Wine from France seems like the end all and be all of wine, with bottles that reach thousands and thousands of US dollars. But French wine is much more accessible than some would think. In this article we go through the history of French wine, understanding French wine labels, and key winemaking regions in France to give you all the background you need to become an expert of French wine.
A staple at dinner tables across the globe, French wines can be classed as the superstar of the so-called Old World wines. Dating back to ancient Roman times, the French have mastered the art of cultivating and producing some of the best wines in the world that are known for their depth and complexity.
However, compared to their New World counterparts, French wines aren’t the most beginner friendly, and can be daunting particularly for new Filipino wine drinkers. First and foremost is language. If you don’t speak French then it may be hard to get through saying the complete name of a bottle. Second is how they label wine, whereas New World wines typically label their wines according to the grape variety, French wines are categorized by terroir.
Terroir refers to the wine’s region as a whole and the natural factors involved in its creation such as the soils in which it was cultivated, rock altitudes, the terrain, temperature variations, etc. This method of categorization is so specific that even two wines from the same region can have a different terroir.
Similarly, French wines can also be assigned Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or Protégée (AOC or AOP.) This is a government-regulated system that judges the conditions in which the wine is produced, and it is only awarded to the highest-quality wines. In other words, any wine you come across that has AOC or AOP on the bottle is truly world-class, at least according to the French.
As we mentioned, French wines are labelled according to their terroir. In other words, having a good knowledge of French wine regions is essentially a prerequisite in knowing what you’re actually buying. So let’s go into some of the main regions and what they’re known for.
Located in the South of France, Bordeaux (bore-doe) is home to over 60 growing appellations with the majority of red wine being produced - largely from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. In fact, most Bordeaux wines are a blend of different grape varieties, and the red Bordeaux is one of the most copied blends in the world.
However, Bordeaux itself has different appellations meaning not only does it produce bold red wines, you can also find dry and sweet white wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blends. So what are the different sub-regions in Bordeaux?
First, the Gironde Estuary splits Bordeaux into two: the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Due to a higher gravel count, the Left Bank is more favorable to Cabernet Sauvignon and produces some of the boldest and most tannic Bordeaux wines. In fact, they pair well with many Filipino dishes
Whereas the Right Bank, with its clay-rich soil and harsher temperatures, favors Merlot grapes and produces bold plummy wine with refined tannins perfect for those who want to be introduced into the region.
Then in the middle of these two areas - called Entre-Deux-Mers - is where you’ll find many of the white wines that have zippy citrus notes. Imagine a hot summer day, laying on the beach or lazing by the pool, with a cool glass of Château Gantonnet Bordeaux Blanc in hand - with its pineapple and citrus notes - now that’s a refreshing pairing.
While known for producing some of the most expensive wines, Filipinos may shy away from Bordeaux wines. But we’re here to say that shouldn’t be the case. There are plenty of more approachable Bordeaux wines out there (we’ve got amazing options under 1,000 pesos) which don’t sacrifice taste for price that we can enjoy any time of the year - whether it’s a glass of wine after work or you’re celebrating with family, there’s a Bordeaux for you.
Burgundy (or as the French would call it, Bourgogne) also makes some of the most popular wines. However, they are made in much smaller quantities as compared to Bordeaux which adds to their value, and in turn a traditionally higher price tag. Located in eastern France between Lyon and Dijon, Burgundy is dominated by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Now, just like Bordeaux, within Burgundy you’ve got different wine growing areas:
Champagne is located in the northernmost region of France. Due to its northern latitude, grapes struggle to ripen and so sparkling wines - where acidity is a virtue - are the predominant type that is produced.
Your bottle of bubbles at Noche Buena or New Years Eve will most often be a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier and is made using méthode Champenoise. In this process, the wine undergoes a second fermentation within the bottle which traps carbon dioxide thus producing bubbles. However, unlike other French wines, Champagne’s taste is not dependent on vintage. In fact, it’s often made using a blend of different vintages which helps deliver a more consistent flavor profile.
Wine aficionados might recognize the names Châteaunefuf-du-Pape or Hermitage - these are appellations in the Rhône Valley. You’ll find this area running north to south along the Rhône River in southeastern France and is split into Northern Rhône Valley and Southern Rhône Valley. Each of which have distinctive climates, however red wine reigns supreme from this region.
The Northern Rhône area is much smaller, with a cooler continental climate and granite soil that produces fantastic Syrah-based reds that are bolder than the Australian Shiraz. They’ll often be more peppery, or spicy if you will, making it a great pairing at barbecues. In the north is also where you’ll find the white wine options from Marsanne - popular names include Hermitage, St. Joseph, and Crozes-Hermitage.
The Southern region in turn produces Grenache Syrah Mourvedre (GSM) blends. The Grenache brings in spiced berry flavors whilst Syrah brings out smoked meat and black pepper then Mourvedre adds earth tones. All in all the GSM blend is a unique, yet very enjoyable value-driven wine that we think many Filipinos will enjoy.
Now that you’ve got a crash course on French wines you might be wondering “but where do I start?” Well, just as your preference for coffee, your taste in wine is personal. We recommend just starting somewhere. Where we can help is to ensure that no matter where you start, you’ll always have a great-value bottle in hand. More importantly, a good tasting wine that has been tested and approved by our local sommeliers. Check out our collection of affordable French wines and let us know what you think!
If you don’t think your bottle is of high quality, no worries, our customer guarantee means you can send your bottle back and we’ll replace or refund it - no questions asked, though we do welcome your feedback.
Now what are you waiting for? Get yourself a bottle of French wine and start exploring the vast world of wine. Santé.