The country of France could be considered if not the most, certainly one of the most famous wine-producing countries in the world. Not only has it produced wine in a larger quantity than any other country in the world, but also (and this is subjective) a higher quality than others. Wine has been ingrained in French culture for centuries, unlike a lot of food and drink trends, wine resonated through the high and low classes alike. With centuries of production, come centuries of, developing new styles, varieties of grape and different terrains. In this month’s blog, we are going to aim to give you a whistle-stop tour of 15 main regions in France, hopefully giving you a little more info to explore France in February.
Set in the far north-eastern corner of France, Alsace wines stand out from most other regions due to its changing hands between French and German sovereignty countless times throughout history. The main grapes you will find in the region would be Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The wines are typically produced under three appellations (official title for a growing area) Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru for sweet and dry still wine and Crémant d’Alsace for their sparkling wine.
Ok, so Armagnac is not a wine, it’s brandy. But it is a wine-based spirit. Produced in the south-western French region of Gascony, Armagnac was said to be France’s first brandy, dating back more than 700 years. Often confused with Cognac, both produced using similar methods and grape varieties, the only real difference is the fierce rivalry between the two regions.
Beaujolais is a significant region of eastern France. Based just south of Burgundy, this region is famed for focusing almost solely on one grape variety. Gamay is Beaujolais, producing vibrant and fruity reds. That being said, whites are produced in the region “Beaujolais Blanc” produced from Chardonnay and Aligote. Interestingly these two white grapes can sometimes be used in the region’s reds, making up to 15% of the blend. Possibly the most remarkable thing about this region is their Nouveau wines, with no barrel ageing, these wines are sold only weeks after harvest, the official release is the third Thursday in November.
There can’t be many people on the planet who haven’t heard of Bordeaux, one of the world’s most famous wine-producing regions. Located in the south-west, 90% of the wines produced here are dry, medium and full-bodied reds. The most prestigious of these reds hail from châteaux Haut-Medoc and the right bank appellations Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. Dry whites are also produced in the region from Pessac-Léognan and a few sweet wines from Sauternes.
Located in northern France and interestingly at the northern edge of the world’s vineyard growing areas is the world’s most famous sparkling wine region. Champagne is renowned worldwide as the most exceptional sparkling wine available. Legally controlled and restricted the name that can only be used for sparkling wines produced in this area. Champagne is produced primarily from three main grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Still, there are actually four other grape varieties permitted to be used in the production, these are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane. One Champagne even uses all seven grapes – Laherte Freres Champagne 7.
The world’s most famous brandy and a fierce rival to Armagnac are based in the west of France just north of Bordeaux. Though it is not particularly well known, Cognac houses the largest vineyard in France, Charentais produces more wine per year than the whole of Burgundy.
Nearer to Italy than France, but under French rule since 1769, Corsica is a name that might surprise a few as a French region to explore. What makes this such an interesting region is how its Italian roots shine through with grape varieties such as Vermentino and Sangiovese. French grapes such as Grenache and Syrah also appear in the wines from this region.
This tiny appellation was only created in 1984 on the western hillsides of Lyon, just beyond the northern boundaries of the Rhône region. Lighter than the wines produced in the Rhône, similar to those produced in Beaujolais. If you have a chance, try some wine from this little gem.
A small region based in eastern France, Jura is nestled between Burgundy on its left and Switzerland to its right. Characterised by is woodland hills and mountain regions and gains its name from the Jurassic limestone and marlstone soil types on which it sits. Dry whites, reds and sparkling are all grown in this exciting region.
Stretching from Montpellier in the east all around the Mediterranean to the Spanish border, the Languedoc is one of the most diverse regions in France. About a quarter of wine-producing vines in France are based in the Languedoc-Roussillon. Soil types and landscapes vary so much around the region that a collective is impossible to summarise. Still, what has often over time been overlooked in favour of more famed areas, we encourage you to mark this as a much explore region of France.
A key area in western France following the Loire River through the heart of France, the Loire region produces a considerable amount of wine annually, with a mixture of everyday wines to some of France’s finest. Styles range from light Muscadet’s to sparkling Vouvary and up to the bold reds such as Chinon and Saumur. Famed for its whites, the Loire Valley produces some excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnays.
Based in northeastern France, the Moselle region picks up on the track of the Mosel river before it heads down into Germany. Crisp acidic and light aromatic whites make up the majority of this region’s produce. An interesting fact is that before the introduction of appellation laws, Metz in the Moselle region would plant Pinot Noir, that would be used in the production of Champagne.
Famed for its production of cider and poiré (a pear version of cider) Normandy is based in the far north of France. Lots of other apple-based products hail from this region, but one particularly famous one is Calvados, a brandy made from apples. Normandy, like most other regions in France, has a long history of wine production, but today only a few wineries remain. But should you like brandy, why not try a side step over to Calvados.
Based down in the south-eastern, this region with its warm and mild climate is well known for its Rosé production. No vineyard in this region is further than 25 miles from the med, so they enjoy 3000 hours of sunshine and average temperatures of around 14.5˚C year-round. Long dry summers in this region mean that conditions for harvesting are perfect almost every year.
The Rhone valley is probably the most famous southern French region. Following the Rhone river for 150 miles from the northern post near Lyon right down to the Mediterranean coast. Because the area follows a river over such a distance, the soil differences and climate differences that vast differences can be found between the northern and southern parts. Syrah, Grenache, Viognier are a few of the main grape varieties, but one of the most important parts of this region is the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation based in the southern part of the Rhone.
Held up in the mountainous regions of eastern France bordering Switzerland lies Savoie. The majority of wines from this region are white (three quarters in fact), this is because in the cool climate most reds would struggle to ripen. Many of these wines can be identified by the iconic white cross on a red background (the flag of both Switzerland and Savoie). Jacquère is the predominate grape planted in the region, but Chardonnay is making a rise to fame as the region is producing more sparkling.