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In Good Taste

Your International Passport to French Wine

Your International Passport to French Wine

A Summary of French Wine

France is one of the world’s most recognized wine-growing countries. While wine was not born in France (that honor goes to Italy), the French brought wine to a whole new level. France produces more fine wine than any other country and is defined by classic varietals such as Champagne, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Pinot Noir. 

The French do not have a word for a winemaker. Instead, they call the vineyard tenders vigneron which means “grape grower.” For the inventors of terroir, location is everything. Appellations like Burgundy and Bordeaux are synonymous with excellence in the wine world.

France is so influential that new wines are constantly being compared to classic French examples (such as the infamous Judgement of Paris in 1976). France is the benchmark against which greatness is judged.

Short History of French Wine Beginnings

France has been making wine for over 2,600 years. Wine was introduced to France by the Etruscans in the years leading up to the Roman empire around 500 B.C. The first French vineyards were found in southern France where the first vignerons emulated Etruscan winemaking techniques

Wine Making History - >2600 Years Introduced by Etruscans

Beginning of Wine in France

When the Romans took over, they aided the spread of viticulture throughout southern France. Remnants of the Romans’ influence exist across the country. For example, the region of Provence gets its name from the time of Roman’s name for it – nostra provincia or “our province.” 

The Catholic church also had a major influence on French wine. Monastic orders such as the Benedictines planted many of the original French vineyards and helped the vines to flourish.

 First Vineyards in Southern France

After the French revolution, which lasted from 1789 to 1799, the world of French wine changed forever. Napoleon the First broke the ties between the church and vineyards, selling or giving the vines away to French peasants. 

Less than a hundred years later, French vines suffered another major change this time in the form of the root-eating phylloxera insect. In the 1860s, phylloxera found its way into southern France and decimated many French vines before it was discovered that American rootstock was immune to the insect. After phylloxera, wine-growing regions were left significantly smaller than they were before.

Since then the French have gained a reputation for excellence that inevitably resulted in copying. To ensure the quality of French wine, a system of regulations called the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) was introduced in the 1930s.

French Wine Quality Control: Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC)

The Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) was founded for two reasons. One was to prevent cheap wines from claiming the same names of wines from notable regions. The other was the result of the French obsession with where grapes were grown. 

The French use the AOC to denote a geographical region that produces excellent wines. The AOC also dictates the practices, traditions, varietals, and techniques that can be used to produce it. The restrictions can be national or region-specific. 

Since the introduction of the AOC, Europe has also added its quality control restrictions to the mix. The Appellation d’Origin Protegee (AOP) is similar to the AOC on a larger scale. 

Appellation d'Origin Protegee

Appellation d'Origine Vin De Qualité Supérieure (AOVDQS) is another title normally given to wines just below AOC in the hierarchy. They have similar rules and regulations but are not quite at the same level as AOC.

French Wine AOC Classifications

To make the AOC a bit more complicated, both Grand Cru and Premier Cru fall into the same category, but these titles go even further into defining the level of quality.

Grand Cru is the highest level of classification- referring to a plot of land where grapes were grown or a chateau where the wine was made. An example of a plot of land would be Alsace or Champagne. The only example of a chateau with Grand Cru wines is found in Bordeaux, France.

Premier Cru indicates either a plot of superior quality or an exceptional wine within the Grand Cru classification (labeled Premier Grand Cru… etc).

Outside of the AOC, two less distinctive wine labels exist.

Vin de Pays, which translates to “wine of the land” or “country wine” is also defined by its geographical location, but with less focus on style and tradition. Vin de Pays was introduced in the 1970s. These wines are more experimental and often incorporate new varietals, styles, and techniques.

Vin de France, or Vin de Table, would be considered the lowest tier of wine in France. They do not indicate a region of origin and can be made from wine varietals grown anywhere in France.

French Appellations of VDP and VDT

French wines are essentially split into four major tiers. Regional wines are at the base and made from grapes grown within the boundaries of France. The more prestige a wine has, the more specific the area. After general regional wines come regional wines from one village, followed by wines made by grapes sourced from premier cru vineyards. Finally, the highest quality wines come from the most prestigious sites or grand cru vineyards.

A Note About Labels 

French labeling practices are unique in the wine world. They are a complicated mix of place, producer, and varietal. To the novice, the thick French calligraphy and untranslated descriptions can be extremely intimidating.

Most labels include the following, in no particular order:

French Wine Labels include: French vineyard name: look for the words Domaine (estate) or Chateau (castle). Vintage: millésime (vintage) is the year the grapes were grown. Village: the specific village within the appellation, look for 'cru' 'premier cru' and 'grand cru' to get ideas about the quality of the wine from that appellation. Appellation title: look for the words Côte/Coteaux (slope of hill/hillside) examples include Côtes du Rhone, Champagne, Côtes du Rotie, Pouilly-Fume, etc. Grape Varieties: examples include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, etc. Domaine-bottled: Mis en Bouteille au Domaine (a French territory or empire). Producer name and location: the vigneron and location where the wine was made

Since the French put more emphasis on place than varietal, finding a familiar word on French wine labels can take a little effort. Most AOC wines are known by geographic location (ie. Sancerre, Cotes du Rotie, Volnay, etc) and not by the varietal (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, etc). Keep reading to learn more about the largest and best-known French wine-growing regions, locations that define excellence throughout France.

French Terroir 


For the French, geography and climate matter more than the hands which grow, cultivate, and ferment the wine varietals. Indeed, the concept of terroir was born in France, a concept that has defined modern-winemaking throughout the Old World and the New. The terroir of French wine varies widely depending on the proximity or distance from the coast. 

The best wines in the world are grown in some of the worst soil. For example, the poor quality of the soil in Bordeaux helps the vignerons regulate the moisture of the vines which helps prevent certain blights and diseases.

France can be divided into three main regions: north, south, and coast.

French Wine Regions Map

Northern France (home to Champagne, Burgundy) has a continental climate, subject to intense winters and cold, rainy autumns. The unpredictable temperature and weather can leave vignerons with unripe grapes which are turned into delicate wines.

Southern France (home to Provence and the Rhone Valley) is influenced by the breeze coming off the Mediterranean sea. The warmer, sunny days and longer growing seasons produce fuller, fleshier wines. 

Coastal France (home to Bordeaux and western Loire) is right on the Atlantic coast. The maritime climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream but some rain and humidity can influence winegrowing conditions.

French Wine Regions

The top five most prominent French wine regions are Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, and Champagne. France has 17 regions overall and almost 2,000,000 acres of vineyards. 

Approximately 90 percent of French wine uses 36 wine varietals including wine world staples like Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Winegrowers from across the world have taken samples of French vines to try and reproduce the success of French vignerons


Popular Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle
Well-Known Styles: Red Bordeaux blends, White Bordeaux
Acreage of Vineyards: 300,000 acres

Bordeaux contains 60 appellations and the terroir varies depending on where you are in the region. The best-known styles in Bordeaux are the red wine Bordeaux blends made using a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petite Verdot grapes.

This powerhouse region produces some of the best wines in the world. It is divided in two by an estuary and two rivers. The left bank is Cabernet Sauvignon dominant while the right bank is Merlot dominant. Bordeaux is also known for its white wines made with Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle. 

Bordeaux has inspired many imitators in both the Old World and the New. Washington state produced Bordeaux inspired blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc which reflects the unique terroir of the Northeast United States.


Popular Varietals: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Melon de Bourgogne
Well-Known Styles: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Savennières, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, Vouvray, Montlouis, Jasnières
Acreage of Vineyards: 185,000 acres

The Loire valley follows the course of the Loire River through western France. While the Loire is known for both red and white wines, the most famous Loire wines are made from Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc. There are 51 unique appellations within the Loire Valley and each has its claim to fame.

The Loire is second only to Champagne in the production of sparkling wines- two of which, Vouvray and Saumur, stand out from the crowd. 


Popular Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligote, Gamay
Well-Known Styles: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Coteaux Bourguignons
Acreage of Vineyards: 74,000 acres

Burgundy is known for its high-end wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while more rustic styles are made from Aligote and Gamay. Chablis is a Chardonnay dominant sub-region of Burgundy famous for its unoaked Chardonnays. Côte de Nuits produces mostly Pinot Noir, Coteaux Bourguignons primarily Gamay.

When Napoleon divided up the vines after the French revolution, a few strange inheritance laws came into being which continues to influence Burgundy today. Collaborations and cooperatives are common practices in Burgundy where many of the children of those awarded vineyards by Napoleon inherit a single row of vines instead of the whole vineyard.

Australian wine has been greatly influenced by Burgundy. Australia’s Burgundy imitations are also made from Pinot Noir, a varietal that grows well in the sloping topography and cool climate of Adelaide, Australia.


Popular Varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne
Well-Known Styles: Cotes du Rhone, GSM blend, Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Acreage of Vineyards: 176,000 acres

The Rhone valley follows the Rhone River through southeast France, a river that divides the valley into distinct north and south banks. The north is known for Syrah and the south for blends made with Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (GSM).

Across the northern and southern banks of the Rhone, the Cotes du Rhone appellation can be found. Red, rosé, or white, Cotes du Rhone has an international reputation for excellence.


Popular Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
Well-Known Styles: Champagne
Acreage of Vineyards: 84,016 acres

Any adult who has celebrated a major life event has probably come across the famous sparkling wine, Champagne. The most notable example, Dom Perignon, was made by a French Benedictine monk in a time when red wines dominated the rest of France. Champagne is generally made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.

These five regions account for less than half of the total wine growing acreage in France. Other notables include the Alsace for its dry Rieslings, Beaujolais for its lighter-bodied, spicy Gamays, Provence at the base of Mont Ventoux for its Rosés, and Languedoc Roussillon for its up-and-coming organic wines including a selection of reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines. France makes prime examples of every classic wine style and the only way to truly know wine from France is to try a variety.

Production, Exports, Imports

France and Italy vie for the title of largest wine producer with an average annual production of 50 to 60 million hectoliters.

French and Italian Wine Production

A significant portion of the wine made in France is consumed by the French. The French people are fiercely proud of their wine and it isn’t uncommon for a Burgundy native to never try a wine from Bordeaux, or Beaujolais native to never try an Alsatian wine. The average citizen consumes an average of 14 gallons of wine a year. 

Average Wine Consumption per French Citizen

Total exports of wine from France have doubled over the past decade, from 5.49 billion euros in 2010 to 8.74 billion euros in 2020. However, the growing competition between France and the rest of the wine world has put France at a disadvantage. Its traditions and regulations, which once made it great, are limiting innovation which makes it difficult for vignerons to keep up with changing trends.

Total Wine Exports from France in 2010 and 2020

Wine and liquor exports are the second largest exported industry in France after aerospace. The United States received most of France’s exports in 2020 (almost a fifth) followed by the UK. In the past couple of years, the US imports of French wine were seriously affected by the heavy wine tariffs imposed by the Trump administration in 2019 and the global pandemic in 2020.

France's Wine & Liquor Exports


Tourism in France is a growing industry. From 2009 to 2016, the number of tourists increased by a third, from 7.5 million to 10 million. The total amount spent by tourists in 2016 was 5.2 billion euros. Even though exports primarily go to the United States, tourism attracts a varied crowd. More than half of French tourists are French, but foreign tourism is on the rise. The largest groups of tourists are from Belgium and Britain, with a growing market in Asia as well.

Sustainability Practices

France does not have a comprehensive system regarding sustainability. However, two programs of notice exist. One is a sustainable agriculture system supported by a small group of wineries. The other is a regional sustainability program in the Champagne region.

The first sustainable agriculture system contains a three-tiered system geared toward increasing biodiversity, decreasing environmental impact, managing fertilizer inputs, and improving water management. If a vineyard meets all of the levels of criteria, it can then display the “High Environmental Value'' title (“Haute Valeur Environnementale” or HVE).

Champagne’s Viticulture Durable en Champagne (VDC) is focused on reducing environmental risks, preservation of terroir and biodiversity, confronting climate change, and waste management. 

French Wine Sustainability Certificaions

Sustainable Agriculture System HVERegional Sustainability Program VDC


Overall, sustainability is still a relatively new practice in France. The small changes made by the small group of wineries using the HVE and Champagne’s VDV are at the forefront of French sustainable wine practices.

To Adapt or Hold Fast to Tradition in a Changing World

The nature of French wine, grounded in both tradition and regulation, is a limitation for future generations of vignerons. For years, France was the world’s greatest wine producer in terms of both quality and quantity but growing rivals in the New World, as well as increased competition with its European neighbors, have left France in the past.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, France has been working to reinvent itself both in terms of style and to adapt to the changing global climate. The inclement weather from global warming has also presented a problem for regions that have known nothing but perfect climate and geographic conditions for the past 2000 years.

Fun Facts

  1. France is a major producer of grape-based spirits. Armagnac is the world's-oldest brandy and is often confused with France’s other grape-based spirit, Cognac. You can tell the difference between the two by the flavor and weight. Armagnac is deeper, earthier, and darker while Cognac is lighter, fruitier, and finer.

  2. 27% of wine consumed in France is Rosé, beating out French white wine which only accounts for 16%.

  3. Coca-Cola has origins in French wine. In the 1700s a French chemist mixed French red wine with coca leaves- a blend that was said to bring health and vitality to the drinker. Due to difficulties with prohibition legislation, America John Pemberton modified the recipe to be non-alcoholic. Thus, the recipe for modern Coca-Cola was born.

  4. During World War II the French were so concerned that the Nazis would destroy the French wine industry that they hid the roots of French wines and most previous bottles in secret cellars to preserve the industry for generations to come.

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Rosé of Sangiovese


Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.



Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

Cabernet Sauvignon


If Pinot Noir is the light and juicy queen of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is her bolder, heavier, meatier sister. Often referred to as just “cab,” it’s the wine of France’s Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley. There’s nothing subtle about Cabernet Sauvignon—high in alcohol, full-bodied and robust, you can usually find this red served with a ribeye, New York Strip, or filet mignon (re: carnivores love cab). Classic cabs usually offer tasting notes of chocolate, coffee, and darker fruits like prunes and plums. The Unprecedented Cabernet Sauvignon is as classic as they come, and we highly recommend letting the bottle sit and mellow until your next red meat and potatoes dinner!

Pinot Grigio

La Pluma

If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

Pinot Noir


We couldn’t create the In Good Taste Unprecedented collection without the Golden Retriever of wines: Pinot Noir. Pinot is likable, it’s easy, and its natural state of being is simply charming. It’s an incredibly easy red wine to love, which is why so many people do. The grape itself is from the Burgundy region of France, but has made its way to California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Argentina, and Germany since. Our Pinot Noir has no surprise twists—it’s a classic light red with just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back for another glass (or two).

Coteaux Bourguignons


The Burgundy region of France is home to their best Pinot Noirs, but we took the grapes into our own hands to create something extra special with our Coteaux Bourguignons. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which results in a French red that’s light in body but full in flavor. The ripest blueberries and freshest herbs can be easily detected in this French burgundy blend. May we suggest pairing it with some creamy brie and freshly baked bread? It’s a oui-ning combo.



A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.


Côtes du Rhône White


This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.


Bordeaux Rouge


When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.

Ventoux Rosé


You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.



Wild Child

Say “¡Hola!” to Spain’s main grape: Tempranillo. This red grape put Rioja wine on the map and is un vino tinto classico. It’s best compared to a classic cab, but with a bit more unique magic that’s hard to put your finger on, which is why it’s a part of our Wild Child line. This medium- to full-bodied wine with its relatively higher tannins usually offers complex notes of cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. This is the type of red wine you want to buy and pour for a Latin-infused meal; think carne asada, tacos al carbon, or just perfectly cooked steak fajita meat.


La Pluma

We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.




This grape goes by different names in most European countries, but what remains the same is its fruity floral nature. Delicate in every way and extremely quaffable, this wine is as dainty as they come.



We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.


Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.




For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.


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