Some countries have a special affinity with food and drink. When you want to experience the best chocolate you head to Belgium, a real pint of Guinness has to be had in Ireland, authentic pizza should be enjoyed in Naples and a great glass (or bottle) of wine is firmly associated with France.
Our neighbours from across the channel boast some of the finest wine regions on this great green Earth, perfect for anyone looking to take a wine tour of France. Don’t merely confine yourself to a nice bottle or glass from a restaurant in Paris, take a look around the decorated regions that can call the likes of Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon their own.
Having first earnt classification back in 1855, the wine produced in arguably France’s most famous wine region has changed a great deal. But the best wine in Bordeaux has and will continue to be produced from a blend of different grapes.
Caro Feely, author, wine teacher and winemaker at Chateau Feely & French Wine Adventures spoke to us about the region:
“The Bordeaux region and its neighbours Bergerac and Duras are diverse wine regions packed with illustrious great names hallowed through the world like Petrus, Lafite and Latour but also with small artisans, passionate winegrowers, chefs and artists. St. Emilion is a must-visit in the Bordeaux region: beautiful, historic and welcoming. In the Bergeracois, Saussignac is a must-visit with many artists and one of the highest concentrations of organic winegrowers in France.”
Among the great selection of regions within Bordeaux, Aquitaine stands out. It is one of the three most famous areas for wine production and even stands alone among them as the vineyard is the only one with immediate access to the sea. This meant that for a long time it had a great advantage in exporting the product across the world. Aquitaine therefore became France’s major wine exporting region for centuries.
Bordeaux’s wine history is illustrious and spans almost ten times as long as that of the United States, with its first vineyards planted and cultivated during the Roman Empire. It is a region that produces both reds and whites of the highest calibre, but it is certainly best known for its blend of red wine. Red Bordeaux is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with the balance of each dependent on the exact location of the vineyard or winery.
As a city itself, Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was also named as the number one destination to visit in 2017 by Lonely Planet. It is a city that lives and breathes wine and has a gastronomy to match. Whether you plan to spend your time in the city or in the rural vineyards, you can be sure of many urban and country wine tours.
The wine culture in Alsace is much like the region itself, with a heavy influence of Germanic tradition and customs as it produces a great deal of dry and fruity white wine. Among the most popular from this area are Riesling, Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer – a particularly fruity wine.
As with many of the best wine regions in France, Alsace’s landscape is visually stunning, matching perfectly with the high quality of wine produced here. Joe Roberts, the brains behind 1 Wine Dude recently visited the region and kindly offered his thoughts for anyone looking to visit it as part of a French wine tour:
“I just returned from Alsace, and everything that one might hear about the picturesque, storybook quality of the area is true. The wines have arguably never been better, and it's a real treat to taste them in the region's very (very!) old towns, which are almost too charming. The Riesling and Gewurztraminer from Alsace's Grand cru vineyards can be downright extraordinary.”
Wines here are powered by their aroma. You’ll note many floral and peachy notes amongst a wine of rich texture, as the producers rely on the balance of ripeness and alcohol to deepen the flavours.
Alsace is divided by the AOC Law (Appellation d’Origine Controlee). The AOC Laws dictate grape variety, vineyard density and just about everything involved with production. Across the some 39,500 acres, 90 per cent of wine produced in Alsace is white, with Riesling being the largest grape variety (21.9 per cent).
While you associate Bordeaux with a deep red, Burgundy is best known for its white. Regarded among the best in the world, bottles can fetch upwards of £15,000, though you won’t have to break the bank to try what could be your new favourite.
Burgundy uses Chardonnay grapes almost exclusively in their production, resulting in some truly excellent wines. The wine region itself is notably smaller than many others across not only France but Europe and the world.
The history of wine here can also be dated back to the Roman Empire and even the 1st Century AD, putting it among the oldest wine producing regions in Europe. Simply put, it is the soil, topography and perfect climate that has long made this area a prime location for wineries and vineyards. However, Burgundy only really became a recognised producer during the Middle Ages. Catholic monks would grow grapes for wine for the church and the Dukes of Burgundy, before the land was taken from the aristocracy and given to the people during the French Revolution.
Other wine regions across the world owe a great deal to Burgundy. Both the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes originated in Burgundy and while you can enjoy great examples of them elsewhere, it is the balance of the climate, soil, grape, vineyard location and touch of human hands (a combination known as terroir) which gives it the truest, fullest flavour.
Beaujolais is the epitome of a French wine region. Panoramic views of the pure countryside include a patchwork of perfectly hand-groomed vines and a number of immaculate Chateaux dotted across the horizon.
Joe Roberts is a big advocate for visiting the region and recommended it to anyone visiting the country:
“I think that any wine lover visiting France should seriously consider visiting Beaujolais. Yes, it's most famous for cloying Beaujolais nouveau, but the red Gamay wines from the region's highest-level Cru villages are dry, delicious, and can be surprisingly long-lived. They also tend to be able to match up with almost any cuisine that you can throw at them, making them great "lunch wine" options.”
Between September and November, the region comes alive with a symphony of bright colours, and for five days in late November the town of Beaujeu holds a massive street party. A brilliant celebration of live music, wine and dancing is enjoyed by all and is a great experience.
For many, the Beaujolais region is the prettiest in all of France. Quintessential stone houses are cloaked with vines and flowers, hillside vineyards overlooked meticulous rows of beautiful grapes and the climate is always comfortable. Of course, for the best wine experience then do visit during September and November. But in reality, Beaujolais is a must-visit location during the summer and autumn. While the likes of Bordeaux or Burgundy may hold a rightful place on the world’s stage for their wine, they simply cannot compete with the landscape and beauty that Beaujolais possesses. Few can.
The Rhone Valley
With a rich architectural heritage, the Rhone Valley situates either side of the Rhone River. Split into two wine-growing areas – the Septentrional vineyard in the mountainous north and the Meridional vineyard in the south – the Rhone Valley is the second largest wine region in the whole of France.
Iconic cities like Avignon, Vienne and the gastronomic hub of the area Lyon can all be found along the valley, which includes 14 beautiful wine routes accessibly by car, foot, bike or even horseback. This is the perfect region to sample some of the country’s finest wine alongside a selection of the very best truffles, cheeses and olives.
Wine has been produced here since the Middle Ages, following the arrival of popes in Avignon. As such, Avignon was declared the capital city of wine in the area back in 1966. However, you can date the cultivation of grapes back as far as the fourth century BC, when they were grown in Marseille during Greek colonisation.
The region’s wine production is powered by the river, which has shaped and moulded the landscape for thousands of years. There is a great deal of diversity when it comes to the terroirs involved when transforming the many varieties of grapes into some of the finest wine on the planet, but that is testament to the people who work here.
Another region influenced by the Rhone River, Provence offers countless opportunities to sample its famous wines. It was the Greeks who planted the first grapes in Provence back in 600 BC, before the Romans continued the practise when they noted that the mild winters and long warm summers made for ideal wine making conditions.
Just five per cent of wine produced in this is actually white, with a main focus on rich and fruity reds as well as dry rosé, though the white that is made should be enjoyed as a dinner drink, offering tart tones with plenty of citrus and minerals. Cabernet Sauvignon, syrah, carignan and cinsault are among the most dominate grapes grown in Provence.
Provence is very proud of its wine tradition and as such, you will find the winemakers and vineyards are more than accompanying for wine lovers seeking out a new favourite rosé.
These famous wine regions aren’t out of reach. Many of them can be accessed through our range of great cruise offers that take you through the centre of Europe along a river cruise.