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Loire vineyards

Vineyards in the Loire Valley. Photo by Tango7174 on Wikipedia. License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

The unique appeal of French vineyards is exemplified by this beautiful picture of the scenic Loire Valley. The Loire is just one of the many prestigious regions of France that produces outstanding wine.

Despite ever-increasing competition from the United States, Italy, Spain, Australia, and now South Africa and South America, France remains the best wine country in the world. Every type of wine is produced here, and most of the grapes grown in France are world-class. Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône are three primary French red wine regions. Meanwhile, white wine from Burgundy and the Loire is also top notch.

Although filled with vineyards, France is known for quality wine, not quantity production. The wine production in France relies on meticulously organized (and enforced!) regulations on the growing and labeling of wine in order to protect the quality of established appellations. France is known for extremely careful copyright protection to guarantee the best quality. In France, there is widespread respect for the wine in the culture.

France has top quality wine for all these reasons and more. The terrain is excellent, the soil rich and the climate perfect for wine production.


While it is true that some of the oldest regions in Europe (e.g., Croatia) have a longer wine history than France, historians have estimated that French winegrowing has been in practice at least since the 6th century B.C. Almost as soon as wine became popular with the area residents, shrewd merchants realized the possibility of great profit. In early times, French wines were commercialized in the regions that are still popular today.

Over the centuries, all sorts of strife and a variety of wars did not put a stop to wine production in France. French rulers realized the region's great potential, and used it to their advantage. During Charlemagne's rule in the late 700s A.D., French wine was treated as a luxury commodity. As the country developed its governmental system, export to other countries was launched and eventually became common. The world began to appreciate the fine value of French wines.

Toward the end of the 18th century, however, overproduction and failure to modernize, as well as exploitation by greedy rulers, dampened the reputation of French wine. During the reign of Napoleon, crucial changes were made that eventually re-elevated French wine to the status of a luxury item. Trade with the UK and other countries brought French wines world attention, and several French regions became famous for the quality of the wine.

Rigid and demanding quality standards were set by the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux. These standards are still used today to rank Bordeaux wines.

At the end of the 1800s, a devastating collapse of the wine market occurred with the introduction of the phylloxera to Europe. The phylloxera is a kind of louse, which destroyed the roots of most of the French vines. As a result, French rootstocks were replaced with some from North America. However, American rootstock created new problems for French winemakers.

The recovery of the wine industry was gradual, but the building of railway systems in France sparked development and growth. Product could be sent by rail to ports, and shipped to the rest of the world. Wealthy people could now enjoy the expensive wines of France at home. With profit in the air, winemakers were even more motivated to produce excellent wines, and quality standards rose. In the mid-20th century, the regional categorization system was instituted, and quality was heightened by the elimination of "knockoff" wines with labels advertising regions in misleading ways.

Railway in France

The building of French railways helped to develop the French wine industry.
Photo by daviddb on Flickr.
License: Creative Commons SA 2.0 Generic.

Up until the 1970s, France was the ultimate authority on wine and the best place to find wine of virtually any variety. Napa Valley was not highly regarded, and regions like South Africa had yet to bring to the world market a reputable wine. But the Paris Exhibition taste test of 1976 signalled a change: Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, a Napa wine, defeated the best Bordeaux France had to offer. At this point in time, California leaped onto the world stage and began to receive attention as a serious wine region. This provided inspiration to winemakers around the globe, and soon enough other producers--in Australia and New Zealand, Argentina and Chile, Europe and elsewhere--began to compete in the world market place with the best French varieties. Wine connoisseurs switched allegiances, and the debate raged: Who was making the highest quality wines in the world? Did the Napa wines really equal the quality of France's wines? And what about those wines from Italy, Spain, and elsewhere?

During the 1980s, a time of heady extravagance for the United States, Napa Valley became the most popular wine region, especially with drinkers susceptible to the fashions of the time. However, when unethical American producers realized they could bottle low-quality grapes grown in Napa, then sell the wine for $100 per bottle, the market was flooded with mediocrity. Eventually, the Napa Valley wine bubble burst. French wine was once again the most reliable high-quality choice.

However, Napa Valley and other regions of the American west coast, as well as a variety of new and upcoming wine regions around the world, have continued to develop their winemaking skills and marketing abilities. Competition for public affinity is fierce. France must keep up with a rapidly changing world, technologically and otherwise. As the economic recession of 2008 eased, more consumers turned once more to the high-priced French wines. The more we learn about French wines, the better our wine selections will be.


The French appellation system is commensurate with the quality of the wine, and is the best in the world. Despite a few blemishes, these strict regulations have resulted in a general increase in quality and price, and everyone has benefited from the quality control instituted. The main drawback to the system is the fact that complying with the regulations is costly and difficult, making French wine largely more expensive than unregulated American wine.

A list of the French wine classifications can be found below.

Grape Varieties

The diversity and quality of the terrain in France is the reason why most of the best-known grape varieties have been planted there. All of the international varieties you will learn about on the grape pages of this site have widespread plantings in France. Many varieties are exclusively grown in France. Gamay is one example of a grape that is almost solely grown in France. Although there is much diversity, there seems to be a strong trend in France toward producing reds due to an increase in current demands for red wines.

Cos d'Estournel wine bottle

A bottle of Château Cos d'Estournel, an expensive wine comprised of
a blend between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Photo by Renzo Grosso
License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

France also produces the most esteemed wines for each of the international grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot both reach their peak in Bordeaux, on the Left Bank and Right Bank respectively. Pinot Noir characterizes Burgundy wine, which has been receiving accolades for centuries. White Burgundy and Chablis are the prime examples of Chardonnay. Gewürztraminer, Muscat, and Pinot Gris are all marvelous in Alsace. Syrah from the Rhône is famously rich. Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire is top notch, despite strong competition from New Zealand. The only real exception is Riesling, which is good in Alsace, but tops in Germany.

Which wine is best is a subjective decision based on one's own preferences. You need to find wines you like, and these may not be the top wines of France--or elsewhere. Do keep in mind, however, the fact that French grape varieties and the wines made from them are excellent and almost always the critics' choice. So give the French varieties a try and see why.

Wine Regions

Dom Perignon

Dom Pérignon is among the de luxe cuvée Champagnes
that has become a status symbol.
Photo by Gary Elsasser
License: Creative Commons SA 2.0 Generic.

Rhone vineyards

Scenic vineyards in the Rhône.
This photo is in the public domain.

Chablis vineyards

Vineyards in Chablis. Photo by Olivier Letourneux. License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.