Whether you’re a novice or a connoisseur, France has something for everyone when it comes to wine. Known as one of the epicenters of the wine world, France’s reputation for excellent wines is deeply rooted in its rich history and winemaking traditions that span centuries. But with so many amazing wine regions to choose from, where should you start on your first wine adventure? Sure, there is Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy, but there are also lesser-known wine regions in France that are worthy of consideration when putting together a wine-focused itinerary.

The Champagne Region

For those looking for the effervescence of sparkling wines, Champagne is the region for you. Situated just 2 hours east of Paris, this region is home to renowned champagne houses such as Dom Pérignon and Moët et Chandon, as well as many smaller family-run operations. Thanks to strict labeling laws, Champagne is the only region permitted to use the name “Champagne” for its sparkling wines. While other regions in France and the world produce sparkling wines, only those produced in Champagne using the “méthod traditionnelle” can be called champagne. Given the region’s relatively small size, a couple of days are typically sufficient to explore both the prominent champagne houses as well as the charming family-run establishments to fully appreciate what sets Champagne apart.

The Loire Valley

Another region known for its sparkling wines is the Loire Valley, a more off-the-beaten-path wine destination. The Loire Valley is typically synonymous with the famous royal and noble castles that dot the landscape and is less discovered by wine enthusiasts due to fewer wines from this region being exported internationally. However, it boasts some of the strictest classification guidelines for wines, ensuring their quality. This region is ideal for those interested in delving into the négociant side of enotourism, or who want to include some light wine touring while focusing on history and architecture.

Bordeaux

Further south, Bordeaux is largely recognized as one of France’s most famous wine regions, offering an expansive range of wines within its relatively large area. Wines from the left bank of the Garonne River are more heavily blended with cabernet sauvignon, dubbed the king of the grapes of this region, whereas wines from the right bank are more predominantly merlot, often referred to as the “queen of the grapes.” Although wines have been produced in France for centuries, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the first official classification was introduced, setting strict standards to assure quality. There were 58 châteaux in the original 1855 classification, and today those wines make up some of the most prestigious in the world, including names such as Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion and Château Lafite Rothschild. While many hope to visit some of these prestigious wineries, it can be quite challenging to secure appointments to some of the more exclusive wineries, so it’s important to plan in advance.

As a wine region, Bordeaux offers expansive variety in a relatively small geographical area, as there are significant differences in the red wines from the Left and Right Bank, but this region is also well known for its white wines that come from the Graves area. Indeed, sweet sauternes wines were part of the original 1855 classification, so as far as wine tourism goes, this is an excellent region to include. The Cité du Vin in Bordeaux offers a cultural space dedicated to the living heritage of wine throughout the world, and it is also possible to partake in a wine blending class while here. For this reason, Bordeaux often attracts wine connoisseurs for several days. It is worth spending at least one day touring wineries on the Left Bank, where the properties are more expansive and have grandiose castles where the wines are produced, and also spending a day on the Right Bank, where real estate is more limited, resulting in smaller wineries, leaving as much physical space as possible for the vines. 

An excellent addition to a Bordeaux itinerary is a visit to the Dordogne region. While not necessarily a wine region in its own right, the malbec grape originally came from southwestern France until the phylloxera epidemic destroyed many of the vineyards in Europe in the late 19th century. As a result, some malbec vines were transplanted to South America, where they thrived. Tasting malbec from Cahors in the Dordogne, known for its firmer tannins and less fruit-forward character, compared to Argentine malbec, is a treat for lovers of this varietal.

Burgundy

On the eastern side of France, several distinct wine regions are easily accessible thanks to a well-connected train system. Beaune, the heart of the Burgundy wine region, is a few hours southeast of Paris by train. Although Burgundy may not produce the same quantities as Bordeaux, its wines are equally exclusive and exceptional. The predominant grapes in this area include pinot noir and chardonnay but this region differs in its production method, as there are fewer wine producers who own both vineyard and winery, and more cooperatives, or organized groups of grape-growers who pool their resources to establish a winery for collective use, and négociants, who buy the grapes or wine from several small producers and sell it under their own name. Touring in this area offers an excellent balance for red and white enthusiasts alike.

Rhône

Heading south, the Rhône region stands out for its syrah and viognier grapes, although numerous varietals are grown in this area. Another extensive geographic region, the wines of the Rhône Valley vary greatly depending on their origin, and offer red, white and most notably rosé wines. Within the larger region is the smaller Châteauneuf-du-Pape classification, which gained prominence when the papacy moved to Avignon in the 14th century. During this time, wine production increased significantly to meet the demand for religious services. Today, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region produces exceptional wines that showcase the unique terroir and grape varietals of the area.

No matter where you start, France’s wine regions offer a remarkable variety of experiences for wine enthusiasts. Whether you choose to explore iconic regions such as Bordeaux or Burgundy or venture into lesser-known areas such as the Loire Valley or the Dordogne, you’ll be immersed in centuries-old winemaking traditions, breathtaking landscapes and unforgettable wine tastings.

Below, browse our inspirational France itineraries to get planning and tasting. À votre santé!

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