Almost all regions in France have some claim to fame for fabulous wine. From the hills of Provence in the south to the forests of Alsace in the east and the countryside of Bordeaux, you can find picturesque vineyards and fantastic wines pretty much anywhere except for the northern coasts.
When I first moved to France, I knew nothing about wine or what constituted a good one. A local friend made it simple for me: “if you enjoy it, then it’s a good bottle,” he told me. Since then, I’ve grown much more fond of trying local wines and learning about the interesting craft of making them.
It isn’t hard to find a good French wine region to visit – they are literally all over the country. Your trip doesn’t have to be based on wineries, either.
Doing some wine tastings and vineyard tours are great additions to a spring getaway in the Loire Valley or a summertime escape to Provence and the Côte d’Azur.
Following my friend’s advice, the best wine regions are the ones that you enjoy the most – not only for their tasty wines, but for the fun you can have there! Below, we’ll look at some of the most famous French wine regions, what they’re known for, and what you can do on a visit.
The Best French Wine Regions
Now that you’ve taken that extensive course and consider yourself a connoisseur, you can decide which regions in France sound most interesting to visit. Read on to plan a great trip, plus be able to pick a good bottle and know where it came from.
Bordeaux Wine Region Specialties: Reds from Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot
We’ll start with the best-known wine country in France around the world, Bordeaux, appreciated for its wonderful reds. Named after the major city in the southwestern part of the country, the Garonne and Dordogne rivers run down the fields of this vast region, somehow creating the conditions to make some of the best French wines the world knows.
I shouldn’t say “somehow” – they take wine seriously in the Bordeaux area, and wine tourism is certainly a thing that draws people here. Generations of grape farmers and winery operators have come to know exactly how to get the fruits and fermentation right, and it’s a source of regional pride. You can learn all about it at the Cité du Vin – a theme park slash cultural center dedicated to the region’s wines and heritage.
Therefore, plenty of wine tours are available to take you into the beautiful countryside to see the vineyards and wineries. Many combine a trip to Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside of Bordeaux that’s both picturesque and a place for wine tasting, with an afternoon in the Médoc to see the castles and sample the flavors of this wine sub-region.
In fact, many of the wineries around Bordeaux are based around castles, or châteaux, which you’ll notice in their names. Some of the very famous ones include Château Mouton Rothschild, which produces very expensive wines but offers a lovely visit for anyone, and Château Pape Clément, the oldest producer in the Bordeaux region, producing some very fine wine.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Bordeaux Wine Region
During your time in this region, you’ll probably want to stay in the city of Bordeaux, which offers a ton of great culture and history to explore. I’ve always liked the Radisson Blu Hotel Bordeaux for its great location and comfortable rooms. But don’t miss a day trip into the countryside – some of France’s most beautiful villages are in the Périgord area, where you may alternatively want to find a vacation rental.
If you’re visiting in the summer, the Atlantic coast just west of Bordeaux offers some of the widest, sandiest beaches in Europe, as well as some of the best surfing. The towns of Arachon and Biscarosse are two popular ones that are just about an hour from the city of Bordeaux, making it very possible to enjoy the sun, sand, and wine of the region from one place.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Paris, France
Provence Wine Region Specialties: Rosé wines
The hills above the Mediterranean coast are known for their special wines that are simply irresistible in the summer on the French Riviera – rosé. Up in the countryside above Saint Tropez and the seaside, and the feet of the Alps, this french region is sunny and scenic and close to the border with Italy.
In fact, Provence has a very important place in French wine history. It was here that the craft was first introduced by the Phoceans when they founded Marseille 2,600 years ago, bringing with them grapevine plants. Provence, and the rest of France, have been producing wines with obsession ever since.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Provence Wine Region
It’s easy to find a wine tour that capitalizes on this important title. Many visit the Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire, a famous vineyard just northeast of Aix en Provence.
If you have a car and don’t need a round-trip tour, the Château Gigognan offers visits and tastings of provençal rosés, reds, and whites that can be booked in advance. Even just a drive through the countryside will reveal smaller scenic vineyards and wineries happy to give you a taste or a tour.
In between sampling fine wines, there’s a ton to do in Provence and the surrounding area. The Gorges du Verdon provides one of the most scenic kayaking routes in Europe.
In June and July, the lavender fields that are just as abundant as the vineyards are in full bloom, creating spectacular photography opportunities. Of course, the cosmopolitan coasts of the French Riviera aren’t far, either.
If you’re headed to Provence specifically to enjoy wineries and the countryside, you’ll want to stay somewhere central and with plenty of amenities, like Aix en Provence. The Renaissance Aix-en-Provence Hotel has always been my favorite hotel there. Cities on the Riviera like Nice and Cannes offer even more international and luxury properties.
See Related: Best Wine Tours in Burgundy
3. Sud-Ouest (Southwest)
Southwest Wine Region Specialties: Reds and whites, from Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc
In my opinion, the Sud-Ouest is the most underrated wine region in France. This massive area spans, as you might have guessed, the southwest corner of the country, covering the areas north and west of Toulouse and from a bit south of Bordeaux to Spain.
The southwest produces tasty blends of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, and also makes wine from lesser-known grape varieties like Malbec, which it is particularly known for. There are many sub-regions scattered around this vast French wine region, with some internationally recognizable being Jurançon and Armagnac. My favorite is Montbazillac – a small appellation close to Bordeaux that’s known for its sweet dessert wines.
It’s a bit harder to find wine tours to take you around the region because of its large size and lack of major cities. However, renting a car and driving through southern Nouvelle-Aquitaine is a great idea. Some of the most beautiful vineyards and wineries that offer tours and tastings are the Château de Gensac, the Domaine Plaimont, and the Château de Gaudou.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Southwest Wine Region
Don’t miss out on some of the other great things to do in southwest France, either. This corner of the country is known for its medieval villages, the scenic Pyrenees Mountains, and the sandy coasts of the Atlantic, known for their exceptional surfing conditions. It’s also where France’s famous duck dishes originate from, like foie gras and magret de canard.
As mentioned, there isn’t a major city within this French wine region, but Bordeaux and Toulouse are close enough for driving and offer a wide range of international hotels. But I recommend staying in the countryside for the easiest access to wineries and some great scenery. You can find vacation rentals like this one, with panoramic views and private swimming pools, for less than you’d spend in the city.
See Related: Most Famous Hotels in Paris, France
Alsace Wine Region Specialties: Whites from Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc
Alsace is a region of France in its northeast, bordering Germany and Switzerland. Visitors love coming to Alsace for its blend of the French and German cultures in cuisine and architecture, as well as its especially amazing Christmas markets in December. Alsatian wines are also particularly appreciated across France and the world.
Alsace vineyards are known for producing dry and fruity white wines, especially Rieslings, as well as sweet and floral dessert wines. The two sub-regions of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin (Upper and Lower Rhine) offer a lot of diversity in landscape and climate, which contribute to the variety of flavors that prove to be very tasty.
The region is also well-known for the Alsace Wine Route, stretching over 100 miles from the area around Strasbourg to Colmar. It’s spectacularly beautiful, consisting of small, old villages with half-timbered houses and ancient castles among the rolling fields of grapes. Most visitors like to rent a car or use the train to traverse the route themselves over a few days, but wine tours from Strasbourg and Colmar are available to take you to sample some Alsace wines on a day trip.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Alsace Wine Region
We’ve done a whole article on where to stay in Alsace, as the region has quite a few very picturesque places to base yourself. Strasbourg is the obvious choice as it’s a city with a ton of dining, shopping, and accommodation, like my personal favorite, the Voco Strasbourg Centre. However, Colmar is a nice option, too, as are the tiny villages along the wine route.
Don’t miss Strasbourg wherever you stay – this city is surrounded and crossed by canals, on which you can take a boat tour to see the old half-timbered houses that look like they’re out of a fairytale. It also has a famous cathedral and excellent food, like cheese.
Colmar has a museum of chocolate and a very photogenic area called Petite Venise. Villages like Wissembourg and Sélestat are my picks to focus on for visits.
See Related: German Wine: History & Different Types
Champagne Wine Region Specialties: Champagnes. Particularly, great sparkling wines from Pinot Meunier
The Champagne region should be a recognizable one even for those who don’t like wine or even those who don’t drink. This area just east of Paris is, of course, famous for being where the famous sparkling wine originates from.
Some people are surprised to learn that champagne is just that – a sparkling wine. In fact, sparkling wines technically can’t be called “champagne” unless they were produced in the Champagne region! Both white and red grapes are grown in the four sub-regions of Champagne, all with unique traits and flavors, which go through a double-fermentation process that produces carbon dioxide to become bubbly white wines.
Day trips are available from Paris or the closer city of Reims to see the fields where these special grapes are grown as well as the delicate process of turning them into champagne. Luxury champagne tours to big-name brand domains like Moët & Chandon and Veuve Cliquot are available for those who want to try the best of the best.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Champagne Wine Region
You can easily visit the Champagne region from Paris, but it’s more convenient to stay somewhere closer, like the city of Reims. There’s a great Autograph Collection hotel there called La Caserne Chanzy Hotel & Spa. Smaller villages like Épernay and Châlons-en-Champagne offer boutique hotels and vacation rentals, too.
Going out into the vineyards is definitely the highlight of the region. The UNESCO-listed Reims Notre Dame Cathedral is also well worth a visit, as is the city’s very large museum of automobiles and motorcycles. Both, as well as any other museums in Reims and Épernay, can be visited for free with the Reims Épernay 48-hour Pass, and you’ll also get major discounts at local restaurants and shops.
See Related: Dom Pérignon Tour: History & Experience of the Champagne House
6. Rhône Valley
Rhone Valley Wine Region Specialties: Reds and whites from Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, and Roussanne
Just north of the Mediterranean coast and a bit south of the city of Lyon, the Rhône River carves its way through the foothills of the Alps, feeding the fields that produce particularly excellent red wines. The Rhône Valley is best known for its Syrah and Grenache blends that range from light to intense flavors of diverse variety.
The region is often separated into two sub-regions: the north and south. The northern Rhône is much smaller, stretching north of the city of Valence, and produces more exclusive bottles with different tastes due to a cooler climate. The southern Rhône region is spread over a large region around Avignon, overlapping with Provence in some cases, and produces fruitier blends.
Although Lyon sits north of the region, it provides an easy opportunity to visit the northern sub-region’s wineries, and many wine tours are available round-trip from there. In the southern region, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the prestigious Châteauneuf du Pape winemaking village, where some of the best Grenache-based red wines are made.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Rhône Wine Region
If you want to see both sides of this diverse wine region, I recommend staying right in the middle, in or around the town of Montélimar. This small city on the river is famous for its nougats, adding an interesting element of food to your wine tastings. There are a few small and medium-sized hotels in the town, like the Ibis Styles Montélimar Centre. Valence is also a lovely small city to stay in, while Avignon provides the opportunity to see two wine regions from one place.
Being at the base of the Alpes and along a river, there are a ton of outdoor activities to do around the Rhône Valley, like hiking and canyoning. Many of France’s most beautiful villages dot the region and can be visited by tour or train. In Montélimar, don’t miss the Château de Montélimar or the Palace of Sweets and Nougat, a museum, playground, and candy and gift shop in one.
See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in France
7. Loire Valley
Loire Valley Wine Region Specialties: Whites from Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne (which makes Muscadet)
The Loire Valley is one of my favorite parts of France in general (that isn’t in the south), famous for its abundance of beautiful castles, known as châteaux in French. It’s just southwest of Paris along the Loire River and happens to also produce some of France’s best white wines.
There are four sub-regions of the Loire Valley, creatively named the Upper, Central, Middle, and Lower Loire. The Upper Loire is a bit more remote and to the south of the others, while the rest start around and east of the city of Orléans (not and never to be confused with New Orleans), and continue along the river’s banks and tributaries to the Atlantic, near Nantes.
The vast majority of production is white wine, with the Lower Loire famous for its Muscadet appellation; there are many Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc blends found all over the region, too. Dessert wines and sparkling wines are also produced in the Loire Valley. Tours of the wineries often include visits to famous castles and depart from cities like Tours, but day trips from Paris focused on wineries exist, too.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Loire Wine Region
The Loire Valley is vast, so I recommend either staying somewhere central like Tours or Blois, or moving to a second city along the route during your stay. We stayed just outside of Blois, where you can find vacation rentals inside of small châteaux that add a great element of fun to the trip.
Fun things to do in the Loire Valley largely revolve around seeing its many castles. My favorites were Chenonceau, Amboise, Chambord, Chaumont, and Ussé.
There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, and you’ll never see them all, so research carefully and pick your favorites. The cities of Nantes, Angers, Tours, Blois, and Orléans also each offer charming old towns, museums, and eateries to explore.
See Related: Affordable Castle Hotels in Europe
8. Bourgogne (Burgundy)
Bourgogne (Burgundy) Wine Region Specialties: Reds and whites from Pinot Noir and white (Chablis) Chardonnay
Some of France’s most aromatic wines are produced in a historic region called Bourgogne, known in the English-speaking world as Burgundy. The area stretches along a corridor between the small cities of Dijon and Mâcon, with another sub-region around the city of Auxerre.
Burgundy has a long history of winemaking – the vineyard plots were defined several hundred years ago based on climate, orientation, and other characteristics that set them and their wine products apart. These domains still exist today and contribute to the variety of rich, strong flavors that can be observed in Burgundy wine.
A bit more than half of Burgundy’s production is red wine, and it is particularly famous for Pinot. There’s a moderate amount of Chardonnay white wine production and a small bit of sparkling wine – Crémant de Bourgogne is the best-known.
You can try a bit of everything from the town of Beaune on a 10-wine-tasting tour, or a visit to the famous Château de Pommard. There are also wine-tasting experiences in Dijon.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Bourgogne (Burgundy) Wine Region
Dijon, Mâcon, and Beaune are all fantastic secondary cities in France that are off-the-beaten-path for a typical traveler and therefore make for great destinations in general. Beaune is just about in the center of the region and where you can find a lot of wine tours and tastings. It offers a number of local boutique hotels, as well as a nice Novotel just outside its center.
Burgundy is a gastronomical place in France, even besides its wines, and you can try truffle hunting and tasting in its forests and even see how local mustard is produced. The spring and summer months turn everything green, and many visitors like to see the countryside from above in a hot-air balloon ride. As mentioned, explore the small cities and villages that dot the fields, too.
See Related: Burgundy Wine Tour Itinerary
Languedoc-Roussillon Wine Region Specialties: Reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wine from Merlot, Grenache, Carignan, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay
Finishing off southern France, we have the wine region of Languedoc-Roussillon, often just referred to as ‘the Languedoc’ locally. This is another large region spanning from Provence to the Pyrenees, along the Mediterranean coast and further up into the countryside.
The pleasant climate of the Languedoc made it possible for winemakers to begin experimenting with grape varieties long ago here. Therefore, you can find just about everything in these vineyards: reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines are all produced here, and their qualities range from table wine to high-end bottles. Most people say Languedoc white wines are light and delicate, while reds are spicy and fruity.
Tours and tastings at vineyards are often combined with visits to the many Roman ruins in the region or with another gastronomic experience from Languedoc. A visit to the Pic Saint Loup area is popular thanks to the many family-run boutique wineries that welcome guests.
The famous Domaine de Baronarques is another popular tour and tasting destination, as it’s been operating since the 1600s and represents the region’s long history of winemaking.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Languedoc-Roussillon Wine Region
Many visitors to the Languedoc-Roussillon region start their journey in Montpellier, a major city on the Mediterranean Sea with plenty of things to do and places to stay. The Crowne Plaza Montpellier Corum is an example of one of the international hotels available, and it even has an outdoor swimming pool. But you can also find great places to stay further west in Carcassonne or Perpignan, for example.
This region has a wonderful coastline packed with sandy beaches and seaside fun for the summertime. My do-not-miss recommendation is the medieval walls, castle, and city of Carcassonne, one of the best-preserved examples from the era in France. You can also take tours of the oyster-farming and olive oil-making heritage of the region’s shores.
See Related: Best Wine Regions in Italy
10. Corse (Corsica)
Corsica Wine Region Specialties: Reds, whites, and rosés from Niellucio, Vermentino, and Sciacarello
I said we were finishing off southern France in Languedoc, but we still had the island of Corsica – Napoleon’s birthplace. Most Corsicans would still agree with me, though – despite being separated by just a bit of water, this Mediterranean island has a distinct identity and strong regional sense of pride.
Corsican wines are unique, too. The island has a very Italian history, and its close proximity to Sardinia and the Italian mainland has influenced its winemaking, as you might be able to see from the name of its specialty grapes. Wine grapes here are grown almost everywhere except the higher parts of the central mountains.
More than half of the production on the island is fresh and fruity rosé, but they make plenty of reds and whites, too, often described as strong and full-bodied. You can sample them on a drive through the island countryside, or on one of the many sunset cruises that offer local wine tastings.
What Else to Do & Where to Stay in the Corse (Corsica) Wine Region
Corsica is an entire destination itself, and I’m hesitant to tell people to add it to their France trip – it really deserves its own. Some of the major cities around the coast are Ajaccio, Bastia, Bonifacio, and Porto Vecchio, and the full island tour will have you moving at least once. If you don’t have time for that, my recommendation is Porto Vecchio, a beautiful seaside town with many villas with pools available for rent.
Hiking is popular in Corsica, as the island is large and very rugged, with several very challenging trails. Sightseeing cruises are one of the best ways to enjoy the island aside from relaxing on its beaches. There’s also a very cool turtle sanctuary to visit.
See Related: Best Wine Tasting in Paris
A Quick Introduction to Wine
If you’re new to this, too, let’s start with a super-fast orientation. There are red and white wines, which (sort of) correspond to the color of the grapes used to make them – red for reds or “white” (green) for whites.
The reason I say “sort of” is all grape juice is white, no matter the color of the grape, but if red grapes are allowed to ferment with their red skin, the result is red wine. If red grapes are used to make white wine, that’s called blanc de noirs, which you might understand if you know a bit of French!
Rosé is another type that is usually made from red grapes. Sparkling wine may be made using both red and white grapes together, or just one or the other. Fun fact – if it doesn’t come from the region of Champagne, it isn’t champagne, it’s just sparkling wine!
The fancy names you often see, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc, are actually the variety of grapes used the make the wine, indicating flavor elements.
People may describe a wine as dry, meaning it fermented out most of the sugars from the grapes and therefore isn’t as sweet, while the opposite would be just that – a sweet wine. You can use a variety of terms to describe flavors – fruity, earthy, subtle, delicate, floral, jammy, complex…be creative.
What is the best winery in France?
French wine country is incredibly diverse, and each product is not necessarily comparable to the others – it’s a bit like asking, “what company makes the best clothes?” Some of the most recognized domains in France include Chateau Mouton Rothschild from the Bordeaux region and Moët & Chandon from Champagne.
What are the French red wine regions?
The famous wine regions in France known for their reds are usually in the northern and western parts, but red wines are produced all over. Bordeaux is the country’s most famous wine region and produces some of the best reds from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that you can find. The Bourgogne wine region, also known as Burgundy, is just southeast of Paris and produces great Pinot Noir.
What’s the best wine region close to Paris?
The Loire Valley would be my answer for several reasons. It can be reached in under two hours by train or car from Paris and offers a ton of things to do and see – specifically, its many famous châteaux. Plus, the region produces some of the finest white wine in France.
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