Ultimate Guide to French Wines

An old cellar of traditional French wine producer.
French wine varies from region to region. See our collection of wine pictures.

­Few countries have impacted wine-making standards and methods as much as France has. Winemaking in France is as old as the country itself. Over the years, different segments of society have been the primary cultivators of French wine -- from the peasants who made and drank the wine in the early years to the church that almost completely controlled wine production in France f­or a period after the 13th century, and finally to the nobility who eventually took over wine production.

Wine-making in France hasn't always been a smooth process. In the early years, a Roman emperor made a decree that forced all vineyards outside of Italy to shut down. Years passed before France could begin planting again. Later, around the year 1800, the entire French wine-making industry was almost driven to a complete stop by a series of diseases that attacked the vineyards. Although progress was made in fighting these diseases, it took nearly 80 years to re-stabilize vine cultivation. Then, World War I and World War II took their toll on Europe, and again the wine industry was hurt [source: eZine Articles]. Demand for good French wine was at an all-time high, and supply was at an all-time low. Counterfeit French wines began showing up, poisoning the country's reputation. France's status as a leading wine producer was in jeopardy.


­The rough conditions of the 19th and early 20th century didn't ruin France's wine industry, however. It emerged stronger. To combat the ­counterfeit wines, France passed a series of laws called the Appellation d'Origine Controlee (which means "regulated origin name" and is commonly referred to as the A.O.C.). The goal of these laws was to define, control and protect the geography and quality of the wines of France [source: Wine Pros]. Only wines that met the A.O.C. standards were allowed to call themselves by the name of the region of France in which they were cultivated. The A.O.C. restored faith in French wines and allowed the country to reclaim its status as one of the planet's most trusted sources of fine wine.

French Wine Regions

France isn't famous for merely one kind of wine. The varieties produced in France seem almost endless. The most common French wine regions are Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire, Provence and the Rhone Valley [source: Tasting Wine]. The type of wine that each region is known for depends on that area's terroir. Terroir is the term for a wine-making region's characteristics, such as soil composition, weather, the type of grapes that grow there and wine-making techniques [source: French Wine Guide]. France's geography allows it to have several wildly different terroirs, which results in several wildly different kinds of wine. Read below for information on the more famous wine regions of France:

  • Alsace - One of the smallest wine regions in France, it's found in the Northeast. Alsace is known for its dry, sweet white wines like Riesling.
  • Bordeaux - An Atlantic Coast region in the southwest of France, this region is known for the full to medium body red wines it produces, such as Cabernet-Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Bordeaux is said to produce more than a third of all the wine from France.
  • Burgundy - Found south of Paris, Burgundy is known for both its red and white wines, including Chardonnay. Like Alsace, Burgundy's hot summers and cold winters are ideal for grape growing.
  • Champagne - Possibly the most famous wine region in the world, Champagne is located in Northeast France and is known for its sparkling wines. Its summers are not as warm as other regions and its winters are more mild. This, coupled with the chalky soil, make it ideal for sparkling wine.
  • Languedoc-Roussillon - Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Languedoc-Roussillon is one of the largest regions of France. It's known for a wide range of red wines, including Merlot.
  • Loire - A valley as well-known for its beauty as for its legendary white wines, Loire has winters that range from mild to cold and summers that vary from mild to warm.
  • Provence - In the Southeast of France, Provence is known for its rose wines. Grapes like Cinsult and Rolle grow well in the mild winters and hot summers.
  • Rhone Valley - South of Lyon, the Rhone Valley stretches to the Mediterranean Sea. It's less known for a particular wine than it is for growing an incredibly diverse range of wines [Source: Tasting Wine].

For more information, visit the links on the next page -- then sip away!


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Tasting Wine. "French Wine Regions." Morefocus Group, Inc. (Jan. 25, 2009)http://www.tasting-wine.com/articles/wine-regions-and-areas/french-wine-regions/index.php
  • French Wine Guide. "French Wine Regions." Terroir-france.com, Webmaster-Now. (Jan. 25, 2009)http://www.terroir-france.com/wine/regions.htm
  • French Wine Guide. "Terrior Definition." Terroir-france.com, Webmaster-Now. (Jan. 25, 2009)http://www.terroir-france.com/theclub/meaning.htm
  • eZine Articles. "The History of French Wine." ezinearticles.com. (Jan. 25, 2009)http://ezinearticles.com/?The-History-of-French-Wine&id=408804
  • LaMar, Jim. " Appellations d'Origine Controlee | Vincyclopedia." Vincyclopedia, Professional Friends of Wine, Winepro.org. (Jan. 25, 2009)http://www.winepros.org/wine101/vincyc-aoc.htm