There is so much wine making history in France. Vines have been growing in Burgundy since the 6th century and Bordeaux started suppling wine to the English back in the 12th century where Dom Pérignon worked hard to improve the quality of the still wines of Champagne in the 17th century. The diverse climates in France with the numerous wine regions and wine styles reflect this; Alsace, Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Côtes du Rhône, Languedoc-Rousillon, Provence and the South West. Jura Savoie and Corsica also produce wine but in less quantities.
- Alsace is located to the east of France bordering Germany and produces wines that many might mistake as German. The most popular wines are made from Riesling, Sylvaner and the aromatic Gewürztraminer grapes.
- On the same latitude and slightly to the north and grown on chalky soil is Champagne. With a continental climate that often sees frost and sometimes snow on the ground, it is a harsh condition for growing grapes. The grapes grown here are Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir You will be familiar with brands such as Krug, Bollinger, Veuve Cliquot which also produce rosé champagne.
- South of Champagne is Burgundy where they have been growing vines since the 6th century. The wines here are classified into four levels; the lowest is the generic appellation where then there is ‘Village’, then ‘Premier Cru’ and at the top is ‘Grand Cru.’ The most widely planted grapes are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
- On the southern end of Burgundy is the region Beaujolais. Wines are made from the Gamay grape and do not tend to age for many years. Consumers are probably more familiar with Beaujolais Nouveau which is released to the market on the third Thursday of November each year.
- The Rhône Valley covers the valley south of Lyon down to Avignon. Much of the wine grown in Côtes du Rhône is sold under the “Côtes du Rhône” appellation which is generic or “Côtes du Rhône Villages.” Grapes grown here include Vigonier, Syrah, Grenache, Marsanne, Roussane, Bourboulenc and Carignan. It is the famous Châteauneuf du Pape where 13 grape varieties are permitted in the blend.
- Provence is located in the south east of France near the border of Italy. It is probably best known for its rosé but it also produces red and white wines. The main grape variety grown here is Mourvèdre, with many wines blended with Grenache and Cinsault.
- The area of Languedoc Roussillon starts west of the Rhône on the Mediterranean coast plain and ends near the Spanish border. It produces the highest volume of wine in France. Carignan is the most widely planted variety with others grown including Roussanne, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Chardonnay and Grenache Noir. Wines from Corbières and Fitou can be found on many supermarkets.
- The South West produces some interesting wines and reasonable prices from the towns of; Cahors, Bergerac and Gaillac. Grape varieties grown here include; Cabernet Sauvignon, Clairette Blanche, Gros Manseng, Sémillon, Tannat, Ugni blanc
- Bordeaux winemaking goes back centuries. When Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England, Bordeaux became the main wine supplier to England. People are probably familiar with the region of Médoc which include the famous appeallations of Margaux, Pauillac. Famous wines include Château d’Yquem, Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Margaux. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc are the main red grape varieties grown here and the whites are Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
- The Loire Valley stretches from just west of Nantes and travels east to Orléans where Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are mainly grown. The regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (don’t confuse it with Pouilly Fuissé in Burgundy) are well known among the British public.
Many of the wine regions are located within easy access of Paris if taking the TGV, ( the train a grande vitesse). For those staying in France for a long holiday, it may be an idea to rent one of the short term apartments in Paris and then take the train to Bordeaux or Loire Valley and try out the wines in the area.