French Wine – two words that feature frequently on the lips of oenophiles across the globe. Legendary and exemplary, the French Wine Valleys are some of the most prized in the wine world. In total this country has 17 wine regions with over 200 varietals. There are thousands of blends, techniques, microclimates and styles that have solidified these valleys as iconic. Here is a breakdown of the nine most prominent regions in France.
The vignerons of Bordeaux have been making wine here since before the time of Alexander the Great. It’s renowned for its red wines made from predominantly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (and, very rarely, Malbec) praised for giving complexities to their famous blends. The white grapes grown in this region are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle.
Bordeaux sits on the banks of the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers and these waters separate this area into two wine regions – the Left Bank and the Right Bank. While most of these wines are blends, the Left Bank wines are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Right Bank is Merlot-based. Their wines are medium to full-bodied with aromas of black fruits, plums and hints of earth, while their flavour profile is fruity and savoury with grippy tannins, making them able to withstand the pressures of time.
There are two things you need to know about this French wine valley – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Burgundy is the spiritual (and literal) home of these grapes, and they are the kingpins of a small but powerful wine region that sets the gold-standard for these two varietals around the world. It is home to some of the most expensive wines on the planet, celebrated for their unrivalled complexities. Burgundy’s legacy is its terroir – limestone and clay.
The Pinot Noir here displays cherry, red fruits, mushroom and spices. The Chardonnay exudes white flowers, apples, citrus and pears and elegantly integrated vanilla and hazelnut. Other wines this region is known for include Beaujolais, made with the juicy Gamay grape, and Chablis – a style of Chardonnay loved for its zippy acidity and clean minerality.
It's famous for a reason – Champagne is home to the most desired sparkling wines on the planet. It is situated in the north of France, around the northernmost limit of vines, where cellars line the foundations of the cool land, giving shelter to ageing sparkling wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Champagne is one region and made up of 5 sub regions. Other than each Maison’s “House Style”, there are three much-loved sub-types of Champagne: Blanc de Blanc's (made with Chardonnay), Blanc de Noirs (made with black grapes), and Rosé, which can be made with any of the three grapes grown here.
The Rhône wine region is situated on either side of the Rhône river, just south of Lyon. The region is divided into the North and the South and these two areas have unique climates, soils and grape varieties, respectively. The Northern Rhone is the birthplace of Syrah and home to the Cru vineyards of this valley. These wines are big and powerful, savoury and rich. The white grapes grown here are Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier. These have bright fruit flavours with plenty of floral notes. The Southern Rhone is much more Mediterranean where weather is concerned and the wines incorporate a lot more Grenache, making them fruitier and more concentrated in flavour. Lest we forget about the Mistral, a fierce wind that comes from the Northern Seas. These winds can be rebellious, causing all sorts of problems – but they also dispel fungus and bring cooling temperatures to these sunny vineyards.
The Loire Valley
The Loire has something for everybody, which is not surprising given it is 600 miles long. It is most well-known for its Sauvignon Blancs that are bright and grassy with steel minerality, and elegant Cabernet Francs that offer more lifted & earthier aromas than their peers in Bordeaux. This style is emulated around the world. Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Gamay are other varieties grown here, but it is home to so many unique and underrated varietals that deserve a moment in the spotlight.
Though not as well-known abroad, this region is beginning to appear in international markets and for good reason. The wine is great value for money, and there’s a LOT of it. Here, blends are the focus, simply due to the fact that there are so many varietals grown here. Think full juicy reds and refreshing rosés, tart and fresh whites, and Maury, a fortified red wine that can live for 100 years. If you love Champagne, but can’t take on the hefty price tag, the Languedoc Crémant de Limoux is a wonderful sparkling wine with great value.
Over on the French-German border is this magical region that has been frozen in time. Fairy-tale style architecture, a marriage of cultures, and some seriously good wines. Their Crémant d’Alsace is a sparkling wine made Methode Traditionnelle. The Grands Crus in this French wine valley are all about Riesling, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris. There is also a big focus on sweet wines - Noble Rot wine reigns supreme.
The glorious lavender hills of Provence, brimming with aromatics that don’t stop with the landscape. This is a region rich in sunshine and surprises. Whilst their herbal and complex rosés from sub-regions are commended worldwide, this stunning Mediterranean viticulture area offers perfumed white wines and Bandol, a peppery red wine made with Mourvèdre.
The sleepy and sun-drenched island of Corsica is proving to be a wine region to watch out for. It has various microclimates and nine appellations, as well as unique indigenous grapes that have been saved from the threat of extinction. There are incredible wild aromas reminiscent of the Corsican hills with vignerons exploring organic techniques and ways to bring these long-lost varietals to the forefront of modern winemaking.