A good way to begin with France is to learn the grape varieties that go with each specific region. We will start broad and then hone into the different areas or Appellation d’Origine Controllée (AOC)- protected designation of origin: which is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters and other agricultural products under the control of the Government.
In France the wine is named for where it comes from, not what it is. They make you work for it, so you have to know which grapes come from which region to start to navigate your way through a French wine section. BUT, I promise, if you do your homework…you will not be disappointed!
There are over 360 AOCs in France found with 11 growing regions:
Here is a cheat-sheet of the main AOCs in each region along with their primary grape varietal:
- Loire: The longest river in France and the largest wine growing region.
69 AOCs within the Loire Valley from Atlantic Ocean to the heart of France
- Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne)
- Chinon (Cabernet Franc)
- Vouvray (Chenin Blanc)
- Sancerre/ Pouilly Fume (Sauvignon Blanc)
- Bordeaux: Right Bank vs. Left Bank
50 AOCs within Bordeaux, highlights:
- Right Bank: (Merlot Based)
- Saint Emilion (Merlot & Cabernet Franc)
- Pomerol (Merlot & Cabernet Franc)
- Cotes des Francs (Sauvignon Blanc)
- Left Bank: (Cabernet Sauvignon )
- Haut Medoc
- Saint Julien
- Saint Estephe
- Entre Deux Mers: (Sauvignon Blanc)
- Sud Ouest: From Bordeaux to the Spanish border.
- Armanac and Cognac country with lots of indigenous grapes and traditional styles of wine.
- Cahors (Malbec)
- Madiran (Tannat)
- Languedoc Roussillon: 18 AOCs over 40,000 hectares
There are LOTs of little areas within this region on the Mediterranean. These wines are mostly based on Cinsault and Grenache.
- Picpoul de Pinet (Picpoul)
- Pic Saint Loup
- La Clape
- Provence: 9 AOCs all known for Rosé
- Corse: The island off of the southern French Coast has 9 AOCs
Known for the weird grapes we can’t pronounce
Northern Rhone : 8 AOCs where Syrah is the only permitted red grape in AOC wines.
- Cote Rotie
- Condrieu (Viognier)
- St. Joseph
- Southern Rhone:15 AOCs Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (GSM) Carignan & Cinsault
- Chateauneuf du Pape
- Cotes du Rhone
- Tavel (Rose Only)
- Beaujolais: Gamay Noir
- 11 different Crus
- Burgundy (Bourgogne): Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
84 different crus—this will be it’s own beast
- Cotes des Nuits
- Cote de Beaune
- Alsace: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc
- Champagne: This is one of the anomalies of French wine. Because of how champagne is made, there is an emphasis on a ‘house style’ rather than it being expressive of where it is from. With that being said, you can derive a general ‘house style’ by where the winery is located. The larger houses, like Veuve Cliquot (Vuuuv Cleek-ko) is a Pinot Noir based wine because it comes from Reims. But wines from the Cotes des Blancs will be Chardonnay based and have more of an acidity. More on this to come. This might seem daunting, but wine is supposed to be fun. I recommend picking a region and trying a whole survey of wines from that area. You will gain an appreciation for the region, varietals and the techniques that make each AOC unique.
Next we will delve into the different regions! Hold onto your hat…