Types of French Wines

Karen Frazier
French wine

One of the oldest wine growing countries in the world, France offers a variety of Old World wines made from a vast array of grapes in multiple styles. When most people think of French wines, two or three regions probably come to mind; however, French wine extends far beyond Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne.

Wines from France

Throughout the French countryside, you will see verdant vineyards growing rows and rows of grapes. In 2009, only Spain outproduced France in acreage of wine grapes grown. Currently, France grows approximately 11 percent of the world's wine grapes, at about two million acres throughout the country. In spite of falling behind in acreage, however, France outpaces both Spain and Italy in production, producing a full 17.5 percent of the world's wine supply, or nearly 5 million liters.

Wines in France are named for the region and/or subregion from which they come, rather than the varietal of grape used. French law dictates what types of grapes can be blended into wines with an appellation designation. France has several regions.

Bordeaux

Perhaps the most well-known of all of France's wine regions, Bordeaux produces Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blends with other grapes added, including Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Carmenère, and Malbec. Red Bordeaux wines age well, and they are often powerfully tannic wines with bold flavors of dark fruits, plums, and chocolate. Some of the world's most famous wines come from the Bordeaux region, such as Chateau Lafite-Rothschilde, and the world's most expensive wine, Château Petrus. White Bordeaux wines are typically late harvest, sweet wines made from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The dessert wines contain notes of caramel, vanilla and apricots. These wines are labeled for the sub-regions in which they are produced: Sauternes and Barsac.

Top Vintages

According to Robert Parker, the top Bordeaux vintages (90 points and above) over the past 20 years are:

  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
  • 2005
  • 2003
  • 2001
  • 2000
  • 1998
  • 1995 (Pommerol and Pauillac)

Highly Rated Wines

Wines from excellent vintages are typically very good. Some of Bordeaux's top rated wines recently include:

Rating key:

  • RP=Robert Parker
  • WS= Wine Spectator Magazine
  • W&S= Wine and Spirits
  • WE=Wine Enthusiast
Vintage Name Release Price Rating
2004 Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande $95 92 RP
2005 Michael Rolland Winemakers Collection Cuvee 1 $60 94 RP
2004 Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron Pauillac $85 91 WS
2004 Château Lascombes $82 93 RP
2005 Château de Reignac Cuvee Special $35 93 RP
2003 Château Monbousquet Saint-Emilion $70 93 RP
2004 Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande $95 92 RP
2001 Château Hosanna Pomerol $150 91 WS
2004 Clos Fourtet Saint-Emilion $80 90 WS
2005 Chateau Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan Blanc $50 93 RP
2006 Vieux Château Certan Pomerol $175 96 WS
2006 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien $75 94 WS
2007 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien $66 92 WS
2007 Château Malartic-Lagravière Pessac-Léognan White $72 92 WS
2008 Château Canon-La Gaffelière St.-Emilion $57 93 WS
2009 Château Canon-La Gaffelière St.-Emilion $95 96 WS
2009 Château Peby Faugères St.-Emilion $95 96 WS
2010 Château Haut Gravet St.-Emilion $60 90 WS

Burgundy/Bourgogne

This region is famous for its world class Pinot Noir wines, labeled simply as Burgundy. Pinot Noirs from Burgundy are deep purple wines with flavors of plums, tobacco, earth, and dark fruit. The wines are often delicate and subtle with flavors that unfold as you hold the wine in your mouth.

The region has 21 appellations, many that produce spectacular Pinot Noir wines. The region also produces Chablis wines, made from Chardonnay grapes. These crisp, acidic wines offer a dry fruitiness with flavors of apples and citrus. Another well-known wine from the Burgundy region comes from the Beaujolais appellation. Beaujolais Nouveau wines are quite different than other wines. Instead of benefiting from age, Beaujolais wines, made from the Gamay grape, are fresh and fruity, meant to be drunk while in their youth.

Top Vintages

Pinot Noir grapes are notoriously persnickety, so Burgundy typically has fewer top vintages. According to Robert Parker, these are some of the best:

  • 2009
  • 2005
  • 2003
  • 1999
  • 1995

Highly Rated Wines

Even in less than stellar vintages, you can find a number of very good wines from the Burgundy region.

Vintage Name Release Price Rating
2005 William Fevre Bougros Bouguerots Grand Cru Chablis $90 85 WE
2005 Louis Jadot Clos Vougeo $149 95 RP
2005 Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches Premier Cru Blanc $90 91 WS
2005 Louis Jadot Moulin-a-Vent Château des Jacques $25 91 WS
2005 Louis Latour Marsannay $29 90 WS
2004 Faiveley Montagny, Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet $25 89 WS
2003 Louis Jadot Chambolle-Musigny $50 90 WS
2006 Frédéric Esmonin Mazy-Chambertin $100 94 WS
2006 Louis Jadot Corton Grèves $95 94 WS
2007 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Les Clos $72 95 WS
2007 Blain-Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet La Boudriotte $50 94 WS
2008 Christian Moreau Père & Fils Chablis Les Clos $75 94 WS
2008 Bouchard Père & Fils Corton-Charlemagne Domaine $122 94 WS
2009 Joseph Faiveley Volnay Santenots $95 94 WS
2009 Domaine Chevillon-Chezeaux Nuits-St.-Georges Les St.-Georges $85 93 WS

Champagne

This wine region produces sparkling wines made in the methode champenoise. The wines contain blends or singular varietals made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Sparklers from Champagne offer flavors of vanilla, biscuits and citrus, bubbling up with a refreshing effervescence. Only wines from the Champagne region can legally be labeled as Champagne.

Top Vintages

Although much Champagne is non-vintage, some of the best Champagnes come from great vintages. The following are Champagne's recent top vintages:

  • 2004
  • 2002
  • 2000
  • 1999
  • 1998
  • 1997
  • 1995

Highly Rated Wines

Some of Champagne's top rated wines include:

Vintage Name Release Price Rating
1996 Drappier Brut Champagne Carte d'Or $70 96 WS
1995 Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne $55 96 WS
2002 Louis Barthélémy Brut Champagne Saphir $45 95 WS
1996 Charles Ellner Brut Champagne Séduction $65 95 WS
2002 Ayala Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne $70 94 WS
NV Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée $65 94 WS
2006 Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Champagne Paradoxe $61 94 WS
NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé Champagne Réserve $75 94 WS
2004 Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne $75 94 WS
2006 Louis Roederer Brut Rosé Champagne $70 94 WS
2007 Roland Champion Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Special Club $80 92 WS
2007 Vilmart Brut Champagne Grand Cellier d'Or $94 94 WS

Rhône

Located in the Rhône River Valley, the region has multiple appellations that each produce uniquely styled wines with different grape compositions. In general, Rhône wines are spicy with hints of smoke and lush fruit flavors. Many age well. You can find the following major appellations in the Rhône:

  • Côte-Rôtie produces red wines that blend Syrah with Viognier
  • Crozes-Hermitage produces red wines that blend Syrah with Marsanne and Roussanne
  • Hermitage produces Syrah, Marsanne and Roussanne blends
  • Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages use a syrah base and blend up to 12 other red and white varietals to produce spicy, powerful, rustic red wines
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape uses a Grenache base and blends as many as 12 grape varieties to produce smoky, spicy, subtle wines of great finesse
  • Gigondas blends Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre

Top Vintages

According to Robert Parker, some of the top Rhône vintages are:

  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2007
  • 2005
  • 2003
  • 2001
  • 2000
  • 1999
  • 1998
  • 1995

Highly Rated Wines

The Rhône produces a number of highly rated wines.

Vintage Name Release Price Rating
2005 Domaine La Garrigue Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Romain $15 91 RP
2005 Paul Autard Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée La Côte Ronde $50 93 WS
2005 André Brunel Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cuvée Sabrine $18 91 WS
2006 Domaine de Beaurenard Côtes du Rhône-Villages Rasteau Les Argiles Bleues $45 91 WS
2006 Domaine La Barroche Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pure $75 95 WS
2007 Domaine St.-Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape Collection Charles Giraud $75 98 WS
2007 Domaine Les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône-Villages Vieilles Vignes $25 92 WS
2008 Domaine Alary Côtes du Rhône-Villages White Cairanne La Font d'Estévenas $21 90 WS
2008 Domaine de la Charbonnière Châteauneuf-du-Pape $40 93 WS
2009 Domaine de Beaurenard Châteauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard $75 96 WS
2009 Domaine de l'Echevin Côtes du Rhône-Villages St.-Maurice Guillaume de Rouville $29 92 WS
2010 Domaine Gramenon Côtes du Rhône La Sagesse $36 92 WS
2010 Domaine St.-Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape Auguste Favier Réserve $58 97 WS
2011 Domaine de Beaurenard Châteauneuf-du-Pape White $42 91 WS

Alsace

This region sits on the German border and shares a common winemaking tradition with its neighboring country. Alsace is known for its acidic, spicy whites with flavors of apples and citrus, made from traditional German winemaking grapes. The wines may be sweet dessert style wines or dry wines. Grapes made into wines in Alsace include:

  • Riesling
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Sylvaner

Top Vintages

The grapes grown in Alsace do best with cooler weather. Some of Alsace's best vintages include:

  • 2008
  • 2007
  • 2001
  • 2000
  • 1998
  • 1994

Highly Rated Wines

Alsatian wines often get lost in the shuffle because of their more popular German counterparts, but the region still makes some excellent wines.

Vintage Name Release Price Rating
2008 Barmès Buecher Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Hengst $62 94 WS
2008 Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Alsace Wintzenheim $36 93 WS
2009 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Alsace Wintzenheim Clos Häuserer $53 94 WS
2009 Ostertag Riesling Alsace Fronholz $45 93 WS
2010 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Alsace Vendange Tardive Vieilles Vignes $63 95 WS
2010 Jean Ginglinger & Fils Pinot Gris Alsace Cuvée Schneckenberg $21 93 WS
2011 Albert Mann Gewürztraminer Alsace $25 91 WS

Loire

Situated along the Loire River in the valley, the Loire wine region is known predominately for its white wines. It has multiple subregions, including:

  • Sancerre & Pouilly-Fumé: Growing mostly Sauvignon Blanc, these two regions produce crisp whites with floral and mineral notes
  • Anjou-Saumur: Making primarily rosé wines from the Cabernet Franc grape, as well as white wines from Chenin Blanc, wines from Anjou are light and often crisp, while wines from Saumur are sparkling Crémant wines made in the methode champenoise
  • Vouvray: Made from crisp, herbaceous Sauvignon blanc grapes, these light whites taste of citrus and herbs
  • Muscadet: Known for white wines made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, the region produces tangy, slightly effervescent whites.

Top Vintages

Loire wines drink young because they are predominately white. The top vintages in the past ten years include:

  • 2005
  • 2001

Highly Rated Wines

While Loire wines seldom garner 95+ point ratings, there are many respectable wines from this region.

Vintage Name Release Price Rating
2005 Pascal Jolivet Pouilly Fume $30 90 W&S
2005 Michel Redde Pouilly Fume La Moynerie $30 90 W&S
2006 Yannick Amirault Bourgueil Les Quartiers $30 92 WS
2006 François Chidaine Vouvray Le Bouchet $28 92 WS
2007 Domaine du Petit Métris Quarts de Chaume Les Guerches $75 95 WS
2007 Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon Clos de Ste.-Catherine $50 92 WS
2008 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grézeaux $28 92 WS
2008 Domaine d'Orfeuilles Vouvray Les Condraies $18 91 WS
2009 Château de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon-Chaume Les Aunis $38 93 WS
2009 Yves Martin Sancerre Chavignol $23 92 WS
2010 Domaine Huët Vouvray Sec Le Mont $33 93 WS
2010 Eric Hérault Chinon Cuvée Tradition $14 92 WS
2011 Claude Riffault Sancerre Les Denisottes $30 91 WS
2011 Hubert Veneau Pouilly-Fumé $25 90 WS

Languedoc

This region produces many French table wines made from blends of red grapes such as Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Grenache. The wines from the region range from whites and blush wines to full-bodied reds, depending on the blend of grapes used.

Top Vintages

Several of Languedoc's recent vintages have been good including:

  • 2010
  • 2008
  • 2007
  • 2006

Highly Rated Wines

Like the Loire, Languedoc wines don't pull in super high ratings, but there are some very good value wines from this region.

Vintage Name Release Price Rating
2006 Domaine de Nizas Rose $20 90 WE
2006 Clos des Nines Coteaux du Languedoc $35 92 WS
2007 Mas du Soleilla Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape Les Bartelles $35 92 WS
2007 Gérard Bertrand Côtes du Roussillon-Villages Tautavel Grand Terroir $19 91 WS
2008 Gérard Bertrand Syrah-Carignan Minervois $16 91 WS
2008 Château de Lascaux Coteaux du Languedoc $16 91 WS
2009 Clos des Nines Coteaux du Languedoc L'Orée $20 90 WS
2010 Hecht & Bannier Languedoc $14 90 WS
2011 Cave de Roquebrun Coteaux du Languedoc Terrasses du Frigoulet $12 90 WS

Provence

This region produces dry, fruity reds and blush wines made from Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Tibouren. Most are youthful drinkers with little aging potential, and many of the wines in this region are consumed as table wines in France.

Trends

Bordeaux, Champagne, Rhone wines, and Burgundies all remain popular with wine drinkers around the world, leading to higher prices for French wines. Many New World winemakers are making wines in the tradition of popular French varieties. Many of these wines are more affordable than wines from France.

Tips for Selecting French Wines

If you would like to try French wines, consider the following:

  • Select wines from good to excellent vintages
  • Don't be afraid to ask your local wine shop for recommendations
  • Price doesn't always indicate the quality of wines. Read wine reviews from a respected source like Wine Spectator to discover quality wines in your budget.
  • Expect to pay more for top tier wines from excellent vintages.
  • Wine prices often increase after wines have been rated. A great place to price the wines you'd like to try is Wine Searcher.

Finding Your French Wine

Many French wines have a deserved stellar reputation for excellence around the world. Try multiple wines to find one you enjoy that fits within your budget.

Types of French Wines