French wine guide: Learn about classifications, terroir and regions including Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne

France is rightly considered the world’s premier wine growing region – the birthplace of many original grape varieties, home to the most renowned vineyards and producers of more wine than anywhere else on the planet.

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However, with such an enormous variety of wine styles from vineyards scattered throughout the country, understanding French wine can often seem overwhelming even for seasoned wine enthusiasts.Wine Paths’ guide to French wine will enhance your knowledge, while giving you ideas to plan a visit – our local experts can arrange exclusive tours across all French wine regions, including elaborate tastings, luxury stays, fine dining experiences and some unique experiences.

French wine guide: Classification

French wines are under the scrutiny of arguably the strictest quality control system in the world – with the highest classification termed as Appellation d’Origine Controlee or Protegee (AOC/AOP).

These government regulated standards ensure that wines were created under precise conditions – using specific grapes in a designated area while adhering to traditional methods.

French wine guide: Terroir

In France, terroir refers to the wine’s place of origin – including its climate, topography, soil, altitude and local traditions that give each wine its distinct character. Generally, the smaller and more specific the terroir on the label, the better the wine.

French wine guide: Regions

In France, wine is regarded as an expression of the place it was created as opposed to simply the grapes used in its making. As part of our guide to French wine, here is an overview of some of the country’s most influential wine growing regions.

Bordeaux is among France’s premium wine producers, renowned for the quality of its red wines using primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends from notable sub-regions including Medoc, Saint Emillion and Pomerol. Among Wine Paths’ experiences here is an eight-day tour of Bordeaux and Basque country, which begins in the city and travels through renowned regions including Medoc, Saint Emilion and Arcachon Bay before exploring Biarritz and the Basque country. Burgundy is home to some of the most expensive wine real estate in the world, which is reflected in the price of some of its vintages. Wines here are made from two main grape varieties – Chardonnay for white wines, and Pinot Noir for the reds.

Our exclusive six-day VIP tour that includes visiting a 15th century wine cellar, a gourmet meal with a Michelin starred chef and truffle hunting.

The Loire Valley features some of the most scenic vineyards in France, some accompanying the grounds of majestic castles. White wines dominate the area, ranging from dry Chenin Blanc to tangy Sauvignon Blancs and light Muscadets. Wine Paths’ Loire Valley Wine Experience visits two of the region’s most stunning castles – the Chateau de Chenonceau and the Chateau de Chambord – for guided tours either side of a wine tasting and lunch at Les Caves Duhard.

The Rhone Valley is generally known for the extent of its production rather than the quality of its wines, although it is home to one of the world’s most recognised names in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Our private tour of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine region takes in three or four celebrated vineyards accompanied by a professional guide. 

Champagne is the northernmost wine region in France and you don’t need a guide to French wine to explain that it’s most famous for the eponymous sparkling wine that is synonymous with celebrations.One of the more unique ways to explore the region is from the skies during a hot air balloon ride that sails over UNESCO Heritage vineyards while sipping Champagne.

Alsace is steeped in German tradition and produces primarily dry and fruity white wines including Riesling, Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer. The Alsace wine route is one of the oldest and most picturesque trails, which can be explored as part of our tour that includes a visit to the stunning Haut-Koenigsbourg castle as well as a series of quaint villages on the way.


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