Connoisseurs of fine beers will tell you that the true taste of Guinness can only be appreciated fully in Ireland. Equally, dedicated lovers of French vintages will swear that their favourite wine must be drunk in its namesake region.
Each wine-growing region of France takes great pride in its unique product and, of equal importance as the grape, the light, soil quality and precipitation have a significant effect on the wine produced. A region that has become intimately associated with a particular type of wine, such as Chardonnay, provides the best possible conditions for the grape to flourish.
For newcomers and seasoned connoisseurs alike, there are several preferred destinations when it comes to sampling the great vintages of France. These are all readily accessible through providers such as Flights.com.
The wine culture of Burgundy predates the Romans, and the church’s involvement in winemaking in medieval times has given us names like Chambertain, Pommard and Meursault, which were religious orders. Two of the most popular grape varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, are grown prolifically in the region around Beaune, a small town that makes a great base for exploring the region and sampling all the various wines on offer.
Bordeaux is France’s top wine-producing region with over 8,000 producers and vineyards covering 115,000 hectares. Here you can find many of the most exalted estates, such as Cheval Blanc, Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild, where some of the world’s most expensive vintages are produced. Part of Bordeaux itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its neighborhood of Les Chartrons is home to many knowledgeable wine merchants.
Home to Viognier and Syrah, the valley of the Rhône river produces some of the world’s most esteemed wines and is also stunningly attractive to explore in its own right. There are numerous appellations to discover in its various sub-regions, such as the Grenache vines, which are responsible for top-quality rosés.
Couly-Dutheil near Chinon has medieval cellars that were carved into the rock of the surrounding forests. Chinon wines are, in the main, red varieties, although St-Nicolas de Bourgueil is becoming increasingly popular in the US.
Domaines Schlumberger near Colmar was established in 1810 and its cellars combine stainless steel with 19th century brickwork. There are seven grape varieties in this region of Alsace and a visit to this estate is recommended for a deeper understanding of the often subtle differences between them.
Domaine Maurice Protheau in Mercurey is centered on the 18th century château of d’Etroyes and visitors have the chance to sample rosés and whites as well as contrast reds such as burgundies and pinot noirs.
The Bordeaux region is perhaps the best place for the newcomer to start exploring the world of French wines. It is probably France’s most glamorous and certainly best-known region and there is a strong British influence due to centuries of trade with dealers based in Bristol and London. Société Duboscq is just one of the prestigious growers based here, in the Château Haut-Marbuzet in St-Estephe, and offers pre-booked visits to the cellars where you can sample its products.
A trip to France to learn more about wine production should also take in treats for all the senses. The French countryside includes some of the most idyllic landscapes in the world and each region has its own fine cuisine, which is another story.