WHITE WINE – VIN BLANC
Where North-eastern France on the border of Germany.
Varieties Riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, pinot gris. Riesling and pinot blanc are mainly dry white wines, while gewürztraminer and pinot gris are luscious and sweet. Look on the back label for sweetness indicator. Wines are labelled by variety.
Producers Hugel, Trimbach, Weinbach.
Where One hour east of Paris.
Varieties Pinot noir, pinot meunier, chardonnay. Sparkling wine must be made in the bottle with secondary fermentation and aged for a minimum of 18 months to produce a very fine powerful sparkling wine. Blanc de Blanc is 100% chardonnay; extra brut is drier; demi-sec is off-dry.
Producers Gossett, Pierre Peters, Vilmart, Dom Perignon.
Where South-west coast.
Varieties Bordeaux, famous for red wines, also produces some great whites made from semillon and sauvignon blanc. These are typically crisp, dry whites, perfect with local oysters. Look for bottles from the Entre-deux-Mers region. Gascony, north of Bordeaux, produces good value whites made from ugni blanc and colombard.
Producers Carbonnieux, Tariquet.
A sub-zone of Bordeaux that produces a famous sweet white where the grapes have been affected with the Botrytis fungal disease. This creates a dense, sweet wine with great freshness. Try it as an apéritif with pâté.
Producers d’Yquem, Coutet, Guiraud.
Where One of the most sought-after wine appellations, referred to as Bourgogne, in French, is located in north-central France.
Varieties Burgundy is the most famous region in the world for chardonnay, which is made in many different sub-regional styles.
The chardonnays from these areas have the most profound complex expression, usually oaked.
Producers Bouchard, Jean-Marc Pillot.
Often the most powerful whites, with a core of minerality and density, usually oaked.
Producer Henri Boillot.
From Northern Burgundy, these wines are fine fresh and delicate, usually an unoaked, brighter lighter style.
Producers Defaix, Christian Moreau.
From Southern Burgundy, these are good value wines, usually a fruit-driven style with light use of oak.
Producers Louis Latour, Héritiers du Comte Lafon.
Where A large region running from the middle of France to the west coast.
Varieties Chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and muscadet. Loire produces a large range of styles, from the very bone-dry muscadet through to the opulence of the wines from around Vouvray and Mountlouis. The Sancerre region is famous for its pure, intense sauvignon blanc.
Producers Huet, Reverdy, Guy Bossard.
Where A large region running from Lyon South to Marseille.
Varieties Viognier, Marssane and Roussane. Coindrieu in the north is famous for its intense perfumed viognier. Châteauneuf-du-Pape makes an opulant textured white in the south and Côtes du Rhône blanc is often good value.
Producers Guigal, Yves Cuilleron.
Where Far-eastern France on the border of Switzerland.
Varieties Jacquere, roussane and altesse. These grapes produce light aromatic whites that go very well with a range of cheese.
Producer Louis Latour.
Where A beautiful, wild region in eastern France famous for Comté cheese and cep mushrooms. Varieties Savigny. Many interesting natural wines, often with a deliberate oxidised character. Vin Jeaune is a unique wine somewhere between wine and sherry – try it with Comté.
RED WINE – VIN ROUGE
Where The largest wine region in the world located around the city of Bordeaux on the Gironde river.
Varieties Cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Famous for making great noble wines of distinction with a remarkable ability to age. In Bordeaux, the Château is the main identifier on the label. Fifty-one châteaux from the Medoc and Graves, were classified in 1855 at the Paris Expo as being the best. This list remains almost unchanged today. However, there are a number of different sub-regions, offering varying quality and prestige. Take note, Bordeaux Superior is actually a lesser-quality wine from the general region.
Medoc on the left bank of the river is where the wines are generally the most profound, concentrated and powerful. The dominant wine is cabernet sauvignon. Famous villages include: Paulliac, Margaux, Saint-Estephe, St Jullien – these villages are home of the Grand Cru Classe. You’ll also find here good value Cru Bourgois and Haut Medoc wines.
Producers There are many, but ones widely available that are good value: Sociando-Mallet, Poitevin, Caronne Ste Gemme.
This encompasses the famous villages of Pomerol and Saint-Emillon and the good value regions of Fonsac and Côte du Blayne. Wines are dominant in merlot or cabernet franc, and are usually softer more generous and opulent.
Producers Grands Maréchaux.
Pessac and Graves
Starting in the southern suburbs of the city of Bordeaux, these two produce more mid-bodied wines with bright fruit and great intensity.
Producers Smith Haut Lafitte, Malartic-Lagravière.
Where Referred to as Bourgogne, this region is located in north-central France, south of Dijon and centred around the small city of Beaune.
Varieties Pinot noir. One of the most famous wines regions in the world, the heart of Burgundy is the Côte d’Or – a limestone escarpment about 50 km long starting at Dijon in the north. The east-facing slope is home to some of the most well-known red wine villages: Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougoet, Nuits-Saint-Georges – all in the northern part of the Côte d’Or, called the Côte du Nuits, which produces more powerful dense, complex pinot noirs.
Producers Rousseau, de Vogüé, Hudelot Nollet.
Volnay, Beaune and Pommard
These sub-regions are further south and generally produce rounder fruit-driven wines.
Producers Bouchard, Pousse d’Or, Domaine des Epeneau.
In southern Burgundy, this region produces a lighter style of red wine from gamay grapes. Carbonic maceration is used to extract a brighter fruiter aroma. Cru Beaujolais from the areas of Morgon and Fleurie have more depth and density.
Producers Vissoux, Georges Duboeuf.
RHÔNE VALLEY, NORTH
Where A long, narrow region on both sides of the Rhône River stretching more than 60 km from Ampuis to Valence.
Varieties Syrah (shiraz). There are a number of famous wine styles from the main different appellations.
Located in the north, wines from this region are made from syrah but can be blended with 5–10% Viognier, which produces aromatic plush red wines.
Producers Guigal, Ogier, Bonnefond.
This region is a famous hill for syrah, producing elegant pure wines.
Producers Yann Chave, M. Chapoutier.
South of Tain, this little region produces a distinctively concentrated, grippy syrah with density.
Producers Clape, Alain Voge, Saint Joseph.
A large and diverse appellation producing some great value wines, often good drinking when the wines are young.
Producers Guigal, Coursodon.
RHÔNE VALLEY, SOUTH
Where A very large wine region producing predominantly red wines ranging from the very good value Côte du Rhône through to some of the finest wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe.
Varieties Most wines are blended, but the major ones are: grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, cinsaut and carignan. Generally Southern Rhône reds are powerful and robust.
This is the most famous village producing wines of opulence and great power.
Producers Vieux Télégraphe, Beaucastel, Marcoux, Usseglio.
Gigondas and Sablet
These are small villages on the side of the valley producing finer, grippier wines with more tension.
Producers Trignon, La Roubine.
These are typically good value. They are distinct wines with good concentration and power.
Producer l’Oratoire Saint Martin.
Where A large region running from the middle of France to the west coast. Probably better known for its white wines, the Loire also produces some very good reds.
Varieties Cabernet franc. These are medium-bodied, grippy reds with lifted, bright aromatics.
Where A large wine region in the south-east that produces large volumes of quaffable red, white and rosé.
Varieties Grenache, mourvèdre and cabernet sauvignon, among others. Most well-known are the dry, onion skin-coloured rosés, and the powerful, robust reds of Bandol.
Producers Tempier, Pimbarnon, Domaine Ott, Rouet.
Where Another large wine region in the south, producing mainly good-value red wines.
Varieties Grenache, carignan, syrah and many more. Usually bigger, more powerful red wines with big tannins and body. Lots of wines are labelled by variety. There are some great-value wines to be found in the Languedoc.
Producers Mas du Daumas Gassac, Castlmaure.
BEST RECENT VINTAGES
2000 and 2001 for Bordeaux
2004 for Champagne
2007 for White Burgundy
2009 for almost everything
2010 for Rhône and Burgundy
2011 for Loire
Learn how to read a French wine label in our beginner guide