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The Wine of France

There are plenty of excellent wine-producing countries across the world. But arguably none that have the recognition or reputation for wine production that France has.

France has a long-established history of winemaking, and French wine often tops many awards tables and 'best wine' lists. In a study of 3540 wine awards that were issued over a three-year period, France came out on top, winning 851 of all available awards.

Wine is so ingrained in the culture of France that we could write an entire book on the subject.

But instead of that, we'll do the next best thing and provide you with a brief history of French wine, the popular French wine regions, the different grape varieties that are grown across France, and finish with some recommendations for French wine we think you should try.

HISTORY OF FRENCH WINE

This history of French wine dates all the way back to the 6th century BC when Greek settlers colonised the area around Marseille and planted the first vines.

However, it was the Romans that expanded wine production into the major wine regions of France that we typically recognise today.

During the middle-ages, many monasteries across France produced wine, and they became recognised for producing wines of the highest quality. It could be said this was the very early stages of France building a strong reputation for producing high-quality wine.

Unfortunately, during the late 19th century the spread of Phylloxera (an insect pest native to North America) across French vineyards meant that many had to be destroyed and replanted with Phylloxera resistant grape stocks. This was devastating for the French wine industry.

It is commonly believed that it was the combined effect of French ban of absinthe (in 1914) and also the First World War that was the driving force behind the domestic popularity of French wine.

Prior to 1914, different regions of France had differing alcohol preferences. Some regions just drank beer, other regions absinthe, and other regions wine. During the war (especially with the recent ban of absinthe) it was wine that was often drunk by French soldiers in the trenches. This introduced French wine to people across different regions in France.

In 1935, France's famous Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) system was established to help control the quality and reputation of French wine. The AOC system introduced regulations around which grapes could be planted and used for certain wines, and had strict guidance on the methods that could be used to produce wine of different varieties.

France was one of the first countries to implement an appellation system to protect the quality and reputation of their wine, and it is one reason France is so well renowned for being one of the world's highest quality wine producers.

The French wine classification system has developed over time, and a new system was introduced in 2012, which has three tiers:

Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP)

This is generally seen as a replacement for the AOC, and is the highest mark of quality and prestige for a French wine. To achieve this classification, the wine needs to be grown in a specific vineyard, and follow strict production guidelines to ensure authenticity and purity.

Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP)

This intermediate category is not as restrictive and has more to do with the geographic location in which the wine is produced than production methods. Winemakers are afforded more flexibility for wines in this category, but still need to meet certain requirements on things such as alcohol content and acidity.

Vin de France

This is the most basic French wine categorisation, and loosely translated means "Wine of France". Wines in this category can use grapes from all geographic regions of France.

FRANCE'S WINE REGIONS

France dedicates a lot of their land to the production of wine, and it is estimated that there are some two million acres of vineyards across the country.

Wine production is common across all areas of France, but 9 principal wine regions are dominant:

Alsace

Alsace is in North-Eastern France, close to the border with Germany. It is most recognised for producing high-quality white wines, with estimates that over 90% of the wine produced in Alsace is from white wine grapes. Common white varieties produced in Alsace include Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux is possibly one of the better-known French wine regions, and is in the South-West of France. The region is split into the "left bank" of the Gironde River (known for production of Cabernet Sauvignon) and the "right bank" of the river, which produces more Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Burgundy

Alongside Bordeaux, Burgundy is arguably one of the most established and recognised wine regions in France. Burgundy is typically an area that has lots of small wine producers, and the history of wine production in the region dates back to Roman times.

In terms of grape varieties, Burgundy specialises in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Champagne

Champagne is in the North-East of France and is best known for the famous sparkling white wine that takes its name from the region. Besides producing sparkling wine, there are also plenty of still wines that are produced in the region, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Languedoc

In terms of volume of wine production, Languedoc is the most important region in France with approximately 700,000 acres of land under vine. It has a reputation for being a region that favours quantity over quality. The main grape varieties grown in this region are Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Carignan and Syrah.

Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is a French wine region famous for producing high-quality white wines. It is internationally recognised for the quality of the Sauvignon Blanc produced in the region. Other white wines produced in the Loire Valley include Chenin Blanc and Muscadet. A small number of red wines are also produced in the region, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Rhone Valley

The wines produced on the banks of the River Rhone are known internationally for their quality. The North of the river is known for high quality Syrah and Viognier wines, but accounts for less than 10% of the wine production in the region. The South of the river is where most of the wine in the region is produced, with Grenache, Grenache Blanc and Syrah being commonly grown.

Savoie and Jura

These are lesser-known French wine regions, but produce a wide variety of different wines, including many native red wines in Jura, and many native white wine varietals in Savoie.

South-West France

The South-West of France comprises a lot of smaller wine regions that have a variety of microclimates, such as Bergerac, the Dordogne River and the Pyrenees. This means that a lot of different grape varieties are grown across the region. A lot of wines inspired by neighbouring Spain are grown in this region, besides international varietals such as Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.

WHICH GRAPES ARE GROWN IN FRANCE?

Given its long history and heritage, it's perhaps unsurprising that almost 250 different grape varieties are grown across France.

However, approximately 95% of all production volume comes from just 40 varieties.

It's estimated that over 30% of French vineyards are covered by three different grape varieties: Merlot, Ugni Blanc (known as Toscano internationally) and Grenache.

Other popular grapes for French winemakers include international favourites such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. All of these 'international' wines mentioned actually have their roots in France, and have since been planted throughout the world.

France is also known for it's varietal wines, which is a wine that is blended from various grape varieties. Perhaps the best known varietal wine is the "Bordeaux" which is typically blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot grapes.

THE BEST FRENCH WINES

French Wine makes up a large part of our online collection, so you can head over to our dedicated French Wine page to find a great selection.

To help you decide, we've put together a list of some of our favourite French wines:

Dom De L'Olibet Rosé

A delicate rosé  from the Languedoc region of France, this is the perfect summer lunch wine, and is perfect paired with vegetables or fish.

Château Brande Bergère Bordeaux

This Bordeaux contains Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and is actually the signature wine of Château Brande Bergère. Brilliant for pairing with strong meats or mature cheese.

Dom Brial Cotes Du Roussillon Villages

This award-winning blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Black Grenache uses grapes from established vineyards from the south side of the Corbières Massif.

Les Volets Chardonnay

This Chardonnay has great citrus acidity and a creamy texture, and is perfect for those looking for a high-quality Chardonnay that punches well above its weight.

Dom Brial Helios Rosé

This wine is well balanced and elegant with a long and strong finish.  This wine has won many awards in France - it is a wine you don't want to miss. It will be perfect for summer evenings, or for pairing with Chinese or Thai cuisine.

Find out more about other wine producing countries: