Basic Guide to French Wine
This is an introductory guide to the most popular regional French wines, their basic flavor characteristics and some pairing information.
The history of French wine dates back to the 6th century BC and the country's winemakers are among the finest in the world. Whether you are a wine connoisseur or a novice experimenting in the world of wine tasting, there is much to learn about French wines and here we just touch on a few of the basics.
Wine Producing Regions of France
French wines are classified by the region in which they are grown, rather than by the predominant grape like their American counterparts.
There are at least a dozen wine-producing regions in France with the most popular being Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire Valley, and Rhone.
Sparkling wines from the Champagne region are named after the chateaux that produced them.
Most champagnes are made from the white Chardonnay grape (blanc de blancs – white from white) or a red Pinot Noir grape (blanc de noire – white from black).
Champagnes are further classified by sweetness, from extra brut (least sugar) to dour (most sugar).
Champagnes accompany many foods well, from hard to pair dishes like asparagus to oysters, cheeses, butter sauces and desserts.
Bordeaux is the second best-known wine-producing region of France. Most Bordeaux are red, made primarily from Cabernet and Merlot grapes, and they are full-bodied with layered, fruity flavors.
Bordeaux wines are also classified by the smaller areas that lie within the region and are named for the chateaux where they are produced.
Pair Bordeaux wines with filet mignon, venison, lamb and duck dishes.
In Burgundy, wines are often produced by small estates, and they are named for the subregion (Beaujolais, Chablis etc.), instead of a single chateau.
Red Burgundies, usually made from Pinot Noir grapes, feature fruity notes like raspberry, blackberry, cherry and currant.
Locals pair red Burgundies with beef, duck, rabbit, venison and game birds.
White Burgundies, made of Chardonnay grapes, feature subtle tones of nuts and honey. They pair well with fish and seafood, chicken, butter sauces and creamy cheeses like Brie and Saint-Andre.
White wines from Loire Valley are usually made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Loire Valley wines range from dry and oaky to crisp and dry.
Popular Loire Valley wines include Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre, which pair well with fish and seafood, veal and goat cheese.
The Rhone wine region, located in the warm, southern part of France, is divided into northern and southern regions.
Rhone wines are available in red and white, and the predominant grapes of the region include Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.
With over twelve varieties of grapes in the southern region, Rhone wines are often blends of several kinds of grapes. Rhone wines pair well with beef, duck, game birds and lamb.