FINE FRENCH WINES
How and Which Ones to Choose - The Definitive Guide
A guide to orient yourself among the finest French wines.
Discover the secrets of the most refined and appreciated labels from the renowned winemaking tradition beyond the Alps, with in-depth information on varieties, denominations and wine regions.
A journey to the region that wrote the history of world wine.
How to understand if a French wine is really valuable?
The French wine classification system
French wines are regulated by a legislative system similar to the Italian one, although older and more complex.
The classification is divided into:
(Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) the highest quality level, according to a
classification system based on quality, geographical location and cultivation and winemaking practices.
(Vins Delimité de Qualité Supérieure) one step lower.
Vin de Pays
for local wines.
Vin de Table
for table wines.
14 French wine regions also use specific mentions (including Grands Crus, Premiers Crus, Chateau, Cru, Clos, Vieilles Vignes ): they serve to further define the quality scale of the region's wines.
Hectares of vineyards
45.6 million Hl
Produced in 2022
The importance of the AOC brand
« An AOC is the result of the union between the natural environment and man's talent.
It is from this union that an AOC product will be born, with a unique, inimitable character, a product which, thanks to its diversity, will never be able to position itself on the market in competition but in a complementary way.
An AOC product therefore has a strong identity and typicality which give it added value ."
INAO – Institut National de l'Origine et de la qualité – guarantor of the denomination.
Can a Sommelier's advice be useful?
The advice of a Sommelier is extremely useful for choosing French wines, which are not initially easy to navigate. These are expert professionals, who are trained to evaluate and select wines based on quality, characteristics, regions of origin and table pairings.
For this specialization and knowledge, we at Sommelier Wine Box rely on the greatest sommeliers to select interesting labels, from small excellent wineries, to offer to our customers. Thanks to their expertise we can offer special wines, from ever new cellars, authentic expressions of the many territories of world wine.
The 11 types of most prized French wines and production areas
Champagne AOC (Champagne)
AOC Champagne is a renowned and fine sparkling wine, produced only in the Champagne region, at the 49th parallel, an area characterized by a cold and rainy climate, mitigated by the Mistral wind: the vineyards are among the most northern in the world (along with Moselle and Alsace). It is produced with the "Champanoise Method" or "Traditional Method", i.e. characterized by the second fermentation in the bottle. Traditionally linked to the name of Dom Perignon , a Benedictine monk who lived at the end of the seventeenth century who introduced the closure of corks and implemented methods for controlling the effervescence of wine.
The types are:
- Not vintage
- Blanc de Blancs
- Blanc de Noirs Rosé
Champagne is generally obtained from: Chardonnay (white grapes), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (black grapes).
Bordeaux AOC (Bourdeaux)
Bordeaux AOC wine is a red, white or rosé wine produced in Bordeaux, one of the most famous wine regions in the world, which has a long tradition of producing high-quality wines.
Bordeaux AOC wines are often blends of different grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot for reds; Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle for the whites.
Bordeaux AOC red wines are characterized by a full body, well-balanced tannic structure. They smell of black fruit, spices and wood, i.e. notes due to aging in oak barrels.
Bordeaux AOC white wines are fresh and aromatic, with predominant hints of citrus, tropical fruit and white flowers. They are often wines aged in oak barrels and therefore also express a light touch of vanilla and butter.
Bordeaux AOC is synonymous with quality, as the region adopts rigorous production standards and a hierarchical classification, such as the famous "Classification of Bordeaux Wines of 1855" established by Napoleon III .
Bourgogne AOC (Burgundy)
Bourgogne AOC is a name for Burgundy, one of the most prestigious territories in the world, which produces some of the finest wines ever. It should not be forgotten that it is precisely in Burgundy that the concept of climat was born, linked to that of terroir and recognized by UNESCO.
Red AOC Burgundy wines are mainly produced from Pinot Noir grapes, while whites mainly from Chardonnay. These two native varieties are particularly suited to the terroir and climate of the
Red AOC Burgundies are often characterized by an elegant structure, very delicate tannins, notes of red fruit, such as cherry and strawberry, together with more complex hints of spices in the case of long barrel aging.
The white wines of Burgundy AOC stand out for their freshness, roundness and increasing complexity if affected by refinement.
Burgundy is particularly attentive to the terroir and to the valorisation of every single plot of vineyard (i.e. the concept of climat, and in Burgundy there are 1247 of them, spread over a strip of territory of just 60 km), so its wines
they reflect the identity and uniqueness of the different production areas.
Alsace AOC (Alsace)
Alsace AOC is produced in the French region of the same name, located at the foot of the Vosges massif, on the border with Germany. Territory renowned for its distinctive and aromatic white wines, produced mainly from white grapes including Riesling,
Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Sylvaner.
Alsace AOC wines are known for their freshness and expressiveness. The mineral-rich soils, combined with the selected grape varieties, give the wines unique and complex characteristics. Typically they offer notes of citrus, white fruit and minerals, accompanied by a nice acidity that makes them suitable for aging for a long time.
Alsace AOC Gewürztraminer are known for their aromatic intensity, with hints of flowers, spices, litchi and rose petals, aromatic and fragrant.
Alsace AOC Pinot Gris wines have a more pronounced richness and body, with notes of ripe fruit, honey and spice.
Muscats from Alsace AOC are characterized by floral and fruity aromas and a fresh, fragrant taste.
Finally, Sylvaner Alsace AOC are known for their lightness and freshness, and are ideal for drinking young.
Côtes du Rhône AOC (Rhone Valley)
Côtes du Rhône AOC is produced in the Rhône Valley, where mainly red wines are produced.
The Rhône region is divided into two main areas: the northern and the southern.
Côtes du Rhône Nord AOC:
has a production mainly of red wines based on Syrah grapes, known for their intensity, complexity, notes of black fruit, spices and earthy nuances.
Some high-quality white wines are made with grapes such as Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.
There are 8 Crus from the northern Rhône Valley: Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas. Particularly impressive is the first (Côte-Rôtie, literally “Roasted Coast”), with cultivated vineyards
along the right bank of the Rhone on very steep slopes, which can reach 60°.
Côtes du Rhône Meridionale AOC:
Production mainly of red wines with grape varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. These wines are characterized by greater softness and warmth, with hints of ripe red fruit, spices and earthy notes.
The southern area also produces white and rosé wines, with a range of grapes such as Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Cinsault and others.
Côté de la Loire (Loire Valley)
Loire : one of the most important wine regions in France, certainly the most important, after the
Champagne, for the production of sparkling wines. And not with few impediments, considering the cold climate, with lots of rain and therefore high risk of diseases and fungi.
There are 51 AOCs in the region (including 1 Grand Cru and 1 Premier Cru) and 4 IGPs .
Main denominations of white wines:
Sancerre AOC and Pouilly-Fumé AOC: fresh Sauvignon Blanc, characterized by mineral notes.
Vouvray AOC: Famous for its Chenin Blancs, with high quality sweet and dry wines.
Main denominations of red wines:
Chinon AOC and Bourgueil AOC: Produce red wines based on Cabernet Franc.
Saumur-Champigny AOC: Here too mainly vibrant red wines based on Cabernet Franc.
Main denominations of sparkling wines:
Crémant de Loire AOC: Produced using the traditional method from grapes such as Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.
Wines of Provence
Provence is a wine region in the south-east of France, famous for the production of high-quality rosé wines: fresh, fruity and delicate wines, associated with an image of elegance and Mediterranean lifestyle.
The main wine appellations of Provence include:
1. Côtes de Provence AOC: the broadest and most representative appellation of Provence, producing a wide range of wines, mainly rosé, but also red and white. Côtes de Provence AOC rosés are famous for their
light color, hints of red fruits, citrus fruits and flowers, and excellent acidity.
2. Bandol AOC: West of Toulon, this appellation is renowned for its red wines made from the Mourvèdre grape. Bandol AOC wines are known for their robust tannic structure, complexity and aging potential.
3. Cassis AOC: dry and lively white wines, mainly made from Marsanne and Clairette grapes. Cassis AOC wines have a fresh, mineral and aromatic profile.
4. Palette AOC: near Aix-en-Provence and produces red, white and rosé wines. Palette AOC wines are known for their elegance, refinement and complexity.
5. Côteaux d'Aix-en-Provence AOC: denomination produces rosé, red and white wines. Côteaux d'Aix-en-Provence AOC wines stand out for their freshness and fruit aromas.
Wines from Languedoc-Roussillon
We are in the wine-growing region of southern France, which includes both the Languedoc and Roussillon regions: it is one of the largest and most varied wine regions in France.
The Languedoc-Roussillon appellations include a wide range of wines.
Here are the most significant:
1. AOC Minervois and AOC Corbières: These appellations mainly produce robust and aromatic red wines, made with a combination of grapes such as Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Minervois and Corbières wines often display fruity and spicy profiles.
2. AOC Côtes du Roussillon and AOC Côtes du Roussillon Villages: appellations that bring together a wide range of wines, including red, white and sweet. Reds often combine Grenache, Syrah and Carignan.
3. AOC Fitou: denomination known for its full-bodied and structured red wines, from Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes.
4. AOC Languedoc: one of the broadest and most representative denominations of the region, with wines ranging from fruity and soft reds to aromatic and fresh whites.
5. AOC Limoux: denomination famous for its sparkling wines, in particular for the Crémant de Limoux, made according to the traditional method.
Sauternes AOC is a prized appellation located in the Bordeaux region.
Sauternes AOC are mainly produced from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, grown on vineyards particularly suitable for the formation of noble rot ( Botrytis cinerea ).
The resulting wines are characterized by deep notes of ripe fruit such as apricots, peaches, honey, jam, dried fruit and spices.
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FAQ on French Fine Wines
How many types of native vines are there in France?
There are around 400 native vines in France, but not all of them are necessarily recognised
in the Official Registers ( in Italy over 2000 are estimated ). The most famous are the following: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Gamay, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Carignan, Cinsault, Muscat, Petit Verdot, Ugni Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Melon de Bourgogne, Tannat, Cot (Malbec), Mauzac, Picpoul, Clairette.
How many French AOCs are there?
In France, there are approximately 475 AOCs (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée). Each AOC has specific rules regarding the permitted grape varieties, the area of
production, cultivation techniques, winemaking and others
characteristics that influence the production of French wines.
The AOC system is one of the oldest regulations in the world of wine, and guarantees that wines produced in specific areas of France meet defined quality standards.
What are the best native French grape varieties?
Some of the best French native grape varieties include:
Pinot Noir: this grape variety, mainly grown in Burgundy, produces elegant and very refined red wines, with aromas of red and black fruit, floral nuances and a fine structure. It is considered one of the most difficult vines to grow, but the results are of great finesse and refinement.
Chardonnay: typical of Burgundy, Chardonnay is one of the most famous white grape varieties in the world. It produces dry, balanced and complex white wines, ranging from light and fresh ones to richer and butterier ones, especially if aged for a long time.
Syrah: important grape of the Rhone Valley and other wine regions, gives rise to intense red wines, with spicy notes, black fruit and earthy nuances. It is associated with high quality wines and aging potential.
Grenache: Common in the Rhone Valley and other regions of southern France, it is used for fruity, smooth red and rosé wines.
Sauvignon Blanc: A grape from the Loire Valley and other regions, Sauvignon Blanc produces aromatic white wines, with notes of citrus, herbs and flowers.
Cabernet Sauvignon: important grape variety from the Bordeaux region, one of the best-known grape varieties in the world, used to produce red wines of great structure, with robust tannins and aromas of black fruit, tobacco, spices.
Merlot: typical Bordeaux grape, Merlot is often used in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon to round out tannins and contribute to softer wines. The well-known Bordeaux blend.
What type of wine is Chablis?
Chablis is a dry white wine produced from Chardonnay in the region of the same name, located in northern Burgundy. It is among the most famous and appreciated white wines in the world.
What makes Chablis unique and distinctive is its terroir of origin: the soil of Chablis is mainly composed of calcareous marl, a rock with the presence of marine fossils. This soil, combined with the cool, continental climate of the area, gives Chablis wines their particular minerality and freshness.
Chablis is characterized by floral and fruity aromas, especially of citrus and green apple, with more complex notes of flint.
The hierarchy of Chablis wines ranges from Chablis AOC (the basic level) to Chablis Premier Cru (wines from specific crus) up to Chablis Grand Cru (wines from the best Chablis vineyards).
What type of wine is Bordeaux?
Bordeaux is a red wine produced in the region of the same name, located in the south-west of France. It is one of the most celebrated and renowned red wines in the world, known for its quality, complexity and aging ability.
Bordeaux is generally made through the blending of different varieties of red grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc but also Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère. The latter are varieties that can be used in small quantities to add further nuances of flavor to the Bordeaux cut.
But Bordeaux is also available in a white version, made mainly with grapes
Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, often also used for sweet wines such as
Sauternes. White grapes help create fresh, aromatic wines with a pleasant acidity.
What wines do the French drink?
Annual wine consumption per capita in France is decreasing. In 2007 a person in France consumed an average of 63.8 liters of wine per person, in 2021 47 liters . But despite the decrease, wine remains one of the most popular alcoholic beverages among the population, with the majority of consumers preferring red wine .
Among the varieties most loved by the French: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Moscato, Grenache, Pinot noir, Cinsault and Syrah.
The market for non-French wines accounts for approximately 6% (2021 data) and Paris is the area that most consumes non-French wines.
What are the finest French wines?
France is very rich in prestigious wine regions, each with its own characteristics
and fine wines. Some of the most renowned French denominations and wines are:
Château Lafite Rothschild
Château Mouton Rothschild
Château Cheval Blanc
Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles
Krug Clos d'Ambonnay
Louis Roederer Cristal
Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs
Côte-Rôtie La Mouline, La Turque, La Landonne
Hermitage La Chapelle
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château Rayas
Clos Saint Hune Riesling
Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains
Sancerre Les Monts Damnés
Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moelleux
Mas de Daumas Gassac
How are French wines classified?
French wines are classified according to different appellation systems, which recognize the quality, provenance and specific characteristics of each wine. The main French wine classification systems is this:
1. AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée): The AOC is the most important appellation system in France. It establishes strict production rules and criteria for wines from a specific region or geographic area. Each AOC has specific rules and restrictions on grape varieties, cultivation methods, grape yield and winemaking techniques.
2. Vin de Pays , an appellation one level lower than AOC. These wines are produced in larger geographic areas than AOCs and have more flexible production rules. However, Vin de Pays wines are always regulated by origin and quality criteria.
3. Vin de France , the simplest and least restrictive classification. Vin de France wines are generally less tied to a specific region and more accessible in terms of price and style.
This system is intertwined with other specific classification systems valid for some regions and types of wine, which specify yields, methods of
production, blends and refinements.
What to drink with Camembert?
Camembert is a soft cheese with a flowery rind, originally from Normandy, with a rich and creamy flavour. And be careful: the rind is edible and indeed an integral part of the cheese. The combination of Camembert and wine is a great classic of extreme satisfaction.
Try it with:
Dry white wines:
Dry white wines with good acidity that contrasts the creaminess of Camembert are a great choice. Varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc are excellent as the acidity balances the creaminess of the cheese and cleanses the palate.
Light and fruity red wines , which can pair very well with Camembert. For example a
Young and fruity Pinot Noir or a Gamay from Burgundy or the Loire.
Sparkling wines: such as Champagne or a sparkling wine of similar quality can be an excellent pairing with Camembert. The freshness and bubbles contrast the richness of the cheese, equalizing the richness of flavors.
Dry, light rosé wines are an interesting choice to accompany Camembert.
Sweet wines for those who prefer a bold pairing, for example Sauternes or Port. The sweetness of the wine balances the creaminess of the cheese and creates a contrast
What to drink with Foie Gras?
Foie Gras is a fine fatty duck or goose liver. Its richness and softness require a wine that knows how to balance and complement its very intense flavors.
Here are some wines to absolutely try with Foie Gras:
This famous sweet wine produced in the Bordeaux region is considered one of the classic pairings with Foie Gras. The sweetness and acidity of a Sauternes pair perfectly with the richness of the food.
This sweet Hungarian wine is another great companion to Foie Gras. Its complexity and tones of honey and dried fruit harmonize with the multifaceted and deep flavor of the liver.
Vouvray Moelleux: Produced in the Loire, Vouvray Moelleux is a sweet white wine based on Chenin Blanc. It offers notes of ripe fruit and honey, which pair well with the creaminess of Foie Gras.
Late Harvest Riesling: Especially those from Germany are a fine choice in
paired with Foie Gras. The freshness and natural sweetness of Riesling balance the fatty flavor of the liver.
Champagne or other sparkling wine Demi-sec or Brut: A Champagne or Classic Method demi-sec or brut can be excellent choices. The bubbles and freshness of the wine help to cleanse the palate after the rich taste of Foie Gras and prepare the mouth for
Fortified wine: Some fortified wines such as Port, Sherry or Madeira can offer bold and satisfying pairings with Foie Gras.
Where to buy quality French wines?
To buy French wines online there are various possibilities: you can take advantage of e-commerce, a useful solution also for saving time and having a wide range of choice.
It is also possible to get advice from a dedicated service using the Sommelier Wine Box service, where a sommelier selects 100% personalized wines based on your needs.
The numbers of French wines
🍇 In 2022 France produced 45.6 million hectoliters of wine : it is
It was one of the best years ever in terms of quantity ( 18% of world production , which stands at 258 million hectolitres), second only to Italy.
🍇 The value of French wine has reached almost 35 billion euros , whereas the value of the world wine market is around 88 billion euros (source: The numbers of wine) .
🍇 French wine exported is worth 12.3 billion euros a year , equal to 14 million hectoliters (2022 data).
🍇 The most exported French wine is Champagne (equal to 4.2 billion euros), while the second in terms of value is Bordeaux.
🍇 There are 363 AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) in France, while 74 PGIs.
🍇 53,255 are organic producers (2020 data).
🍇 Compared to the total wine produced, approximately 50% is occupied by wines under the AOC denomination , the highest on the French quality scale, and another approximately 25% destined for PGI wines (Vins d'Indication Géographique Protégée).
🍇 There are 836,000 hectares of vineyards in France .
🍇 In Châtillon-sur-Seine (Burgundy) there is the largest tastevin in the world : 1.64 m high, weighs 206.8 kg with a capacity of 11,100 litres.