Our Top France Wine Regions
Along with Italy, France is le maître of Old World wine.
While there are burgeoning wine scenes in more and more countries and regions all over the globe, France has been there since the beginning, consistently putting out some of the world’s finest bottles year after year. And when you’re discussing the crème de la crème of French wine, the conversation begins with Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Located in southwestern France on the Atlantic coast, the Bordeaux region stretches inland along the Gironde Estuary and Dordogne and Garonne Rivers. This is significant for a few reasons: First, the rivers and coastal access allowed for easy export, and Bordeaux wine quickly became a status symbol as wealthy merchants carried it abroad.
Second, the Gironde Estuary plays an important role in how Bordeaux wines are blended and classified. Over 90% of Bordeaux reds are a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; a winery’s location on either the Left Bank or Right Bank of the Gironde determines whether that blend is driven by Cabernet or Merlot. Wines produced in the Left Bank have a higher proportion of Cabernet, while Right Bank wines have a higher proportion of Merlot. Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc are sometimes added to the blend as well, but Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are always in the driver’s seat.
Left Bank soil tends to be more gravelly, and yields wines that are generally bolder, higher in tannins and alcohol, and ideal for aging. The Right Bank has red clay and limestone soil and produces wines that are a bit softer, with less tannins and lower alcohol content. These wines offer more fruit and berry flavors compared to the smoky, spice flavors of the Left Bank Bordeaux.
As opposed to its coastal counterpart, Burgundy is landlocked in eastern-central France. The region stretches from Dijon in the north to Mâcon in the south, while the Chablis sub-region lies a bit further to the north and east—close to the city of Auxerre. Winemaking in Burgundy, or Bourgogne in French, dates back to the 1st century AD, but the Catholic monks in the Middle Ages really cultivated the area and honed production techniques as they made wines for the church and aristocracy.
When someone refers to a “Burgundy”, they’re talking about one of two grape varieties: Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Pinot Noir is a red Burgundy and Chardonnay is a white Burgundy. While that may seem simple, Burgundies are all about terroir and quality. Terroir is the cumulative effect of the region’s climate, soil, terrain, and winemaking techniques on the taste of the wine. The French like to call it a “sense of place”; essentially, you should be able to taste the unique characteristics that the land produces in the wine.
Burgundy winemakers are focused on bringing out the magical qualities of their specific vineyards. Because of this focus on terroir, Burgundian vineyards are classified into four categories: Grand Cru, Premier Cru, village wines, and regional wines. Grand Cru vineyards are the most esteemed—only 2% receive this classification.
Visit France and try the magnificent wine produced there!