French wine labels can be confusing. This is mainly because of the lack of varietal (type of grape) labelling. Most of us are used to seeing the name of the wine farm and the grape varietal on the label rather than only the region of origin (known as ‘terroir’ in French).
Why would they put the region on the bottle and not the grape varietal? Because the place of origin is what gives the wine its true character. Wines are different because of the are in which the grapes are grown. So most French people know which varietals grow in which areas.
Another thing to note is that French wines are very often blends rather than varietals. For this reason, the ‘terroir’ labelling system also works pretty well.
For example, red Bordeaux wines are generally blends of Merlot and Cabernet. Plenty of red blends also come from Southern France, primarily from the Languedoc region, where blends of grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan are popular.
Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône wines are the three primary French red wine regions of interest that we’ll explore in this post.
To help you further decipher, here are a couple of hints from Food & Wine on which area mainly produces which varietal so you’ll find choosing your favourite wine a bit easier.
White Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
Red Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec
White Wines: Chardonnay
Red Wines: Pinot Noir, Gamay (in Beaujolais)
White Wines: Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier
Red Wines: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre
So, as you start familiarising yourself with the wine-producing regions, the first thing to note when deciding on a bottle of French wine is the terroir where the wine was made – this is the best way to determine which grapes are in the bottle.
And there you have it. We hope the next time you travel to France, choosing a good French wine will be a cinch!