French Wine For Dummies
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Practically all the most famous grape varieties used in the world's wines are French varieties, meaning that they either originated in France or became famous through their expression in French wines. These varieties include Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, among many others.

Over the centuries, different grape varieties have acclimated to certain regions of France. In some regions, winemakers make blended wines, from several grape varieties; in other regions, the wines derive from a single variety.

Wine lovers often use a certain shorthand in talking about French grapes:

  • Bordeaux varieties (generally used in reference to red varieties): Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet France, principally; Malbec and Petit Verdot are two minor red varieties of Bordeaux

  • Red Rhône varieties: Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre

  • White Rhône varieties: Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier

  • Southern French varieties (generally used in reference to reds): Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Carignan

The wines of Bordeaux, the South of France, and the Rhône Valley (the larger, Southern Rhône, at least) are blends, made from several grape varieties in varying proportions. When winemakers from other parts of the world use these varieties together, they sometimes describe their wines as being “Bordeaux blends” or “Rhône blends,” a more convenient lingo than naming all the varieties used.

The following tables name the major white and red grape varieties of France, and indicate in which of France’s wine regions each grape is important. A map depicting the major wine regions of France follows the tables.

France’s Major White Grape Varieties
Grape Variety Region(s) Where Important
Chardonnay Burgundy; Champagne; Languedoc
Chenin Blanc Loire Valley
Sauvignon Blanc Bordeaux; Loire Valley; southwestern France; Languedoc
Gewürztraminer Alsace
Pinot Gris Alsace
Pinot Blanc Alsace
Marsanne Rhône Valley
Muscadet Loire Valley
Riesling Alsace
Roussanne Rhône Valley
Sémillon Bordeaux; Southwest France
Viognier Rhône Valley; Languedoc
France’s Major Red Grape Varieties
Grape Variety Region(s) Where Important
Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux; Southwest France; Languedoc
Cabernet Franc Loire Valley; Bordeaux; Southwest France
Carignan Rhône Valley; Southern France
Cinsault Rhône Valley; Southern France
Gamay Beaujolais
Grenache Rhône Valley; Southern France
Merlot Bordeaux; Southwest France; Languedoc
Malbec Southwest France; Bordeaux
Mourvèdre Rhône Valley; Southern France
Pinot Noir Burgundy; Champagne
Syrah Rhône Valley; Southern France
The many wine regions of France.
The many wine regions of France.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan co-authored the bestselling Wine For Dummies. Ed also wrote Champagne For Dummies. Mary, the only woman Master of Wine in the U.S., owns International Wine Center, a New York wine school.

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