Understanding the differences between types of French regions versus types of French grapes will help you to pick a wine that better suits your taste and make your money worth!
It’s a Sunday morning and you’re doing grocery shopping at the hypermarket. You stream down each aisle, unimpressed by the thousands and thousands of products on the shelves that have been specially designed and packaged to vie for your attention. As usual, you got a six pack and as you continue down the alcohol section, you’re overwhelmed by the selections of wines and their labels. You casually picked up a bottle and try to figure out what on earth is the label all about and you are embarrassed that you only understood “ALC 13.5% BY VOL” and “PRODUCT OF FRANCE”.
If you find yourself in a situation like that, why not take few minutes to read through this short guide and understand how you can discover the basics of French Wine by deciphering traditional French wine labels.
There are 6 major wine regions in France – Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire and Rhône. Let’s focus on the main points of each region, the type of grapes that are grown and the styles of wine produced.
Sandwiched between Germany and France yet separated from both by the Vosges Mountains to the west and the River Rhine to the east, Alsace is a region that has both French and German influences in its grape varietals and winemaking.
Primary Grapes - Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Pinot Noir
General Style – dry with a full body, notable spicy flavour, some sweet dessert wines
Located in the southwest corner of France, this region's bold red blends, based around Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are the benchmarks by which all other wines of this style are compared. Although there are dry and sweet white wines made primarily of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, this is predominately a red wine region. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the dominant grape varieties in practically all red Bordeaux wines; Cabernet Franc is the third most-utilized grape variety, followed by Petite Verdot and Malbec.
Five Grape Varieties of Red Bordeaux - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec
General Style - full-bodied, dry, earthy red wines
Located far inland near the eastern border of France, Burgundy is the one region equally famous for both its reds and whites. When it comes to effects of soils and topography on the wines, Burgundy offers opportunities to explore that are matched by few other regions.
Primary Grapes - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
General Style - elegant, light-bodied, red fruit flavoured Pinot Noir and expressions of Chardonnay that range from the lean, steely, high acid wines of Chablis to more full-bodied, riper-fruited wines of Macon
Located in the far north of France, Champagne is France's most northerly Appellation Contrôlée area, lying 90 miles Northeast of Paris. Most of the wines are blended from multiple vintages (NV).
Primary Grapes - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Munier
General Style - fully sparkling wines with high acidity
Most Champagne is a blend of these three grapes; however, three other specific styles are commonly seen.
Blanc de Blancs - sparkling white wine made from 100% Chardonnay
Blanc de Noirs - sparkling white wine made from either Pinot variety
Rosé - sparkling pink wine blended from red and white grapes
Located in the heart of France, the Loire is the country's longest river. Here the vineyards can be loosely grouped into 4 sub-regions- Centre, Touraine, Anjou-Saumur and the Nantais. Each focuses on specific grapes and styles. This is the most difficult region in France to learn, as virtually every possible style of wine is made here.
Primary Grapes - Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne
General Style - racy, herbaceous, citrus, mineral notes, light and fruity
Herbaceous, crisp Sauvignon Blanc - Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé
Rich and velvety Cabernet Franc - Chinon, Bourgueil
Fruity, light Cabernet Franc - Anjou-Saumur
Rich, citrus and mineral driven Melon de Bourgogne - Muscadet
Dramatic Chenin Blanc, high acidity, from sweet to dry - Savennieres, Vouvray
Located in the southeast corner of France, the Rhône River is one of the great wine rivers of the world. It flows through some of the country's most diverse vineyard land on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. The Rhône falls into two distinct parts; Northern and Southern Rhone which is affected by different climates and largely different grape varieties.
Primary Grapes - Syrah, Viognier Grenache, Marsanne, Roussanne Mourvedre
General Style - wild, gamey reds; rich, aromatic whites; and bone-dry rosés