Have you always wanted to understand the diverse and tasty wine regions of France, or have a deeper appreciation for all the different tasting notes? Or perhaps you are wondering “how can I find Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in French wine regions?” Well, you’re in the right place! This blog will help you learn all about Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loire Valley and Rhone Valley wines.
It may seem obvious, but to understand the wine regions of France, we need to look at a map. The map will not only tell us about where the region is but it will give us clues about the kinds of wines we might find there.
For starters, let’s look at Bordeaux:
Bordeaux is fairly Southern and nearby the Atlantic Ocean. This creates temperatures that are warmer than say Paris and also because of the ocean pretty even in temperature. The wines from Bordeaux are often elegant and not too ripe like you would find further south but still can have some rich body. If you want to know more about what I mean by “Body” watch my blog that explains this very simply here.
Many grapes grow in Bordeaux, but the key ones you will find are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the reds. These are the wines that are from castles like Lafite Rothschild or Margaux and they age really well so many people buy and keep them for years or invest in them to sell at an auction like I did when I worked at Christie’s wine auctions. Or Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the whites - both dry and sweet like in Sauternes which is a part of Bordeaux. Chateau d’Yquem is a very famous sweet wine that is called liquid gold and is priced that way, too.
In addition to Bordeaux, there are 5 other key wine regions to note in France when you start out: Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, the Rhône Valley and Burgundy. So the cool thing is that each region really specializes in particular kinds of wines. If I was planning a fabulous French dinner party, I might start with Champagne as refresher, move to the Loire Valley for crisp white wines with oysters, a Riesling from Alsace for my white fish course, then pair some Red Burgundy and a Rhône red like Côte Rôtie with the main course of mushrooms, chicken or duck and then finish with an aged Bordeaux then a Loire Valley dessert wine.
To cover each one a bit more:
In Champagne, you will, of course, find glorious bubbles and this is so because, with the cooler weather there, they weren’t able to make tasty regular or still wines to start. The main grapes of Champagne and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
In the Loire Valley, there is huge diversity there of sparklers, dry and sweet whites, rosé and reds, but it is most known for the refreshing white wines like Vouvray, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. I did a whole video giving you the scoop on Pouilly Fumé on my YouTube Channel and the link is here.
Alsace is an often ignored region that is just on the other side of the border from Germany’s wine regions. So not surprisingly you get a lot of Riesling there just like in Germany! You will find in general that because it is a lot sunnier and warmer in Alsace than Germany, they make the wines less sweet and they are really food friendly.
The Rhône Valley is filled with awesome red wines that because of the warmer weather down there can get really ripe and juicy. These are mostly from Syrah in the Northern Rhône or Grenache in the Southern Rhône. You may recognize the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape which is a village there in the Southern Rhône. With a rack of lamb, these wines really sing.
And finally Burgundy is, in fact, a region, not just a color. I’d say the whites and reds of this region are equally important. You may recognize some names such as Chablis, Montrachet or Meursault for the white wines made from Chardonnay or the reds from Pinot Noir like Musigny, Vosne Romanée or Beaune. It is also where Beaujolais comes from.
Bordeaux and Burgundy are often compared because they carry some of the highest prices and acclaim and I will give you this contrast to keep them separate: Bordeaux is mostly known for the grand Châteaux or castles that make large amounts of wine. Burgundy is much more a region of farmers and its long shape gives the wine route a lot of adventure wherein each village you travel through has its own character and flavors that come with the wine.
Now that you’ve been introduced to the wines of France, you may want to have this all in one place to view. If you’d like that, click on the link and I will send it to you.