rules of appellation control are not applied here in the same way as in the rest of France, but wines are produced simply under the label ‘Alsace’.