Wine in France To know more about wine: Sign up for the next Wine and Cheese Tasting in Paris with Harriet Welty
 There are many different wines !    Facts and figures about wine
  • To taste a wine,

    1. first look at it (color, transparency, the light through it,...),
    2. then smell it (complex or simple, ...),
    3. then keep it in your mouth (strong, long, ..),
    4. then swallow (or spit) it.
  • Wine is regional and the location of the vineyard (the "terroir", i.e. the soil) is more important than the grape !
    • Alsace - white - Gewürztraminer (sweet), Riesling (dry) - sweet with Munster cheese, dry with sauerkraut
    • Bordeaux - red or white - Saint-Emilion, Saint-Julien, Medoc, etc... (red), Sauternes, etc.... (sweet white) - meat with red, sea food with dry white, foie-gras with sweet white
    • Beaujolais - red - "Beaujolais nouveau" which comes out every year in November is not a good wine : it is only the occasion for a friendly moment, but the "crus" from Beaujolais have nothing to do with it and are very good wines : Brouilly, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, etc...
    • Burgundy - red or white - Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, etc (red), Chablis, etc..(white) - very small estates and great wines
    • Champagne - white - Veuve-Cliquot - this is THE wine for all celebrations
    • Jura - white - Arbois - vin jaune, a very specific flavor
    • Languedoc - red - Banyuls, Minervois (red), Muscat (white) - traditionally producing low-quality red wines, now improving fast
    • Loire Valley - red or white - Bourgueil (red), Muscadet (white)
    • Provence - rosé or red - Bandol, Côtes de Provence - the wines for Summer
    • Rhône Valley - red - Côtes du Rhône (red), Tavel (rosé)
    • Savoie - white - Roussette - sometimes sparkling
    • Southwest - red or white - Cahors - a great variety of very good wines
    • And several less known (Corsica, Moselle, Basque Country,...)
  • Pairing wine with food : no strict rules but :
    • generally : red with meat and white with fish
    • no wine on vinegar (drink water with your salad!)
    • if you change wine, go from light to strong
    • more to come...
  • Click here for wine courses and tastings in Paris : it could be a real experience !


DID YOU KNOW THAT....? Wine is the result of three elements : the "cépage" (i.e. the variety of grape used : Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah..) , the "terroir" (place i.e. type of soil where it grew : corbières, coteaux-de-l'ardèche, mâcon,...) and the "producteur" (who did the job : chateau X,...) ; choosing a wine by its cepage only is choosing a wine from nowhere made by nobody : for some wine experts, especially in Italy and France, the terroir is the most important factor. In a restaurant, try ordering a Bordeaux or a Vin de Loire instead of a Chardonnay or a Merlot!

Is any wine with bubbles a "champagne" ?

Obviously, the answer is NO ! There are other white bubbling wines called "Crémants". A "champagne" can only be produced in a specific region (the Champagne, East of Paris), with a mix of 3 different grapes (Pinot meunier, Pinot noir, Chardonnay). Cremant wines are produced in 8 different regions (the best are from Alsace, Loire Valley or Burgundy). The wine-making process is the same but longer for Champagne (12 months vs. 9 max.). The production of Champagne (300 million bottles/year) is 3 or 4 times bigger but Cremant's is growing faster. Champagne is at least 50% more expensive and on average, Champagne is better, lighter and its taste is more sophisticated. However, a good Cremant is better than an average Champagne.

DID YOU KNOW THAT.....? Some of the best French wines are sweet white wines. Americans are not used to this taste and often expect a sweet white to be mediocre. Don't be prejudiced : it is not true and sweet whites are among the best French wines. Try a Sauternes, a Loupiac or a Coteaux-du-Layon with foie-gras or a blue cheese (Roquefort, Fourme, Bleu d'Auvergne, etc...) or try one of these gorgeous "Vendanges Tardives" from Alsace not to mention a Chateau d'Yquem if you can afford it (it is harvested seed by seed in winter...). But, alas, most of them are generally rather expensive ...

  • France is a "wine culture" country, like Italy or Spain (as opposed to "beer culture" countries) ; people do not drink wine to get drunk but to share a moment together ; they like to talk about it, discuss its taste, if it goes well or not with the food, etc... Wine is part of the French identity and is not considered like just an alcoholic beverage (it is not exceptional to hear a sentence like "I don't touch alcohol : I drink only wine"!).

    "Wine is Food" : a typical example of the "educational" posters you could find everywhere (including schools) until the 1950s and giving the dietetic equivalent of one bottle of wine in milk, bread, meat, eggs, etc. Its conclusion : "wine is food : drink wine"
  • In France you do not call (and order) a wine by its grape (Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, etc...) but by its origin (Saint-Emilion, Pommard, Bandol, ...). The shape of the bottle is specific to each region : narrow for Alsace, cylindrical for Bordeaux, plump for Burgundy, etc...

  • Only the wine coming from the region of Champagne can be called "Champagne" but there are several other (very good) sparkling white wines : Vouvray, Crémant d'Alsace, Clairette, Blanquette, ...

  • Basic glossary :

    • AOC (Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée) : guarantees origine, grape variety and production methods. AOC is a very strong legal protection for the consumer : it guaranties that the product (wine but also any other food like cheese or vegetable protected by an AOC label) comes from a specific region and has been elaborated according to a specific standard. Practically speaking, it means "good" !
    • Vin de Table : resulting from a blend of grapes from different regions ; never very good
    • VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) : quality classification of simple country wines
  • The French consumption is very high : 53 liters/year (source : FAO-2002) compared to 8 for USA and 17 for UK. See detailed comparative figures and, although challenged by new producers, France as well as and Italy keep their status of leaders : see figures. Concerning the consumption in France, the proportion is (roughly) : Red = 50%, Rose=30% (and growing), White=20%.

  • Read about cheese

  • TIP : If you want to buy wine in Paris and don't know much about it, go to a chain shop "Nicolas" : they have reasonably good wines and are generally helpful

  • Contrary to what one could think,
    • a Rosé wine is NOT the mix of a red and a white wine ! It is made of red grapes fermented in such a way that the color is light and sometimes very light. Rosé wines represent a growing proportion of French wines (France is the largest producer in the world) and they are getting better and better, just when the European administration was considering (in 2009) to legalize the name "rosé" for the mix of red and white wines ! Another French fight against beer-drinking countries and apparently it was won! Main Rose regions are : Provence, Anjou and Bordeaux.
    • a sweet White wine is not a cheap wine : see below
  • The Wood-Shaving-War : to taste good and age well, wine requires tannin, which is traditionally provided by oak barrels. In many countries, typically in the USA, wine in stored in metallic barrels and wood shavings are added. This is strictly prohibited by French regulation. Again, France has to fight against the European administration which, under the pressure of countries which do not produce any wine, want to make it legal. It is feared that this war will be lost. See also the Raw-Milk-War and the Chocolate War and other European controversies.
  • More to come...

DID YOU KNOW THAT.....? France produces over 200 million bottles of cognac a year. 98% (!) are exported (USA, China, Hong-Kong, Singapour, etc.)

 Wine etiquette   Bottle shapes
  • Pouring wine : Do not fill up a glass to the top : two thirds is a maximum. The French respect wine : paper glasses, ice cubes, etc.. are definite NONOs! And do not serve yourself : wait for your host to do it !

  • Do not drink it too fast : first smell it quietly.
  • It is best NOT to bring wine as a gift, except for close friends or informal dinner parties : a good host has tried to match the wines with the food and an unexpected wine could jeopardize it!

  • If you clink glasses, don't touch the other glasses (especially if your host wants to honor you by using precious cristal glasses...) : just lift your glass and smile!

  • More on wine etiquette on the page about "French Fried : the Culinary Capers of an American in Paris"

DID YOU THAT....? On average, the French drink 6,6 times more wine than Americans, eat 60% more cheese and drink 3 times less beer ! (see international comparisons) but, globally, the consumption of alcohol in France is significantly smaller than in many of the other European countries (see numbers).

Shape and capacity of bottles : The capacity of the bottle varies, with different names, as a proportion of the Bordeaux bottle (75 centilitres, i.e. 1.58 pints or 25.5 ounces) : fillette = 0.5 Bordeaux bottle, magnum = 2 bottles, jeroboam = 4 bottles, mathusalem = 8 bottles and a few others, less known, the biggest being the nabuchodonosor (=20 bottles) which is only for Champagne.

To related pages : intercultural differences, French attitudes, tips on food, cheese, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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