French Wine Regions

The main wine growing areas in France are: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Corsica, Jura and Savoie, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire Valley, Provence, Rhône Valley and the South-west of France (see Wine Map of France). Each of these areas have their own style of wine and reputation. Furthermore, every region has a number of sub-regions, each of which has a certain reputation and is known for a given style (or styles) of wine. The wine bottle label states where the wine is from; in general basic wines specify the region while better or more specialised wines will specify a sub-region. This is because it makes sense for wine producers in above average sub-regions to put their sub-region on the bottle whereas wine producers in average or below average sub-regions have no incentive to put the sub-region on the bottle.

Specifying the region on the wine label is associated with the French belief that the region of origin affects both the style and the quality of wine (for further discussion, see terroir). To some extent this is true; for example the south of France is more suited to heavy fruity red wines whereas the cool north is suitable for crisp whites. In addition to the natural differences between the regions, there are also regional traditions in terms of the production techniques, which also contribute to regional variations. Consequently, one can make general observations about the wine from a given region, or sub-region, such as "Bordeaux has full-bodied reds" or "Chablis in Burgundy has elegant whites".

When first learning about wine, it is useful to develop an appreciation of the differences between the regions and which regions one prefers. For example, if one goes to a good wine merchant and asks for some typical bottles (say from Burgundy, Bordeaux and Alsace) and then compares the taste, the regional characteristics can soon become apparent. However, one also needs to keep in mind that the variation within a given area (except for the smallest sub-regions) is greater than the variation between areas. The area of Sauternes in Bordeaux arguably produces the greatest sweet wines in the world; it also produces many that are fit only to be poured down the drain. Consequently, we suggest that one should then use regions (or for the more sophisticated, sub-regions) to identify the style of wine that one enjoys and then taste around to find some good bottles within this region.


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