French Wine Regions

Learning and Discerning the Wines of France

Vineyard, Pomerol, Aquitaine, France
Image Source / Getty Images

There are seven primary wine-producing regions in France. Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, Provence and the Rhone Valley comprise the dominant French wine regions. These regions, are known for particular grape varietals as dictated by the district's indigenous terroir.

Bordeaux 

With over 10,000 winegrowers and over 60 diverse growing appellations, it is no wonder that Bordeaux is the red wine round of France.

Over 85% of the wine produced in Bordeaux is red, primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes. The two prevailing red wine-producing subregions of Bordeaux are aptly referred to as "Left Bank" and "Right Bank." The left bank has soils with higher gravel content that favor Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. French wines from the left bank usually require more time to mature and will age for years. While the right bank lends itself to soil with more clay, preferring the Merlot grapes, with their early-ripening characteristics. The right bank wines are typically better suited for beginning Bordeaux wine drinkers, as they have lower tannin content, more fruit-forward flavor and are more inviting initially. Bordeaux wines can fit a myriad of budgets with prices per bottle ranging from $6 to $1000+, with $20-30 buying a very nice wine, perfect for dinner parties or gift-giving.

It should also be noted that the Bordeaux region is also famed for Sauternes, a delightfully sweet white wine that has earned a reputation for being among the world's best for dessert wines.

Burgundy 

The French wine-growing region of Burgundy is legendary for its legacy of both red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) and white Burgundy wines (Chardonnay).

Burgundy lies on the eastern side of France and covers just over 100 miles. The dominating grape varietals grown in this region are Pinot Noir (making Red Burgundy wines), Chardonnay (making White Burgundy wines) and Gamay (making Beaujolais). Burgundy's moderate climate with warm summers and cold winters allow the high-maintenance Pinot Noir grape to grow particularly well. Red Burgundy wines are often on the pricier side; however, if you are looing for a recommended producer start with Louis Jadot - notable for producing consistent, quality Burgundies vintage after vintage. White Burgundy is a Chardonnay Lover's delight, with flavors of peaches and honey, crisp acidity and complex flavors that pair particularly well with seafood. Chablis are unique forms of Chardonnay as they are not aged in oak, but instead, winemakers ferment them in stainless steel, making a lighter-bodied white wine. As for Beaujolais - this is certainly a fun, affordable and very approachable red wine. Perfect for those beginning their red wine adventures, with lots of fruit flavor, low tannins, and general palate appeal. You can pick up a Beaujolais for $8 to $20. These are terrific warm weather wines.

The Rhone Valley 

The Rhone Valley lies in southeastern France, providing distinct growing conditions to produce some of France's best bargain red wines.

Grenache, Syrah, and Viognier are the primary grape varietals grown in this region. The laid-back Grenache grapes flourish in the sizzling southern Rhone, producing red wines that are good deals, with good flavor and plenty of food pairing options. The northern Rhone specializes in Syrah grapes, manifesting themselves into the two most popular red wines the Hermitage and the Cote Rotie.

Alsace 

Unlike the rest of France, Alsace names its wines by grape varietal instead of just place names of origin. White wines comprise the vast majority of Alsace wines. Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling are the most noteworthy of the Alsace varietals. The Alsace Gewurztraminer has remarkable flavors, unlike any New World wines, low acidity, high alcohol content all wrapped in a zesty blend of aromatic spice.

The Alsace Pinot Blanc is reasonably priced and is a light-bodied white wine. The Pinot Gris has a fuller body and reveals a rich flavor profile. The traditional Alsace Riesling is a dry, white wine with characteristic mineral nuances.

The Loire Valley 

Known for its white wines mainly Sancerre, Vouvray, Pouilly-Fume (pronounced "Poo-wee Fu-may") and Muscadet, the Loire Valley rests on the northwest side of France beginning just inland from the Atlantic and running the length of the Loire River. The wines from the Loire Valley come in a vast array of styles, from dry to sweet and from predominately white to sparkling - wines from the Loire are often, but not always, crafted in a lighter style due in part to the region's cooler climate. Styles to keep an eye out for include Pouilly-Fume (the most concentrated regional wine bringing a fuller bodied white made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes), Sancerre (typically medium-bodied and also made from Sauvignon Blanc), Muscadet (named for the region, gives a lighter-styled white wine made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape), and Vouvray (from the Chenin Blanc grape).

Provence 

The beautiful French wine-growing region of Provence is known predominantly for its rosé wines. A few producers to try to include: Chateau Pradeaux and Chateau de Roquefort.

The varied growing regions, a rich ​wine-making history and a passionate vineyard heritage all allow for French wines to continue to set an uncompromising, gold standard in the world of wine.