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Best French Wines: Guide For Types of French Wines

Best French Wines: Guide For Types of French Wines

franco salzillo arriaga |

French wine inspires winemakers worldwide. From the ruby-hued Clarets of Bordeaux to the fizzy Champagne, the country’s wine styles are just on another level. Wine in France is more than well-made fermented grape juice; it is, in many cases, the original wine style now imitated in every other wine-producing country. This is where everything started for the modern wine scene.

There’s no doubt French wine is of the highest quality, but it’s fun as well! After all, wine is part of the country’s lifestyle, and the French do know how to enjoy themselves, especially around the table. Here are the top French wines, a complete buying guide for the finest French wines with examples. Add the best French red and best French white wine to your bucket list!

1. Left Bank Bordeaux

Bordeaux is a complex wine region on France’s Atlantic coast. The rainy area is significant in the world’s wine trade, and it is home to some of the most popular red grapes on the planet: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Bordeaux, though, is not a wine region but many, and one of the most significant areas lies in the Gironde Estuary’s Right Bank. Here, Chateaux tend vines as if they were gardens, and the grapes quality is hard to match.

A good Right Bank ‘claret’ is bold and flavourful and often shows a concentrated and textural palate built to age. And although premium Right Bank Bordeaux might be expensive, the region is full of surprises at all price points.

Wines to Try:

Chateau Lynch-Bages 2005

2. Right Bank Bordeaux

The wine regions on the right side of the Gironde estuary and the Dordogne River are home to winemakers as prestigious as the Medoc’s Chateaus. The appellations of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are surely the most renowned and produce wine of the highest quality.

Saint-Émilion is known for its red wine made with Cabernet Franc with hints of Merlot, and the vineyards in Pomerol produce the most concentrated Merlot grapes on the planet. You’ve undoubtedly heard about famous wines such as Petrus and Cheval Blanc. Well, they’re great examples of the Right Bank.

Wines to Try:

Chateau Canon, St. Émilion 1er Cru Grand Classé 2016

Chateau Lafleur, Pomerol 2008

3. Sauternes

Sauternes is a small wine appellation within Bordeaux, and the Chateaux here specialize in one of the most luscious, sweet white wines in the world. Sauternes is made with botrytized Sauvignon and Semillon grapes, affected by the ‘noble rot’ that dries the grapes, concentrating their flavor and sugar.

The sweet white wine is the perfect match for the region’s foie gras, and it also complements mildly sweet desserts, such as fruit tarts and meringues. Sauternes is also incredibly age-worthy — you can enjoy the liquid gold for many decades.

Wines to Try:

Château Rieussec 1er Cru G.C.C. 1855 Sauternes 2006

4. Burgundy’s Cote d’Or

For many, the best French red wine comes from the Cote d’Or, AKA the Golden Slope, in Burgundy. The clay and limestone soils are ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and winemakers here have mastered the art of making the most of such noble Burgundian varietals. Vineyards here go back to the monasteries of the Middle Ages!

Although some of the most expensive wine bottles come from Burgundy, not all wine in the region is pricey. Regional wine and wine made at a commune level are approachable and often represent great value. The most exclusive vineyards, though, classified as Premier and Grand Crus, are the source of the most coveted wines by collectors and wine lovers alike.

Wines to Try:

Bruno Clair Marsannay ‘Les Grasses Tete’ 2016

Domaine Heitz-Lochardet Pommard 1er Cru Les Pezerolles 2016

5. Chablis

There’s no doubt the most prestigious and complex Chardonnays in the world come from Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, but the versatile grape thrives in the region’s colder vineyards as well, up North in Chablis. The temperature here is often unforgiving, and the Spring frosts can obliterate the year’s production overnight. Still, winemakers in Chablis rely on Chardonnay’s resilient personality to deliver crisp, mineral-driven white wines with astounding versatility on the table.

Chablis is amongst the best French white wines, and few wines are as compatible with oysters, raw seafood and delicate food — it’s Chardonnay showing its noble character, even in the coldest conditions.

Wines to try:

Domaine Seguinot Bordet Petit Chablis 2019

Domaine William Fevre Petit Chablis 2019

6. Beaujolais

Beaujolais is a wine region in its own right, but it’s also considered the more approachable side of Burgundy. Here’s the fruit-forward, thin-skinned Gamay delivers the most attractive young red wines, often produced and bottled un-aged in the same year of the harvest — that’s the Beaujolais Nouveau. Still, producers make complex, more sophisticated Beaujolais in the region’s most prestigious areas or Crus, especially from Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie and  Juliénas.

Beaujolais is just easy to love. The cherry-scented wine is bright and lively, and that goes for even the most age-worthy examples. Delightful with cured meats and comfort food, Beaujolais shows that French wine is not always severe and contemplative — it’s also fun!

Wine to try:

Georges Duboeuf Fleurie 2017

7. Northern Rhône

The Northern Rhône is a narrow valley overlooking the winding Rhône River. The vineyards hug the steep hillsides and benefit from the overwhelming Mistral wind and the region’s intense sunlight. Some of these terraced vineyards where built by the Ancient Romans!

Syrah is king on the Northern Rhône, and grape growers plant a trio of white grapes in the area as well, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Extraordinary appellations, including the famous Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie and are source of exciting red wines blessed by scents of blackberries, leather and black pepper over robust palates, and these wines can age! No wine collection is complete without a few bottles of Northern Rhone Syrah.

Wines to Try:

Guigal Hermitage 2017


Domaine Rene Rostaing Côte-Rôtie ‘La Landonne’ 2017

8. Southern Rhône

Unlike the Northern Rhône, Rhône Meridionale is a vast, arid wine region where dozens of small towns produce wine under the Côte du Rhône umbrella appellation. The most successful, like Vacqueyras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Tavel and others have gained their own appellation. Nevertheless, the wine here shares similar traits. High alcohol, ripe fruit aromas, scents redolent of the region’s ‘garrigue’ scrub, and a beautifully rustic personality.

Quality varies in Southern Rhône, as the region is the source of affordable everyday red wine made with a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and others. The finest examples, though, are amongst the top French wines.

Wines to Try:

Domaine du Vieux Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016

Chateau Des Tours Vacqueyras 2011

9. Provence

Provence is a luxury travel destination, home to the beautiful cities of Nice, Monaco, Cannes and Marseille. This is the exclusive French Riviera along the Mediterranean Coast, and what you want to drink here is pink wine. Provençal rosé is fruit-forward and mineral, additively refreshing and easy to drink. Still, the salmon-hued wine is elegant and nuanced.

Provençal rosé is the stuff of legend, and it’s very well priced! Every wine-producing country makes some rosé, but most experts agree there’s no substitution for Provençal pink wine. Winemaking here goes back to the Ancient Greeks, who found in the sunny, pastoral terroir a prime spot for high-quality wine.

Wines to try:

Chateau La Gordonne Rose 2019

Domaines Ott ‘Clos Mireille Coeur de Grain’ Rose Côtes de Provence 2018

10. Languedoc-Roussillon

The warm and sunny Languedoc and Roussillon appellations are the largest and most significant in Southern France. Here, the higher temperatures are more suitable for red grapes such as Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, and international varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

It comes without saying the warm region is also the source of much table wine, but the finest wines from Languedoc-Roussillon are up there with the best in the country. Red, white, sparkling or rosé. Southern France has it all, and you can expect an excellent quality-price ratio.

Wines to try:

Guillaume Armand Le Petit Camartel 2019

Domaine Saint Sylvestre Puechabon Terrasses du Larzac Rouge 2012

11. Alsace

Alsace is a Northern French wine region right at the border with Germany. The tight valley between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine river is ideal for producing premium white wine, and the wine is good!

Family-owned wineries go back for generations in Alsace, and the region’s steep vineyards are home to an exclusive set of wine grapes: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat and others. Pinot Noir is the only red grape planted here, but there’s no doubt Alsace is all about the age-worthy white wine. With an immense variety of soil types, an unusually sunny climate and hundreds of years of expertise, Alsace’s white wine is not only on another level but also impossible to imitate.

Wines to try:

Trimbach Riesling Reserve 2016

Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Gewurztraminer 2018

12. Champagne

Champagne is the ultimate destination for ‘traditional method’ sparkling wine. Elegant, exclusive and highly refined, there’s no bubbly wine to match the region’s craftsmanship. Here, producers make sparkling wine with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier in one of the harshest and coldest climates in the wine world. Producers often make sophisticated blends of grapes, vineyards and vintages before aging them for decades — that’s the secret behind Champagne’s success and the reason it’s so expensive!

Few types of French wine are as famous as Champagne, and few wineries worldwide have the prestige of the famous Maisons de Champagne. They have undoubtedly gained a place in everyone’s hearts.

Wines to try:

Pommery Brut Royal Champagne

Laurent Perrier La Cuvee Brut NV

13. The Loire Valley

We could put together a reliable ‘top French wines list’ only using the Loire Valley’s incredibly varied wine. The northern region is divided into specialised wine-producing areas, each with unique grape varieties and wine styles.

Near the Atlantic Coast, producers make mineral and sea-scented Muscadet with Melon de Bourgogne. As you travel inland, you’ll discover the most extraordinarily sweet, dry and bubbly Chenin Blanc and the closer you get to Paris, the more Sauvignon Blanc you see. Red wine is well represented in the Loire Valley as well, especially with its bold and rustic Cabernet Franc and its elegant Pinot Noir.

Wines to try:

Serge Dagueneau Pouilly Fume 2016

Roches Neuves Les Roches 2015

Chateau Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Quarte de Chaume 2016

French Wine Has No Equal

Sure, you’ll find astounding wine coming from every wine-producing country on the planet. Still, there’s nothing like French wine — the source of inspiration for winemakers worldwide, where every wine style sets the standard for its category. If you want to make it in the wine world, the top French wines are the ones to beat.

For us wine lovers, French wine is a collection of classic wine styles perfected for centuries with a single aim: to show the country’s terroir in every bottle, glass and drop of wine. French wine might be intimidating, but it is easy to love! Find your favourite types of French wine and make them part of your life!