Oh la la. La France is world famous for its complex sense of style, taste, elegance and class from fashion to art to food. So, it stands to reason that when it comes to French wine regions, there is a bit more than meets the eye. There are 11 wine regions in all, but only really seven should be on the investment radar – for now.
The 7 main French wine regions are: Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Loire, Rhone, and Provence.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about them!
Alsace Wine Region
Most famous for Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris
Rolling hills, half-timbered houses, Germanic charm and weather that isn’t always the best, Alsace is all about its fruit forward white wines. The area is mainly known for its 51 Grand Crus, produced from one of the four grape varieties allowed under the Grand Cru appellations: Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Alsace only produces around 10% of Pinot Noir – it’s not known as being one of the greatest French red wine regions – yet, to quote celebrated wine critic and wine journalist James Suckling “To have a serious reputation in Alsace, you need to make a serious Pinot Noir”. So investors, don’t forget to put a little extra on red.
Burgundy Wine Region
Most famous for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
Burgundy is part of the French wine region holy trinity (the other two being of course Bordeaux and Champagne) and home to seven of France’s top ten most expensive wines. Because of the topography of the region, no producer has huge swathes of land, and often will have tiny parcels of land miles apart from each other planted with the same varietal. Yet, what a terroir it is! Natural hillsides with clay-limestone soils of extremely variable composition make for superbly complex and full-bodied red, and light-bodied, easily drinkable whites (Chablis anyone?). Oh and by the way, the Burgundy terroir stretching from Paris to the north of Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Learn more about Burgundy in our special guide!
Bordeaux Wine Region
Most famous for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blends
Just mention the word Bordeaux and you are already in red wine paradise. Possibly, in fact probably, this is the most famous wine region in the world. Home to behemoth first growths Châteaux Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion, basically, it doesn’t get better than Bordeaux.
The first thing you need to know about this French red wine region is that yes, it’s all about le rouge here. White Bordeaux is a lovely thing but it only accounts for 10% of the region’s annual production (although that is still around 4,000,000 cases per year). The next thing to know is that Bordeaux is a tale of two halves – Left Bank and Right Bank. The river Gironde separates the region, making the terroir significantly different on each side. The left side soil is rockier, packed with gravel, clay and deep deposits of limestone. Originally considered as “bad” soil, it is anything but – the vines have to struggle for nutrients, ultimately giving the wine more character and greater potential ageing quality. All five First Growths are Left Bank.
Learn more about the notorious Bordeaux in our guide!
Champagne Wine Region
Most famous for Sparkling wine
Far more than just a fizzy white wine, Champagne is a way of life. It epitomises luxury, confidence, wealth and celebration, and is the go to drink when times are good. So it is no wonder that the Champagnois are so keen to keep its eponymous wine within its borders.
The region is located an hour east of Paris, and is around 33,000 hectares large. Within that space, around 300 champagne houses are allowed to produce capital C Champagne. The combination of being as far north as is commercially possible, chalky terroir, lots of rainfall and lots of cool, damp cellars for ageing is what makes Champagne stand head and shoulders above its other fizzy counterparts. Rather surprisingly for a white wine, Champagne is made from mainly black grapes, 40% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier and just 30% Chardonnay.
Learn more about the sparkling beauty of Champagne.
Loire Wine Region
Most famous for Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet
World famous for its majestic chateaux, medieval towns and bustling markets, the Loire Valley makes some of the best wine in the world. Think dry Chenin Blancs, citrusy Sauvignons, sparkling Vouvrays and light as a feather Muscadets. The 600-miles of Loire Valley region is laced with vineyards all the way from Sancerre to the ocean, with fairytale castles and rolling sunflower fields providing the backdrop for the rest of the pretty landscape. The Loire Valley is divided into four sub regions (lower, centre, middle and upper) and planted predominantly with Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne. With such a large area, terroir is varied, but expect granite sands, bedrock and stony soils, which provide excellent drainage with the wet weather.
Rhone Wine Region
Most famous for Syrah & Grenache blends
France’s second largest wine region, the Rhone Valley is prolific – producing around 4,000,0000 bottles of wine per year. While it may be better known for quantity over quality, the region is also one of France’s most ancient wine areas. It has been producing wine since the 4th century BC, thanks to the arrival of some Baccus loving Greeks. The area came to literal fruition however when the Romans used the region as a path as a trade route from the Mediterranean into Gaul and many archeological vestiges of this past still remain. Fifty percent of the wine from the Rhone Valley is “entry level”, although with 17 different Crus, there are some excellent investment opportunities to be had – Chateauneuf du Pape being just one. This is another region divided by a river, and again the terroir Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone differs vastly from one bank to another.
Provence Wine Region
Most famous for Rose
Ah – Provence, the sound of cicadas, the smell of lavender, the promise of sunny days and warm nights. Conjure up images of the South of France and we guarantee they’ll be accompanied by the region’s most famous local hero, rosé.
The region’s relatively small size – just 20,000 hectares compared to the massive 115,000 of Bordeaux, belies its prolificness. Provencal wines are hugely popular, with the region producing 150 million bottles per year, making it the no.1 French region for AOC rosé wines. The region has nine appellations with AOC wine status, and includes the firm family favourites Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence – the latter being known for all three colours, rather than just rosé. Not only is the region spellbinding to look at – sloping hills flanked by mountains that stretch gently into the Meditteranean, but the climate is clement, resulting in the magical union of terroir and temperature. Many grape varietals thrive here which explains the patchwork of wine that the region produces. However, despite Provence’s popularity as both a holiday destination and a French wine region, investment wines from the area have been slow to arrive. Investors take note, this may soon change, as producers move away from making cheap’n’cheerful rosé for tourists and look towards a more serious, rose coloured future.
Other French Wine Regions
While the regions we have detailed above are undeniably France’s most famous, as investors we would remiss to not be aware of the other four regions that make up the rest of the country. We are of course talking about:
or the lifeblood of Lyon. Famous for its Beaujolais Nouveau that gets wine enthusiasts excited every third Thursday of November. Do not overlook the other 12 appellations of the region. Expect extremely drinkable wines made from Gamay.
Known as “L’Ile de Beauté” – quite literally, the Beautiful Ilse, Corsica is France’s worst kept secret. Found 150 miles south from the coast of Nice – on a clear day you can see all the way to the mainland – the island’s wines are very much like the island itself. That is to say excellent. Think rosés bursting with fruit, deep reds and sunshiny whites.
Or south west if you’re not a francophile. This region is often overshadowed by its sexier, better known, neighbour Bordeaux. But if the more famous wine’s price tags are a little too much for your pocket then you’d be wise to say bonjour to this french red wine region. Many of the wines are very close to Bordeaux in style and quality, making the suc-ouest a secret worth telling.
Perhaps the most exciting french wine region today. Found on the south coast sandwiched in between Provence and the Sud Ouest, the region has been revitalised in recent years. Think time honoured traditions, massive output and a diverse range of largely biodynamic wines. Definitely one to watch.
French Wine Classifications
Understanding French wine labels can be a bit of a minefield. Whether you are a beginner, a buyer, an investor through a wine investment app, a lover or a lush, there is no excuse these days to not know what’s what in the wine world. So concentrate, as here comes the science bit…
French wine classification is divided into three main groups:
- AOC – which stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, and refers to standards set for wines made in France by the Ministry of Agriculture. This is the best classification, so this is the one you should be looking out for.
- Vin de Pays – Also known as IGP. Quite literally “country wine”, and is a step above Vin de Table but below an AOC. Vins de Pays are all about region of origin but there is no guarantee that the grapes all come from the same producer.
- Vin de Table – the lowest of the three. These table wines come from grapes that are not necessarily all from the same place, and French law prohibits origin and sometimes vintage to be displayed on the wine label.
However, as with all things French, it’s not that easy. Within each of the three main classifications, there exists a plethora of sub-categories. For now we are only interested in AOC wine for investment purposes, but there are some great online articles if you are interested in learning more about Vin de Pays and Vin de Table.
In order to understand the AOC wine classification, you need to understand that France is a country that loves its food. The AOC concept was set up in 1935 in order to protect a set of gastronomic standards, which are still strictly adhered to today. There is an AOC for all key agricultural French produce including cheese, butter, lavender, and erm … lentils (among many other things). For wine however, the AOC concept is based on terroir, the key factor in all French wine regions and is what makes the difference between a fabulous First Growth and a vulgar Vin de Table.
Naturally, all the First to Fifth Growths (Premiers Crus) in the Bordeaux 1855 classification are AOC wines, as are Grands Crus for other regions. And you’ve surely heard that Champagne can only be called Champagne if it is actually from the region of Champagne? Yes, well that’s because it falls under the AOC rules. The standards are high and varied – and the INAO (the governing body of the AOC) will not let anything slip, regardless of who you are. In fact, so picky is the INAO that in 2000 they famously downgraded Châteaux Valandraud, a star St Emilion Grand Cru and Châteaux Fontenil – owned by wine consultant extraordinaire Michel Rolland – for using plastic sheeting to protect their vines and prevent rainwater ruining their crop. Apparently that was a non, monsieur from them on grounds that it was illegal, forcing both châteaux to sell their wine as a vin de table. Sacré bleu!
AOC Wine Designations
Now that we’ve understood that standards are high, it’s time to understand the many (many) different designations that exist with a single category. To make it easy for you, think of Russian Dolls. Each doll hides a smaller one until you get to the tiniest one that is the essence of the matryoshka. The concept is much the same for French wine labels and their classifications – the further you go down the funnel, the more specific the information.
- Regional: This pretty much does what it says on the box – i.e. it’s fairly self explanatory. Regional examples can include French red wine regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.
- Sub-regional: this is where some of the more interesting information lies, and really where you would start looking if you were interested in investing.Think Haut-Médoc, or Graves and you get the picture.
- Commune/Village: As we travel further down the rainbow, we get closer to the pot of gold. Examples of communes and villages in the sub-region of Haut-Medoc would be St. Estèphe, Pauillac, St. Julien and Margaux, for Graves, think Sauternes.
- Special Classification: This is really the final cherry on the cake and not visible on every AOC wine. A special classification might denote a Grand Cru or First Growth for example, or a particularly famous vineyard.
Many of these wines are great not only for consumption but also for investment. Do you know that wine investment is now super secure and also fun? If you’re interested, make sure to read our guide on how to invest in wine.