French wine is delicious, but far too complex a subject for all but the connoisseur or producer to understand in detail. So, here’s a simple guide to understanding of French wines, followed by a developing section on individual wines.

1. Terroir is what it’s all about

One of the keys to French wine is what the French call terroir. Unfortunately few are able to define ‘terroir’ in a way that non-French can follow. But it’s a vague amalgamation of many things: where the grapes are grown, its particular climate and type of soil; these all make a difference to the wine you get. So, French wines are usually named after the place they come from, rather than the type of grape, although there are exceptions, e.g. Malbec.

2. What you need to know is on the label

The label on the wine bottle gives you all the information you need to know about the wine. The name tells you where the wine comes from – Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Sancerre, Gigondas, etc. The label also tells what year the wine was produced. And many labels tell you who made it – Château Romanin or Domaine Mayard although don’t expect this level of detail on middle-of-the-road table wines.

3. Grapes and vintage

The name of the wine tells you what grapes are used. Sometimes it’s just one grape, sometimes it’s a blend of different grapes. Check the back of the bottle; the grapes are often listed there.

The year the wine was produced — the ‘vintage’ —is important because quality can vary depending on the weather each year.

Note: “vintage” does not necessarily mean that the wine is old. ‘Vintage’ simply means that all the grapes were grown in one year. A non-vintage (NV) means the wine was made from grapes grown in multiple years.



BORDEAUX wines don't need to cost a fortune

CHAMPAGNE from the Champagne-Ardennes region

CHARDONNAY - buttery and delicious

MALBEC from the south-west of France

PINOT NOIR – among the best

VOUVRAY - magnificent wine from the Loire


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