France can offer everything – the renowned sweet wines of Sauternes or Banyuls, sparkling champagnes, mighty, great-ageing wines of Bordeaux or sophisticated Burgundy wines are only a few of many wines France can be proud of. The variety of soils, the diversity of landscape and climate produce a wonderfully diversified range of wines.
France is a classic when it comes to wine. All over the world, producers try to equal Bordeaux or Burgundy in winemaking. France is a country with long wine traditions and perfected technologies. In a word – the kingdom of wine.
It is a country of both the highest production and the highest diversity of wine. France can offer everything – the renowned sweet wines of Sauternes or Banyuls, sparkling champagnes, mighty, great-ageing wines of Bordeaux or sophisticated Burgundy wines are only a few of many wines France can be proud of. The variety of soils, the diversity of landscape and climate produce a wonderfully diversified range of wines.
France is the birthplace of the now famous around the world grape varieties: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, syrah and white: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc or sémillon. Their reputation became so great that they are now grown and cultivated in almost every wine country in the world. This is the country of origin of the appellation system – for classifying and labelling wines – on which many wine countries’ systems are based.
The most famous regions of France:
Bordeaux – one of the best known and recognised wine regions in the world. Located in the south-western part of the country. Great wines of all kinds are made here - white, red and sweet. However, most of the wines produced are red, the best ones from the grapes grown on the left bank of the river Garonne, in the Medoc region. This is the place of the famous wine classification in 1855 which to this day remains the standard measure of class and quality.
Burgundy – the place of origin of many legendary wines. The wines produced are less in number but not necessarily in quality. Here the world-famous Chablis is made. The heart of Burgundy is Côte d’Or, comprising two areas – Côte de Nuits in the north and Côte de Baune in the south. Among white strains, the main role is played by Chardonnay, among red – Pinot Noir. Burgundy presents a great diversity and fragmentation of vineyards and a diversity of soils. In a place like this, a particularly important issue is terroir – a collection of many microclimatic and habitat factors that have a significant impact on the individual character of the wine.
Beaujolais – a region separated from Burgundy, although in many ways very similar. Mostly recognised for the young, new vintage wine Beaujolais Nouveau drunk each year on the third Thursday of November, but the region’s possibilities do not end here. The Gamay strain can also produce much more robust and complex wines, which are abundant here.
Loire Valley – a large wine region in central France, comprising almost a thousand square kilometres. A land known as the “Garden of France”, full of wonderful castles and vineyards. Wine of all kinds are made here, still and sparkling, dry and sweet. Many grape varieties are grown by the Loire river. Distinctive white strains are: Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Red strains: Cabernet Granc, Gamay and Pinot Noir.
The region is divided into four main wine districts, starting from the west: Pays Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine and the Centre. The names of such wines as Poilly-Fumé, Sancerre, Vouvray or Chinon make the hearts of many wine enthusiasts beat faster.
Alsace – between the Vosges and the Rhine stretch one of the most beautiful vineyards in this part of Europe. Alsace is a place of production of many well-structured and aromatic white wines, usually based on one strain of grape (which is quite unusual in France, as many of the wines made here are blends of different varieties). Exceptions include “Edelzwicker” and “Gentil” which are blends of different strains. The most popular grape varieties are: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Pinot Gris. Other wines produced here include robust sparkling – crémant d’Alsace, sweet, late harvest – vendanges tardives, and noble rot wines (selection des grains nobles).
Champagne region – the bubble kingdom. Skilful use of the cool climate and limestone soils caused the sparkling wines produced here to become the model for the rest of the world. Here the classic method of production was born.
Champagnes are usually made from three varieties of grapes, one white – Chardonnay and two red – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. More than 80% of production are non-vintage champagnes, composed of a special combination of different vintage wines. Vintage champagnes are rarer, manufacturers decide upon their production in exceptionally good years in terms of weather – the champagnes are then fuller and more sophisticated in flavour, age longer and are a real royalty among sparkling wines.
Rhone valley – the wines produced here are well-structured, robust and spicy. The popular strains are: red – above all Syrah and Grenache, white – Viognier, Marsanne. Wines most often associated with the region are naturally Côtes du Rhône, Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-pape, also noteworthy is a rosé wine Tavel.
Languedoc-Roussillon – a rapidly growing region, open to innovations and experiments, a source of a great number of table wines and many interesting Vin de Pays. The wines are very diverse, extractive, with a distinct fruitiness and quite high alcohol content. Strains: Grenache, Syrach, Carignan, Cinsaut, Mourvédre (red), Macabeo, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc (white).
One must not forget that the diversity of wine is matched by richness of the excellent French cuisine, the charm and flavour of which are made unique by the native wines.
The quality of French wines is regulated by the appellation system. It divides wines into four categories:
1. AOC wines (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), highest quality wines, with registered name and tightly controlled geographical origins and production methods.
2. VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) – this category is gradually losing its significance, the wines belonging to it are somewhat aspiring to be included in the AOC category.
3. Vin de Pays – local wines
4. Vin de Table – table wines
Here it is worth mentioning the reform which the French wine industry is currently undergoing. Under its provisions, changes in terminology on the labels are being implemented, which is why more and more often you will find the terms A.O.C. substituted with A.O.P (Appellation d’Origin Protegée) and Vin de Pays (VdP) with I.G.P (Indication Geographique Protegée).