My experience with French wine regions wasn’t quite love at first sight. Let me explain.
In 2000, I was in Paris for a month taking a French course. We had a field trip to visit Champagne (find out the difference between Chardonnay vs Champagne if you plan to visit Champagne) and tasted some wine. It was an exciting experience, partially because I was under the legal drinking age back home in Canada (France is different!). Years passed, and I largely forgot about that experience.
Fast forward to 2014, I was back in France again and visited wineries in Bordeaux. This time, I fell hard for wineries. In particular, I remember discovering that Bordeaux is terrific at blending different grape varieties (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc). Before then, I had always assumed that blended wines were somehow low quality.
Without any further ado, here are the top seven French wine regions. Consider this your initial introduction. Once you get familiar with these wine regions, there is much more to discover. I include the distance from Paris to orient travelers because many of us start visiting France in the capital.
1) French Wine Regions: Champagne, the King of Sparkling Wine
- Best known for: traditional sparkling wine
- AOC Wine Appellations: Champagne, Coteaux Champenois, and Rosé des Riceys.
- Fun fact: You can only call a sparkling wine “champagne” if made in the Champagne region of France. Famously, the French strenuously objected when a new Apple iPhone was described as “Champagne” in color. Producing Champagne in the traditional method (i.e., méthode traditionelle) is part of what makes these wines unique. Sometimes other wine regions, like Ontario, use the same production method as Champagne to produce sparkling wines to compete with Champagne.
- Distance From Paris: 121 kilometers, 75 miles (close enough for an easy Paris day trip). Geographically, Champagne is a cool wine region.
2) Bordeaux: The Capital of Fine Red Wines That Last
- Best known for: high-quality blended wines suitable for aging. If you’ve come across an excellent French wine that is ten, twenty, or thirty years old, it is probably a Bordeaux wine. Bordeaux wines were the first to convince me that a blended wine can still be significant. Like other regions, Bordeaux is subdivided into sub-regions like left bank and right bank. In terms of grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are some of the major grape varieties.
- AOC Wine Appellations: there are many wine appellations. Some of the most notable include Graves, Haut-Médoc, Margaux and Pomerol.
- Fun fact: Aged Bordeaux wines are legendary for selling at auction. In 2020, two Bordeaux wines from 1900 sold at Christie’s. While Bordeaux is best known for red wines, there are also many white wines from the region.
- Distance From Paris: 584 kilometers, 362 miles (if you take the TGV high-speed train, it is only 2 hours and fifteen minutes away)
3) Burgundy: Setting The Standard For Pinot Noir
- Best known for: pinot noir and chardonnay. The Burgundy region has made wines since the Roman era. That ancient history is one reason why the region stands out.
- AOC Wine Appellations: like Bordeaux, Burgundy is blessed with many high-quality wine appellations. Major appellations in the region include Chablis, Montrachet, Petit Chablis and Romanée-Conti.
- Fun fact: some collectors go crazy for Burgundy wines. Spending more than a thousand dollars on a single bottle is common. Thankfully, there are also affordable Burgundy wines on the market. To dive deeper into Burgundy wine, take a look at “A Year In Burgundy” (2013), a documentary that explores the making of Burgundy wines from the perspective of seven families.
- Distance From Paris: 304 kilometers, 188 miles (you can make the trip from Paris to Burgundy by the TGV high-speed train in just 80 minutes)
4) Loire Valley: Where Castles and Wine Come Together
- Best known for: Chenin blanc and Sancerre are some of the best-known wines from this region. You can also find great Sauvignon blanc in the Loire Valley.
- AOC Wine Appellations. The Loire started to receive AOC wine recognition in the 1930s. Notable appellations in the Loire include Anjou, Chinon and Muscadet.
- Fun fact: The Loire Valley is home to some of the best-known chateaux (i.e., castles) in France, including Château d’Amboise, where Leonardo da Vinci lived. If you love history and wine, the Loire Valley is tough to beat. While I’ve been to Nantes (a port city on the Atlantic coast), I have yet to explore this region properly.
- Distance From Paris: The Loire Valley is only about 100 KM from Paris. The distance is further if you plan to explore the entire region from the Atlantic coast.
5) Provence: Extraordinary Rosé wine
- Best known for: rosé wine (i.e., my favorite wine to drink in the summer). Compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy, this wine region doesn’t get as much international attention. That means you can more easily discover wines at more accessible prices.
- AOC Wine Appellations. While this French wine region is less widely known than Bordeaux and Burgundy, the first wine appellations date back to the 1930s. Provence wine appellations include Bellet, Cassis and Coteaux Varois.
- Fun fact: The Provence region in France is located in southern France, making it an excellent way to experience Mediterranean France. From Marseilles, you can easily explore the wine region.
- Distance From Paris: Provence is a 750 km drive from Paris. The TGV train makes the journey to Provence in just over three hours.
6) Côtes Du Rhône (or Rhône valley): The Pope’s New Home
- Best known for: the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The region is best known for red wines, but white wines are also made here.
- AOC Wine Appellations. Known simple as Rhône, the region has grown in status over the decades appellations added in the 1930s, 1940s, 1970s, 1980s and beyond. Significant appellations in Rhône include Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Condrieu, Côtes du Rhône.
- Fun fact: Among French wine regions, this region is well known for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Roughly translated as the Pope’s New Castle, the phrase refers to the period when the Roman Catholic Pope was based in France in the 1300s (i.e. the Avignon papacy). I love that French wine regions have a history that goes back centuries.
- Distance From Paris: Like Provence, the Côtes Du Rhône is a long trip from Paris. It is hundreds of miles from the French capital. On the other hand, you also have the opportunity to see some of the French Alps while you’re here.
7) Alsace Wine: The Crossroads of French Wine and German Wine Traditions
- Best known for: light white Riesling wines. In addition, you can also find pinot gris in this region.
- AOC Wine Appellations. Alsace is a smaller wine region with three recognized wine appellations: Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru, Crémant d’Alsace.
- Fun fact: Due to its location on the border of France and Germany, this region has a complex past. It has been part of France and Germany over the centuries. That complex history influences the wines made here.
- Distance From Paris: Close to the German border, Alsace is located in eastern France. The TGV train will bring you there in about three hours and fifteen minutes.
What Are Your Favorite French Wine Regions?
This introduction to French wine regions is just your first glass. In the future, we’ll take a closer look at related French wine regions like Blanquette de Limoux.There is also the little-known southwest region nearby Spain. Over time, I plan to cover these regions in greater detail as I progress through my wine quest to taste a wine from each AOC from France (like this review: lequilbre wine review).