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5 French Wine Regions You Should Know

5 French Wine Regions You Should Know | The Latest | RedThumb Natural Wines

Country: France

Regions: Bordeaux, Alsace, Champagne, Burgundy, Loire Valley

Next up in our series on the world’s great wine regions is France. [ICYMI: We’ve already done one for Spain].

I bet when most people think of wine producing countries, France is at or near the top of the list, and for good reason. The grapes and styles of wine made in France set the template for most of the world, and the quality produced there at every price point means anyone can enjoy French wine. Annnnd we choose to pair the regions with actors because we love the side of drama that often comes with a lot of wine—maybe “these pairings” will help you retain the regional info, too. (It’s just a device, Dan. 😆)

Bordeaux: George Clooney

Merlot | Cabernet Sauvignon | Cabernet Franc

Clooney’s suave demeanor and classic style align with the reputation of Bordeaux wines for their elegance, complexity, and long-standing legacy as some of the finest wines in the world.

Located in the southwest, Bordeaux is otherwise known as the world’s wine capital. Bordeaux is one of the most renowned wine regions and produces some of the most famous [and expensive] wines in the world. These wines are known for their elegance and complexity.

Bordeaux is physically divided by the Gironde river, creating a left bank and right bank. This also serves as an easy way to separate the wines, most of which are blends of grapes [and not single varietal]. The blends on the left bank tend to favor Cabernet Sauvignon, while the blends on the right bank are dominated by Merlot. From there, the region is divided further into smaller regions known as crus.

While the Bordeaux region produces all types of grapes [and therefore wines], the vast majority of the production is red wine. Bordeaux is a very tightly controlled region, and only Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and a tiny bit of Carménère are used to make red wines in this region. You may also have heard of White Bordeaux, which are wines made with Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle grapes—all of which grow in this region as well.

The area is also known for the delicious dessert wines of Sauternes, made by allowing Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes to stay on the vine until they begin to rot, which creates really great flavors and complexity.

Soils of Bordeaux:

gravel (helps with the development of important mineral characteristics in the wine) | clay | limestone

Popular foods from the Bordeaux region:

Arcachon Bay oysters | Caviar | Cannelé de Bordeaux

Alsace: Willem Dafoe

Riesling | Muscat | Pinot Blanc | Sylvaner | Gewurztraminer | Pinot Noir

Like Willem Dafoe’s unconventional—and sometimes eccentric—performances, Alsace wines are known for unique characteristics that may deviate from traditional wine norms. The flavors often stump wine drinkers but are highly appreciated by those who are on the hunt for unique and complex tastes.

Considering its proximity to Germany [in the northeast of France], the Alsace region’s wines differ from most French wines. Alsace is the only French wine region to grow significant quantities of Riesling and Gewurztraminer, both grapes that are commonly associated with German wines. This makes sense, since Alsace bounced back and forth between French and German control for years. 90% of the wine produced in Alsace is white, but there are excellent Pinot Noirs from the region as well.

The climate in Alsace is perfect for growing grapevines. The summers are warm and dry, while the winters are cold enough to allow the grapes to develop properly. The soil in Alsace is also ideal for viticulture, being rich in minerals and well-drained.

Soils of Alsace:

limestone | marl | granitic | schist | sandstone | loess and loam | alluvial

Popular foods from the Alsace region:

Choucroûte garnie | Tarte aux poires (pear tart) | Tarte flambée

Champagne: Denzel Washington
Chardonnay | Pinot Noir | Pinot Meunier

Just as Denzel Washington is amazing in any role, Champagne wines are known to elevate any occasion. We could have started with this one, as it’s our favorite.

This region is most famous for, you guessed it, sparkling wines.

The Champagne region is located just an hour east of Paris. It has both an oceanic climate, which means winters aren’t too cold and summers aren’t too hot, and continental influences, which can lead to freezing temperatures in the winter. A combination of these two climates make the conditions just right for making sparkling wines. It assists in creating a balance between acidity and sugar levels in the grapes as they grow.

The only grape varietals allowed in Champagne winemaking are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. There are also Champagnes made from 100% Chardonnay or 100% Pinot Noir, which you’ve seen on bottles as Blanc de Blanc or Blanc de Noir, respectively.

Most Champagne is a blend of wine from multiple harvests, or what is called a non-vintage wine. In a particularly good year, a Champagne producer can “declare a vintage”, meaning they will produce a wine made only from grapes grown that year. These are generally the best wines the producer will offer and have a price tag to match.

Soils of Champagne:

Limestone | chalk | marl | limestone

Popular foods from the Champagne region:

Reims ham | Chaource | Bouchons de Champagne Chocolat

Burgundy: Timothé Chalamet

Pinot Noir | Chardonnay

Burgundy wines have a reputation for their finesse, complexity and ability to improve with age— just as Timothé Chalamet has years of acting potential ahead of him.

Burgundy is a small region located in east-central France and divided into five sub-regions: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, and Mâconnais, with over 100 approved appellations within those main five. Wines from these regions are then divided further into four levels of quality: Region, Village, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. Just to keep things interesting, the French have given Chablis its own system of classification apart from these four used in the rest of the region.

Burgundy is home to the most coveted Pinot Noir in the world. Producers like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine D’Auvenay, and Domaine Georges and Christophe Roumier produce bottles that routinely sell for over $20,000 at auction for just one bottle. Don’t let those prices scare you away, though. There are incredible wines from all over Burgundy at every price point.

The region is also known for producing high quality Chardonnay, with the very best examples competing with the Pinot Noirs for top dollar at auction. Most are aged in oak, too. Chablis, again, is the exception as it generally produces bright and vibrant unoaked Chardonnays.

Soils of Burgundy:

clay | limestone | gravel | sand

Popular foods from the Burgundy region:

Coq au vin | Boeuf bourguignon | Oeufs en meurette

Rhône Valley: Brad Pitt

Grenache | Syrah | Carignan | Mourvedre

Brad Pitt: equally great in a summer blockbuster (Southern Rhône) or a tightly wound drama (Northern Rhône). Southern Rhône wines are bold and rich and really know how to capture people’s attention with their intensity. Northern Rhône produces more restrained, elegant wines where characters have more depth and complexity.

The Rhône Valley is located in southeastern France and it is one of the country’s oldest wine regions. The valley is divided into two parts: The Northern Rhône and The Southern Rhône. While the Southern Rhône produces the majority of wine (approximately 95%) in the region, my favorite wines in the world are the reds made in the Northern Rhône.

In the Northern Rhône, the only red wine grape that is allowed to be planted is Syrah. However, there are three white wine grapes that are allowed for planting here: Roussane, Marsanne, and Viognier. The Northern Rhône is composed of a continental climate, with steep hillsides and terraced vineyards.

The Southern Rhône is much different from the north with its Mediterranean climate and Mistral Wind (can reach 80 mph!). The major appellations in the Southern Rhône are Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, and Gigondas. Grenache is the most important varietal in the Southern Rhône and is in most of the red wines, followed by Syrah and Mourvèdre.

Soils of Rhône Valley:

granite | clay | limestone | sand

Popular foods from the Rhône Valley region:

La friture du Rhône (fried fish) | Truffade | Savoyarde Cheese Fondue

More wine [info]?

We could talk about wine forever and ever but thanks to social awareness we’ll leave you with this rundown in hopes that your wine knowledge grew a bit beyond Champagne can only be called Champagne if it’s from that region in France.

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