A Beginner’s Guide to France’s Wine Regions

French wine regions

Bienvenue en France!  The so-called “Hexagon” is home to plenty of clichés (most of which tend to reflect reality), like baguettes, striped sweaters, bérets, cheeses, haute gastronomie… and copious amounts of wine.

So whether you’re a wine aficionado or simply an amateur of the finer things in life, it goes without saying that your next holiday in France should include at least one (but really, we mean five) stops in a winery.

Bordeaux

French wine regions

Because of its location along the Atlantic coast, Bordeaux has a long history of exporting its wines overseas – which perhaps explains why they are some of the most celebrated in the world. And with a total vineyard area of over 120,000 hectares, it is also the largest of France. Home to exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes, Bordeaux is primarily a red wine region – although the few whites it does produce are unparalleled in quality and taste, like the sweet Sauternes.

Must do’s in Bordeaux include the picturesque medieval village of Saint-Émilion, which is home to not only spectacular architecture but also a Maison des vins where all local AOC wines are on sale. For the winery experience, famous high-end estates like Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour and Château Margaux all offer guided visits (by appointment).

Burgundy

French wine regions

Situated in eastern France, Burgundy holds the largest amount of appellations of any French region, and its top grands crus understandably command high prices. What makes Burgundy so interesting, besides its terroir-oriented production, is its equal distribution of reds and whites; the former focuses on Pinot noir grapes, while the latter uses mostly Chardonnay grapes, which are especially delightful in the Chablis subregion.

If you are visiting in November, you definitely want to experience the late harvest of Beaujolais nouveau near Lyon; it’s the only wine that can be legally consumed in the year of its production. At any other time of the year, perhaps a visit to the Burgundy Wine Museum in Beaune is in order.

Loire

French wine regions

How about a glass of sweet white with a side of Renaissance castle? It’s all possible in the Loire Valley and the Tours vicinity. While predominantly a white wine region, the Loire Valley produces a vast variety of wines, from crisp reds to sparkling crémants and even dessert wines – but whatever the type, these wines are famous for their fruity flavors and refreshing taste, most of which make for the perfect apéritif. If you’re not familiar with Loire wines, start your journey at the Maison des vins in Tours and continue your exploration in wineries that appealed to your palate the most!

The Saumur area, more specifically, has plenty of stunning vineyards, complete with fortifications, castles and windmills. A must do!

Curious about the castles and the vineyards but running out of time? Hop on this Loire Valley castles & wine-tasting full-day trip from Paris for a quick but memorable glimpse of France’s most picturesque wine region.

Alsace

French wine regions

Alsace is a destination that will appeal to pretty much everyone – and not just for the wine. The region features some of France’s loveliest half-timber villages (Kaysesberg, Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé) as well as a splendid castle in Haut-Koeningsburg. Not to be outdone, the capital, Strasbourg, offers a surprising yet successful mix of modernity and history.

Alsace obviously doesn’t disappoint in the wine department either. Home to the best dry Rieslings in the world, contrary to popular belief, they are not all sweet- and the highly aromatic Gewürztraminers, it also specializes in sparkling wines with its iconic Crémant d’Alsace and a few note-worthy rosés. There are plenty of wineries open to visitors in the Hunawihr region, along the lower Vosges hills. Better have your camera at the ready!

Provence

French wine regions

Last but not least, Provence is pretty much the world capital of rosé wines. Located in south-eastern France in the backcountry of the Riviera, Provence has been a wine-making region for at least 2600 years. From Greeks to Romans, from Gauls to Catalans, each group brought it own set of influences to the region, which, today, results in a diverse range of flavours.

Provence has eight major wine regions with AOC designations, with the largest being Côtes de Provence, and Cassis being a favourite from tourists because of its exceptionally beautiful setting along the sea. Few things bring more joy and feel more French than sipping an ice-cold glass of rosé on a patio overlooking the Mediterranean at sundown. Pure bliss is what it is!

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About Author

Marie-Eve Vallieres

Marie is a native Montrealer trying to balance a deep love for her hometown and an unquenchable thirst for travel and discovery. She has been to more than 20 countries, lived abroad in both France and the U.K., and is always on the lookout for authentic experiences wherever she travels -- especially if it involves chocolate.

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