wine pointers


Wine in France ranges from a simple, locally produced and consumed vin de table, of no great pedigree but eminently quaffable, to high-end wines of great distinction beyond the price of ordinary mortals.

Wine is produced in 12 regions of France:

  • Alsace
  • Bordeaux
  • Burgundy
  • Champagne
  • Corsica
  • Jura
  • Languedoc-Roussillon
  • Loire
  • Provence
  • Rhone
  • Savoie
  • South-west France

Wine is produced from a number of grape varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, syrah and others.

There are two key elements that apply to French wine. The first is the untranslatable notion of terroir, a concept that combines locality, earthiness of the soil, climate and a range of intangibles, all of which contribute to the quality of the wine. The other is the Appellation d'Origine Controlée (AOC, for short), which sets down very strict rules governing the production of wine whether at regional level, for individual villages or even for specific vineyards. The AOC classification is gradually being replaced by Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP).

Understanding the label

In addition to the mention of AOC, which is a guarantee of place and method of production, the labels on wine bottles tell you more.

Grand cru is a distinction that has applied since 1855 to the best estates in the Médoc, and these produce some of France's finest wines; there are no fewer than 61 estates producing wines of this quality.

Cru bourgeois are wines from estates in the Médoc and Haut Médoc not classified in the 1855 listing. These wines are excellent, too, but they are invariably cheaper than Grand cru wines, and represent outstanding value for money.

VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) is the second highest qualification for wines, below AOC, and accounts for around 2% of all French wines. VDQS wines are from geographically limited areas like Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon and the Loire valley. Quality can be variable, and some vineyards that are VDQS are trying hard to become AOC. Find the ones you like, and stick to them.

Vin de Pays wines account for around 15% of wine production, and come from a specific area, but do not have the AOC or VDQS label. These tend to be top end wines for everyday drinking. Excellent value for money and good quality, too.

Vin de table is ordinary, cheap, usually inoffensive, everyday table wines, also known as 'Vin Ordinaire'. Cheap, but not necessarily nasty. But equally, not for special occasions either.


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The Vignobles & Découvertes label
“Vignobles & Découvertes”, is the national wine tourism label in France, managing French oenotourism since 2009. The label currently covers 36 territories in France, and is attributed to each territory, and lasts 3 years.

Partners displaying the “Vignobles & Découvertes” label have to meet certain requirements:

  • a high quality of reception in French or in a foreign language,
  • special wine knowledge and a desire to share, tradition as well as an openness to natural, cultural and human heritage.

The label makes it easier to find accommodation in vineyard regions, as well as restaurants that offer set menus suggesting wine pairings, or menus featuring local produce and even wine producers offering tours.

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