A Guide to the Fanciest French Wine Regions

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France has long been revered as the world’s premier producer of delicious and high-quality wines.  Wine-Searcher reports that France “has produced wine in greater quantity–and of reportedly greater quality–than any other nation. Wine is ingrained in French culture at almost every level of society; it is the drink of both the elite and the common people.” France produces an incredibly diverse array of wines, which is largely due to the country’s wide range of climates and terroir. Champagne features one of the coolest climates in the wine-growing world, while the Rhone Valley to the south is warm and dry.

Wine-Searcher also explains that “French wine regions and their key varieties have evolved naturally over many centuries, as exemplified by the close relationship between pinot noir and burgundy. Where a variety has been used in multiple regions, the styles of wine it produces in each also evolved naturally.”

Some of France’s most famous vintages include a Bordeaux red blend from Baron Philippe de Rothschild Chateau Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac, $582), a Dom Perignon Brut champagne from Moet & Chandon (Champagne, $178), and a pinot noir from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Cru (Cote de Nuits, $13,044). The wine.net team has studied France’s viticultural history in depth, and the following article provides useful information on the country’s most famous wine producing regions. We will discuss the history of each area, its physical and climatological characteristics, and the most common grape varieties grown in each region. We will also make recommendations on the best bottles to buy from each area. Prepare yourself for some major fanciness, and salud!

5-_BZRv8Wine-Searcher provides comprehensive information on wine prices, news, regions, and grapes, along with thousands of bottle and vineyard reviews. Visit www.wine-searcher.com or @WineSearcher on Twitter.

 

 

Alsace

History and Regional Characteristics

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Located in the northeastern corner of France, Alsace features a distinct mix of French and German culture, which is also reflected in its wine. Alsace lies between the Vosges Mountains in the east and the border between France and Germany in the west. It measures 115 miles north to south by 25 miles east to west, and the majority of its vineyards lie on the slopes of the Vosges. Alsace’s climate features hot summers and cold winters with plenty of snowfall.

According to Visit Alsace, “Alsace’s wines are white wines that stand out thanks to their freshness and delicate and intense aromas of fruits, flowers and spices, or mineral nuances. The vibrancy and purity of the wines of Alsace are closely linked to their origins: a favorable climate, terroirs of exceptional geological diversity, and exacting winemaking expertise.” Learn more at www.alsacewine.com or @AlsaceWines on Twitter.

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Visit Alsace is the official website for tourism in Alsace and provides tools to plan your visit to this beautiful and historic region of France. Visit www.tourisme-alsace.com/en or @Alsace on Twitter.


Grape Varieties

Alsace grows significant quantities of gewurztraminer and riesling grapes, and also produces pinot gris, sylvaner, muscat, chasselas, and auxerrois. Red wine grapes such as pinot noir are grown here as well, but 90% of wines produced in Alsace are whites. Alsace is home to around 6,000 vineyards and produces approximately 20% of all French wine.

Essential Bottles

  • F.E. Trimbach Clos Sainte Hune Riesling (Alsace, $193)
  • Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer (Alsace, $22)
  • Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Clos Jebsal Selection des Grains Nobles Pinot Gris (Alsace, $157)
  • Domaine Allimant-Laugner Cremant d’Alsace Pinot Noir

Bordeaux

History and Regional Characteristics

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Located in southwest France, Bordeaux ranks among the world’s most famous and prestigious wine-producing regions. Bordeaux runs for 80 miles inland from the Atlantic coast, and hosts more than 10,000 vineyards. Bordeaux has short, temperate winters, hot summers, long autumns, and is humid year round.

Bordeaux’s dominance of the European wine marketplace began in the twelfth century, and the region has overcome a number of viticultural and economic speed bumps along the way. Regardless, Bordeaux produces 17% of France’s wines and has always been dedicated to quality; according to the region’s website, “97% of Bordeaux wine production is distributed under AOC (controlled designation of origin) with great care for high-quality results.” Learn more at www.bordeaux.com or @BordeauxWines on Twitter.

VXf1EsE6Bordeaux is dedicated to vino, vineyards, wine school, and planning your trip to this bountiful growing region. Visit www.bordeaux.com/us or @BordeauxWines.

 

 

Grape Varieties

Most of Bordeaux’s wines are dry, medium-bodied reds. These include the notorious Bordeaux red blend, merlot, cabernet, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec, carmenere, sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle. Bordeaux red blends are a combination of merlot and cabernet sauvignon; these two grapes are used because they bud, flower, and ripen at different times and rates.

Essential Bottles

  • Baron Philippe de Rothschild Chateau Mouton Bordeaux Red Blend (Pauillac, $582)
  • Chateau Petrus Merlot (Pomerol, $2,655)
  • Chateau d’Yquem Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon (Sauternes, $480)
  • Chateau Talbot Bordeaux Red Blend (Saint-Julien, $81)

Burgundy

History and Regional Characteristics

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Another of France’s most distinguished grape-growing regions is Burgundy, which produces some of the most exclusive wines in the world. Burgundy is located in eastern France and has around 74,000 acres under vine.

According to Wine-Searcher, “before the French Revolution (1789), the French church and nobility owned most of Burgundy’s vineyards, but these were sold off and fragmented by the revolutionary government, and have been further divided with every subsequent generation.” Burgundy’s climate is continental, which means its summers are short, and its winters long and cool. Learn more by visiting www.bourgogne-wines.com or @BourgogneWines on Twitter.

Grape Varieties

Burgundy’s most important grapes are pinot noir and chardonnay, but gamay and aligote are also grown throughout the region.

Essential Bottles

  • Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Cru (Cote de Nuits, $13,044)
  • Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru (Cote de Beaune, $4,422)
  • Domaine Leflaive Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru (Cote de Beaune, $463)
  • Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru (Cote de Nuits, $14,473)

Champagne

History and Regional Characteristics

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Champagne is the world’s most famous sparkling wine, and is a legally controlled and restricted name; only wines produced in Champagne can be called champagne. Champagne is located at the northern edge of France and is the world’s northernmost wine growing region. Grapes from champagne are high in acid, but secondary in-bottle fermentation allows this vino to embrace its tartness. Champagne has been producing wine for more than a thousand years, although the recipe has changed significantly during that period.

Sam Heitner from the United States Champagne Bureau told us that “only 13% of sparkling wine is champagne” and that “the terroir [and] geography [are] special. It’s the chalky soil that not only holds moisture and heat to moderate the grapes in the climate. But the cellars and stores for the wine to age are underground in the chalk soil so it maintains that same temperature and humidity while it’s aging as it did while it was growing.” Learn more by visiting www.champagne.us, www.champagnecampus.com, or @ChampagneBureau on Twitter.


079cc4fSam Heitner
is the Director of the United States Champagne Bureau. Learn more at www.champagne.us or by visiting @ChampagneBureau on Twitter.

 

 

Grape Varieties

The primary grapes grown in the Champagne region (and used in the production of champagne) are pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay. According to Mr. Heitner, pinot noir adds a darker and meaty aroma, pinot meunier a fruitiness, and chardonnay a finesse and creamy round flavor. Pinot blanc, pinot gris, petit meslier, and arbane are also grown in Champagne.

Essential Bottles

  • Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Brut Champagne Blend (Champagne, $178)
  • Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Millesime Chardonnay-Pinot Noir (Champagne, $240)
  • Salon Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay (Champagne, $411)
  • Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut Chardonnay (Champagne, $939)

Corsica

History and Regional Characteristics

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Corsica is a small island island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of France; its closest mainland counterparts are Provence and Tuscany. Although Corsica is closer to Italy than France, it has been under French rule since 1769. However, its wines are heavily influenced by its Italian heritage and quintessential Mediterranean climate.

Corsica receives more sunshine and lower rainfall than any part of mainland France, which contributes to its exceptional viticulture. To learn more, visit http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/jun/07/corsica-wine-tour-top-10.

Grape Varieties

Vermentino and sangiovese are prevalent, along with pinot noir, tempranillo, and barbarossa. French varieties like grenache, syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, and carignan all thrive in Corsica as well.

Essential Bottles

Languedoc-Roussillon

History and Regional Characteristics

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Languedoc-Roussillon is a large wine producing region in southern France that stretches from Nimes and Montpellier in the east to the Gulf of Lyon and the Spanish border in the west. Languedoc is quintessentially French, whereas Roussillon is more influenced by its Spanish neighbors. This region produces around one-quarter of all French wine and is a hot, dry region with a distinctly Mediterranean climate.

According to its official website, “Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest vineyard area and wine-producing area not only in France, but in the world. Because of this, the wines of Languedoc offer an exceptional selection of quality, value, and character, reflecting the elements from which they come. The wines are blessed by an auspicious blend of natural factors, such as abundant sunshine, the Mediterranean Sea, mountains, as well as history and culture and a revolutionary spirit. These are some of the most authentic wines in France.” Learn more by visiting www.languedocadventure.com or @LanguedocWines on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 2.21.38 PMLanguedoc Adventure is dedicated to the history and tourist attractions of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Visit www.languedocadventure.com or @LanguedocWines on Twitter.

 

 

Grape Varieties

One of Languedoc-Roussillon’s most prominent varieties is their Southern red blend, which is a combination of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre. The region is also known for cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, and viognier.

Essential Bottles

  • M. Chapoutier Cotes du Roussillon Villages Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem Carignan-Grenache-Syrah (Languedoc-Roussillon, $24)
  • Domaine Gauby Cotes du Roussillon Villages Muntada Southern Rhone Red Blend (Languedoc-Roussillon, $75)
  • Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut Mauzac (Languedoc-Roussillon, $13)
  • Chateau Maris Minervois Old School Rosé Cinsault (Languedoc-Roussillon, $15)

Loire Valley

History and Regional Characteristics

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Another region that is very important to France’s viticultural landscape is the Loire Valley, which runs alongside the Loire River in western France. The climate of this region is mainly continental, which means it features warm summers and cold winters.

According to the region’s website, “the Loire Valley is the heart of France, famous for its natural beauty, magnificent chateaus, and great wine. The region is rich in history and culture; Renaissance Rabelais was born here [and] Joan of Arc led French troops to victory in the Hundred Years’ War in the Loire.” Learn more at www.loirevalleywine.com and @LoireValleyWine on Twitter.

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Loire Valley Wines
is devoted to the wines of the Loire Valley. It also contains general information on this region and news and events about the area. Learn more at www.loirevalleywine.com or by visiting @LoireValleyWine on Twitter.

Grape Varieties

The Loire Valley is best known for its production of white grapes (which accounts for 75% of its total grape output), and its most popular varieties are sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, melon de bourgogne, and chardonnay. However, the region also cultivates very fine reds, including cabernet franc, pinot noir, malbec, and gamay.

Essential Bottles

  • Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume Silex Sauvignon Blanc (Loire, $114)
  • Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Cabernet Franc (Loire, $136)
  • Nicolas Joly Vignobles de la Coulee de Serrant Savennieres Chenin Blanc (Loire, $81)
  • Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume Asteroide Sauvignon Blanc (Loire, $765)

Provence

History and Regional Characteristics

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Located in the southeastern corner of France, Provence is best known for its rosé wines and its mild, Mediterranean climate. Unlike other regions of France, Provence has been slow to modernize its methods of growing and production. The area’s vineyards cover 125 miles from east to west, and its long, dry summers keep disease and vine rot to a minimum.

According to Wines of Provence, “for centuries, dry rosé wine has been a staple in the south of France, where it is embraced as the best lunchtime, seaside, and all-occasion wine. Particularly in the coastal Provence region, the heart of the world’s dry rosé production, a passion for dry pink permeates the culture. Provençal citizens know from centuries of winegrowing history that vin rosé pairs with all the foods they like, [at] any time of year. In fact, French rosé outsells white wine in France.” Learn more at www.winesofprovence.com and @winesofprovence on Twitter.

4e9aa678293946912210c9ce4986b15dWines of Provence is focused upon the region of Provence and its signature wines. It also features a directory of wineries and an archive of news and resources. Learn more at www.winesofprovence.com or @winesofprovence on Twitter.

 


Grape Varieties

Provence’s most predominant grapes include grenache, syrah, sauvignon blanc, mourvedre, tibouren, and vermentino.

Essential Bottles

  • Chateau Miraval Cotes de Provence Rosé Cinsaut-Grenache (Provence, $22)
  • Domaine Tempier Bandol Southern Rhone Red Blend (Provence, $42)
  • Domaine Tempier Bandol Cuvee Speciale La Migoua Mourvedre (Provence, $58)
  • Chateau Simone Palette Blanc Southern Rhone White Blend (Provence, $49)

Rhone Valley

History and Regional Characteristics

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The Rhone Valley is located in southeastern France and follows the Rhone River for almost 150 miles from Lyon in the north to the Mediterranean coast in the south.

According to Wine-Searcher, “the length of the valley means that Rhone wines are the product of a wide variety of soil types and mesoclimates. The region’s wine-producing areas cover such a distance that there is a widely accepted division between its northern and southern parts…this division is reflected not only in geography and preferred grape varieties, but also in the quality and quantity of wines produced.” Both regions enjoy a dry, sunny climate with very low rainfall.

Additionally, “the north boasts old and highly respected names, [but] accounts for only 5% of the valley’s total wine production. The remaining 95% is made in the south under less-prestigious, less-specific names.” Learn more at www.vins-rhone.com or @RhoneWine on Twitter.

Grape Varieties

The northern part of the Rhone Valley features a continental climate, which makes it ideal for growing syrah, viognier, and marsanne grapes. The southern section has a more Mediterranean climate, which leads to the proliferation of mourvedre, grenache, and syrah.

Essential Bottles

  • Perrin & Fils Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Southern Rhone Red Blend (Rhone, $85)
  • Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle Syrah (Rhone, $174)
  • Perrin & Fils Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Southern Rhone White Blend (Rhone, $72)
  • Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc Marsanne-Roussanne (Rhone, $213)

South West (Sud-Ouest)

History and Regional Characteristics

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The South West growing region covers a very large area in the southwestern region of France. Several local rivers play a role in the area’s climate, and it is heavily influenced by neighboring Bordeaux.

According to Wine-Searcher, “local wine producers [in this region] are now more commercially focused than in recent areas and are using this diversity to attract adventurous modern wine consumers. Although Bordeaux still casts a significant commercial shadow, there is no longer a dependence on the port [itself] as a trade route, leaving the wines of the South West [region] free to gain international recognition on their own merits.”

Grape Varieties

The South West produces cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc, and malbec in great quantities. Additionally, the region is known for its Bordeaux red and white blends. Wine-Searcher explains that “the region’s wine portfolio…includes sweet wines…tannic, full-blooded reds…sparkling wines [and] dry whites produced from a wide range of different grape varieties.”

Essential Bottles

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