Wine is synonymous with the French lifestyle, and it captures everything we find so enchanting about France's culture: history, romance, and gastronomy! France's reputation for producing some of the most excellent wines in the world is well-deserved—from rich reds to crisp whites, rosés, sparkling wines, and world-class dessert wines, there's something to enjoy for every kind of wine lover. Santé!
This is not an exhaustive guide to French wine, but rather an introduction to some of the best known wine regions in France, and it's a good place to start your exploration if you're new to drinking French wines.
There's no question that the most coveted and luxurious sparkling wines in the world are made in the Champagne region of France. Just a quick train ride from Paris, the vineyards are planted on stunning white chalk soil, giving the wines a fresh minerality. The average temperatures in Champagne are quite cool, so it isn't very easy for the grapevines to achieve ripeness. This is actually a good thing; less ripeness means higher acidity, which is very desirable in sparkling wines.
Most Champagnes are blends of the region's three main grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. The most popular style is called brut: This indicates that there is less than 12 grams per liter of sugar added to the wine (a common practice, considering that underripe grapes can produce a tart wine). Great, classic examples of Brut Champagnes include Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut ($44.99, wine.com) and Pol Roger Brut ($49.99, wine.com).
A Champagne made exclusively from chardonnay will be labeled blanc de blancs, and one made from one hundred percent pinot noir is blanc de noirs. Champagne is also made in rosé styles: Try Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ($79.99, wine.com). While Champagne is well known and loved for toasting celebrations and milestones, it's also a food-friendly wine that pairs well with seafood, crispy fried foods like a Fried Chicken Sandwich, and also fried snacks like our Macaroni and Cheese Bites.
At once simple and complex, that's the famed French wine region of Burgundy. It's simple in that there are just two main grape varieties to remember: Red Burgundy is made from pinot noir, and white Burgundy is made from chardonnay. The complexity comes in the terroir, which is a diverse patchwork of soil types and microclimates, which produce a highly varied range of wine styles depending on where the vineyard is located. Burgundy is different to other French wine regions, as it's the land itself that is the single most crucial factor in how highly the wines are regarded. Rather than specific wine producers competing for top-tier status, the vineyard sites are given a quality ranking (and multiple wine producers will source grapes from the same vineyard). Burgundy is a small region compared to other wine areas, so less wine is produced here than Champagne or Bordeaux; this means the wines are at a premium.
A helpful tip for understanding Burgundy wines is that there are four tiers of quality, and they get progressively more expensive. The baseline is Bourgogne (also known as Burgundy), where the grapes can be sourced from all over the region. A solid bottle to try is Domaine Faiveley Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017 ($22.99, wine.com). The next step up is the village wines, which hail from a specific area: such as Domaine Daniel Rion & Fils Côte de Nuits Villages 2016 ($37.99, wine.com). Next up is premier cru, which are wines made from vineyard sites that are given a premium assessment—we recommend Domaine Jean Chauvenet Nuits St. Georges Les Perrières Premier Cru 2011 ($89.99, wine.com). Finally, the very best vineyards are given grand cru status, meaning they represent the very best that Burgundy has to offer. These are expensive, but for the true Burgundy fan with deep pockets, a wine like Louis Latour Château Corton Grancey Grand Cru 2015 ($149.99, wine.com) is worth the investment. Aside from the three central areas (the Côte d'Or, the Côte Chalonnaise, and the Mâconnais), the regions of Chablis and Beaujolais are also officially part of Burgundy.
What to eat with wine from Burgundy? Roast chicken or duck is a classic pairing for both red and white wines from Burgundy. Also try the red wines of the region with potatoes with rosemary and thyme, and with mushroom dishes.
Bordeaux is one of the largest wine-growing regions in France with nearly 111,500 hectares (that's 275,522 acres) of vineyards. Located on the Atlantic, with the Gironde and Dordogne rivers running through the region, Bordeaux has a mild maritime climate making it perfect for making rich, concentrated red blends from late-ripening grapes cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, malbec, and carmènere. The heart of Bordeaux is divided into two sections: the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Left Bank blends are based on the cabernet sauvignon grape, which thrives on their gravel-based soil; top areas include the regions of Medoc, Graves, and Margaux: Try Château Prieure-Lichine 2016 ($54.99, wine.com). The Right Bank is clay soil, so merlot is the main grape along with cabernet franc, and some of their famous regions include Pomerol and St. Emilion; we love Château Lassegue Les Cadrans de Lassègue Grand Cru 2016 ($29.99, wine.com).
Although red wine represents the majority of Bordeaux, the region also produces lovely, affordable whites made from sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle: White wine lovers will love Château Ducasse Blanc 2018 ($17.99, wine.com) and Château Bonnet Blanc 2018 ($15.99, wine.com). And Sauternes, one of the most famous sweet wines in the world, hails from Bordeaux. Concentrated and rich, with honey and apricot aromas, Sauternes is the perfect closing touch to a meal. Try Château Guiraud Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2013 ($22.98, wine.com).
The Loire Valley produces more white wine than any other French region, and lots of sparkling wine as well. Named for the river which winds through the area to the Atlantic coast, the Loire Valley is nicknamed the garden of France. Its beautiful countryside is dotted with castles, and was declared a World Heritage Site.
The main white grapes in the Loire are sauvignon blanc, which famously grows in regions Pouilly Fume and Sancerre, where it has an herbal and mineral expression. Try Pascal Jolivet Sancerre ($32.99, wine.com); chenin blanc which is made is dry, sweet, and sparkling styles in Montlouis, Savennieres, and Vouvray. Vouvray Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moelleux ($51.99, wine.com) is a great choice, and melon de Bourgogne which makes the dry, seafood-friendly wine Muscadet. An excellent example is Domaine de la Pépière La Pépie Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2018 ($17.99, wine.com).
For Loire reds, you will see some pinot noir—red wine is made with it in Sancerre—and more importantly, cabernet franc which is the star in the Chinon and Bourgeouil regions: try Bernard Baudry Chinon 2017 ($24.99, wine.com), where it tastes of red currants with a mineral undertone and aromas of herbs and violet.