When going on holiday to France, what initially comes to mind? The weather? The food? The wine? Let’s be honest, France produces some of the most delicious wines in the world, but even we agree it can be a minefield picking one you like. Lots of people like to try the local wines when they’re on holiday, so we’ve devised a back to basics regional French wine guide to cut the cork! We’ve also put in a few accommodation suggestions, just incase you find yourself tempted to visit a local vineyard!
First off: French wines generally will have the Appellation d’Origine on the label, the AOC. Every French wine will state which AOC it’s from on its label, instead of the region it comes from. There are multiple AOCs within each wine region, so to understand French wine, understanding the general idea of an AOC is crucial.
In short, the AOC is a controlled area for wine producing. Appellations are defined by lots of factors, such as the soil, the geography, and the climate. Each AOC has rules the producers must stick to as well, which limit the grapes they can grow, how much they can harvest and even how they format their labels. There are over 450 appellations in France.
If you’re going to visit a wine region, the producers generally recommend from May-October. The French vineyards are beautiful from Spring to Autumn, and picturesque views abound. The harvest season is in September, and many wine paths are restricted, but some vineyards might offer tours while the harvest is occurring.
North-eastern France, on the border to Germany
White: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris.
Red: Pinot Noir.
Flavours to expect: Intensely fruity, with peachy and floral aromas. Because producers don’t use oak ageing, which enhances flavour, Alsace wines aren’t known for their depth, but their flavours are vibrant with acidity and punchy notes. Riesling is even a little frizzante (with a tiny amount of fizz).
A match made in heaven: Creamy fish dishes (fish pie), raw fish, shellfish, light Thai foods and pork.
Sitting on Germany’s border, winemaking in the region of Alsace is steeped in Germanic tradition. Alsace wines are generally dry, fruity whites such as Riesling. If you see the word ‘gentil’ on the label, it generally means the wine is blended from a minimum of 50% noble grapes and up to 50% other wines. These blends with noble grapes are usually very good value for money. Noble grapes are top quality grapes that are known for their excellent wine-producing qualities.
Our property nearby: Les Cottages de Valjoly, Valjoly.
South-western France, on the Atlantic coast
White: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle, Sauvignon Gris.
Red: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc.
Flavours to expect: Fruity and zesty whites, earthy reds.
A match made in heaven: Rich meat or game dishes, soft cheeses such as camembert, sturdy fish such as monkfish.
Bordeaux is without doubt one of the most famous wine regions in the world, let alone in France. Interestingly, it’s one of the few wine-growing regions with direct access to the sea, which makes it far easier to transport, and hence so widespread. The vineyard is based mainly around the city itself, flanking the Gironde estuary. The best estates in the region label their wines ‘grand cru’ or ‘cru bourgeois,’ which designates a superior grade.
Our property nearby: Residence les Rives Marines, Le Teich.
Eastern France, level with Switzerland
White: Chardonnay, Chablis, Cote d’Or, Macon.
Red: Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Cote Chalonnaise, Macon.
Flavours to expect: Aromatic, complex, zesty whites and rich reds.
A match made in heaven: Scallops and shellfish, puff pastry, duck, beef stew, coq au vin, mushrooms.
The most common Burgundy wines are pinot noirs and chardonnays. The Burgundy vineyards occupy a narrow strip of land on the eastern slopes of the area, running from Dijon, the capital of the Burgundy region. Burgundy wines are classified into four levels of quality, from lowest to highest: District, Commune, Premier Cru, Grand Cru. These appellations respectively represent 41%, 36%, 18%, and 5% of Burgundy’s wine production. As an aside, watch out for Burgundies with ‘Bourgogne’ in their name, as they are often overpriced and don’t offer you the best value for money.
Our property nearby: Residence les Terrasses de la Plage, Cayeux sur Mer.
Key varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier.
Flavours to expect: The flavour of Champagne is so specific to the region due to the chalky soil and growing conditions that it cannot be mimicked (and people have tried!).
A match made in heaven: Mild chalky cheeses, parmesan, shellfish, asparagus, citrus fruits.
Here we go, champagne is the whopper. Champagne potentially has the most revere and myth surrounding it, and is the most northern of all major French vineyards. Champagnes are blended, producing vintage (wines from the same harvest) or non-vintage (wines from different years). This requires a lot of skill, and Champagnes are the only wines to be ranked by producer, not appellation. Krug, Bollinger, Mumm, Heidsieck, Moët & Chandon and Taittinger are the most highly ranked Champagnes. There are plenty of delicious sparkling wines throughout France though – start with Cremant, which is very affordable indeed.
Our property nearby: Les Cottages de Valjoly, Valjoly.
Côtes du Rhone
South-eastern France, stretching into the Alps
White: Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier.
Red: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre.
Flavours to expect: Light and full of berry flavours.
A match made in heaven: Chicken, pâté, game, steak, pizza, provencal vegetables, salad.
Although the Côtes du Rhone does produce some lovely, gluggable wines, its infamy is more to do with the size of its (enormous) vineyards, as opposed to the quality of its wines. There are also smaller wine producing areas, such as Chateauneuf du Pape and Hermitage, that sit within the Côtes du Rhone region, producing similarly light-hearted berry-filled wines.
Our property nearby: Provence Country Club, L’Isle sur la Sorgue.
Southern France, on the Mediterranean coast
Key varieties: Almost everything is grown here!
White: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains.
Red: Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah.
Flavours to expect: Full-bodied reds, and non-oaked zesty whites.
A match made in heaven: Steak tartare, comte cheese, lamb, fresh tuna, cod, chorizo.
In terms of the volume of wine produced, the Languedoc is the largest wine producing region in France. Languedoc wines are generally rich and full bodied, with a high alcohol content. A relatively hidden gem is Corbieres, but the region does produce a great deal of fairly uninspiring reds, including Vin de Pays.
Our properties nearby: Residence le Mas des Oliviers, Uzes.
North-western France, leading in from the Atlantic coast
White: Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Chenin Blanc.
Red: Pinot Noir, Grolleau, Cabernet Franc.
Flavours to expect: Refreshing, very dry whites, light and fruity wines. Look out for hints of pear, apple and citrus.
A match made in heaven: Beef, BBQ meat, chicken, salmon, omelette, salad.
The Loire Valley produces a lot of wine, but few are very well received. Muscadet is a gluggable dry white, which works well with fish, and Anjou Rose is a nice summery rosé. The Loire also produces grey wine – vin gris – which is white made from red grapes. Examples include Vouvray and Saumur, while sweet wines such as Coteaux du Layon are an acquired taste!
Our properties nearby: Residence les Terrasses de la Plage, Cayeux sur Mer.
South-western France, on the Mediterranean coast
White: Grenache Blanc, Rolle, Marsanne, Roussanne.
Red: Syrah, Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Carignan.
Flavours to expect: Lavender notes, naturally, herby rosemary, floral and a honey bouquet.
A match made in heaven: Anchovies, shellfish, lamb, couscous salads, rabbit, salmon, roasted vegetables.
Provence wines are probably most known for being rosé – Cotes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix being the most popular – and indeed 88% of Provence’s wine production is rosé. Rosé wines are indeed made with a mix of both red and white varieties, with a very limited maceration time (the time the grape juice sits in the skins).
That said, Provence is a huge wine producing region, and it’s not just limited to rosé. Grey wines from Camargue, and rich reds from Provence are lovely.
Our properties nearby: Provence Country Club, L’Isle sur la Sorgue.