French wine basics


France and Italy are world’s biggest wine producers. In some years France surpasses Italy, and in others it is vice versa.

France has three categories of quality levels

Vin de France

(Wines without geographic indication grown anywhere in France. Approximately 25 per cent of the production is this quality).

I G P (Vin d’ Indication Geographic Protege. Approximately 28 per cent of the total production is this quality)

AOP/AOC (Appellatio0n d’origine controlle/protege. Approximately 47 per cent of the total production is this quality)

AOC regions are: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Rhone Valley, Bergerac, Buzet, Cahors, Cotes du Frontonnais, Gaillac.

Some regions have several sub-regions, especially Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, and Cotes du Rhone).

Languedoc-Roussillon contain all categories – AOC, IGP and Vin the Pays category wines

IGP wine producing regions may be upgraded to AOC if overall quality improves consistently over a long period.

Alsace produces mainly white varietal wines and one red using pinot noir.

The white rgapes of this region are – gewürztraminer, riesling, Muller-Thurgau, sylvaner, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and muscat

Wines are aromatic, delicate, flavourful may be dry, offer dry, or sweet.

Alsace also produces rose and sparkling wines using the Charmat method.

Burgundy’s main grape varieties are pinot noir for red wines, and chardonnay for whites. Auxerrois, pinot blanc and sauvignon blanc are also used for white wines.

For red wines Beaujolais uses gamay.

There are many sub-regions, of which Beaujolais, Chablis, Cotes de Nuits, and Coted de Beaune are the most famous and most important.

Beaujolais has 10 sub-regions plus Beaujolais Village and simple Beaujolais.

Burgundy’s wines are essential varietal but generally labelled and marketed as generic by commune and classified vineyard.

They are mostly dry, delicate, and age reasonably well in good vintages.

Very little rose, but a lot of sparkling wine is produced in Burgundy. Some are of very high quality and cost relatively little compared to Champagne and other sparkling wines.

The region is small, very famous for its supple, and elegant wines. All are expensive to very expensive relative to their quality. The prices are a function of demand and supply.

Beaujolais wines are inexpensive, plentiful and enjoyable every day libations

Bordeaux is a large producer with thousands of chateaux (estates). By some accounts there are more than 9000 chateaux in Bordeaux, producing dry whites and red , rose, sparkling and sweet wines.

The main grape varieties are sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadet (all white). For red wines the growers prefer cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and merlot.

Bordeaux has many sub-regions the most famous of which are Medoc, St. Emilion, Sauternes, Barsac, Cotes de Bordeaux.

The 1855 classification of Bordeaux châteaux ranked the best Medoc red, and Sauternes chateaux.


Uses seven grape varieties, of which three, chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are the most popular.

The wines may be still or sparkling, although the vast majority are sparkling, which range form very dry to sweet, and everything in between.

The wines are delicate, fragrant, elegant, and refreshing.

The big Champagne houses dominate world markets due to their converted and persistent advertising and marketing efforts.

Small houses produce fine quality at reasonable prices and sell mostly to individuals from Paris who visit their establishments.

Paris is only 149 Km. Away fro Champagne.

Most wines are blends of chardonnay, pinot meunier, and pinot noir. Some labelled Blanc de blancs are made exclusively made using chardonnay, and others labelled Blanc de noirs using pinot noir exclusively.


This very large region has many AOC, IGP sub-regions.

Bourboulenc, mauzac, muscat, piquepoul, chardonnay, grenache blanc, grenache gris, macabeu, marsanne, rousanne, viognier, sauvignon blanc are the main white grape varieties, Carignane, cinsault, grenache, mourvedre, and syrah are the most popular red grape varieties.

Mostly red wines are produced along with whites, rose, dry and sweet sparkling.

The red wines are full bodied, spicy, supple, and deeply flavoured.

Whites are fruity, herbal, mineral, and medium to full weight.

Sparkling wines are aromatic, elegant, off dry to sweet.

Some sweet white wines and red wines are also produced.

Lorie Valley produces mainly white wines using sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, melon de Burgogne.

The red grape varieties are pinot noir, gamay, cabernet franc and grolleau.

Of the many sub-regions, the most famous are Sancerre, Vouvray, and Anjou.

White Loire wines are fresh and aromatic. May be dry, off dry or dry, or sweet.

Roses are always dry, and acid driven.

The red wines are light, acid-driven, and refreshing.

Sparkling wines can be outstanding, and represent good value.


This region is famous for its rose wines, although white and red wines are also produced.

For white wines rolle, clairette, ugni blanc, bourboulenc, and semillon are planted.

For reds syrah, cinsault, grenache noir, mourvedre, and tibourence are preferred.

Rose wines are straightforward, light, fruity, mostly dry and delightful with food, or as a pick-me-up between meals, and when you feel thirsty.

Reds are full of character, and med weight, fruity, low in acidity, and meant to be consumed within a year or two after harvest.

Rhone Valley

This region has many sub-regions of which hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, and St. Joseph are the most famous.

Cotes du Rhone produces still red, white and sweet wines.

The grapes for red wine are syrah, grenache noir, carignane, mourvedre, and cinsault.

For whites, viognier, marsanne, roussanne, muscat, grenache blanc, clairette, boruboulenc are used.

Lately a few growers have planted chardonnay successfully.

The white wines are fragrant, smooth, relatively high in alcohol, the red full-bodied, full-flavoured, well extracted, and well worth ageing for a few years.

Roses are excellent, as are the sweet aromatic wines.

Both AOC and IGP regions are found in the southwestern part of France.

The most famous are Bergerac, Buzet, Cahors, Cotes du Frontonnais, Gaillac, Monbazillac, Saint Mont, Jurancon, and Madiran.

There are four IGP regions –Cotes de Gascogne (also known for its spirit called Armagnac), Comte Tolosan, and Cotes du Tran.

All produce still dry white and red, and sweet wines.

The main grape varieties are sauvignon blanc, semillon, colombard, ugni blanc, gros manseng, petit manseng, mauzac, courbu, len de len. For reds growers prefer cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, tannat, fer servadou.

The dry white wines have fruity characteristics, and are medium bodied. Reds are medium bodied to full bodied, and easy to enjoy and particularly suited for foods.

Sweet white wines of these regions are well balanced, offer depth and intensity.

Most of the wines represent good value, if and when are available. They are not exported widely to North America except to large markets in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, occasionally to Toronto.

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