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French Wine Grape Guide: 20 Wine Grapes That Grow in France

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Aug 11, 2020 • 4 min read

Learn about the regions, grape varieties, and wines of France.

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A Brief Overview of French Wine Regions

France is home to nine wine regions, with seven of particular importance.

  1. Bordeaux: Many of the world’s most expensive wines come from Bordeaux, where the term premier cru originated. The region is divided into the Left Bank, which includes the famous district of Médoc (home to Pauillac's renowned Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Right Bank, where you'll find Pomerol and Saint Emilion.
  2. Burgundy: The Burgundy region makes some of France’s top wines, but in minuscule quantities compared to Bordeaux, so their rarity also adds to their value. One of Burgundy's best-known wines is Chablis, a chardonnay made near the town of the same name. In Burgundy's capital, Beaune, pinot noir dominates.
  3. Champagne: Rounding out the top three regions, Champagne makes special-occasion sparkling wines. Sparkling wines made outside of Champagne are known as crémant.
  4. Languedoc-Roussillon: This area in southeast France is the largest wine region in the country, but the majority of production here is bulk wine, such as red Carignan (from Spain), that is not exported.
  5. Loire Valley: The centrally located Loire Valley region produces most of France’s white wine, in addition to wines from many native grapes found nowhere else. Wines produced in the Loire include Muscadet (a light, dry white wine made with melon de Bourgogne), Vouvray (chenin blanc made in the Touraine subregion), and Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (dry white wines made from sauvignon blanc).
  6. Rhône Valley: The Rhône Valley is notable for its red wines, from syrah in the north to grenache in the south.
  7. Alsace: This wine region has been part of Germany in the past, and the wines that come from Alsace reflect that history. This part of France is home to the German grape riesling and the Italian grape gewürztraminer.

13 French White Grape Varieties

Thirteen grapes comprise the majority of white wine grapes in France.

  1. Chardonnay: Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the world. The green-skinned grape originated in the Burgundy region of France but now grows in almost all major wine regions across the globe. In France, its best-known expressions include Montrachet, a grand cru white Burgundy famous since the early eighteenth century. Elsewhere, it's often produced as a varietal wine.
  2. Sauvignon blanc: Native to France, this citrusy, acidic white grape has notes of gooseberry and dominates in the Loire Valley.
  3. Pinot gris: Known as pinot grigio in Italy, this Burgundian grape variety is popular in Alsace.
  4. Pinot blanc: This early ripening white pinot is often the star of sparkling Crémant d’Alsace.
  5. Pinot meunier: One of three grapes winemakers can legally use to make Champagne (the other two are Chardonnay and pinot noir), pinot meunier used to be the most popular variety in the region in Champagne. Now, pinot noir dominates Champagne.
  6. Chenin blanc: Chenin blanc is native to the Loire Valley and continues to be important to winemakers there, especially in Vouvray and Chinon. Learn more about Chenin blanc in our guide here.
  7. Sémillon: This gold-colored grape from southwestern France is used to make the famous dessert wine Sauternes.
  8. Viognier: Viognier is a warm-climate white grape with an apricot aroma. It's the main grape in Condrieu, in the northern Rhône.
  9. Melon de Bourgogne: Melon de Bourgogne is the most popular grape in the Loire. It's used to make Muscadet, a light, dry white wine.
  10. Marsanne: Marsanne originated in the northern Rhône but has spread through France, including the South of France. A productive variety with good aging potential, it is popular among growers.
  11. Muscat blanc à petits grains: Possibly the first grape grown in France, this tiny-fruited variety likely originated in Italy or Greece.
  12. Roussanne: This white grape grown in the Rhône has an herbal aroma that contributes to white Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
  13. Muscadelle: This fresh, fruity grape from southwest France is used in blends with sémillon and sauvignon blanc to make sweet wines in Bordeaux.
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7 French Red Grape Varieties

Seven red wine grapes are particularly common in France.

  1. Pinot noir: French monks cultivated pinot noir and used the grapes to make wine as early as the fourteenth century. Since then, the grape has become one of the most popular in the world. A great pinot noir will have complexity, elaborate aromas, refined texture, freshness, silky tannins, and finesse. Best known as a varietal red wine, pinot noir is also used to make rosé wines such as sparkling Crémant d’Alsace, and white wines like Champagne.
  2. Cabernet sauvignon: Cabernet sauvignon is the most popular red wine in the world. Cabernet sauvignon is a full-bodied, acidic wine with strong tannins that mellow with age. The blackberry-scented wine is particularly popular in Bordeaux.
  3. Cabernet franc: Cabernet franc originated in Spain, but it quickly became popular in France, where it's grown in Bordeaux's Right Bank and in the Loire Valley for blends and varietal wines. Learn more about Cabernet franc in our guide here.
  4. Malbec: This dark, juicy grape originated in France and was once very popular in southwest France, specifically Cahors. It's one of six varieties allowed in Bordeaux wine.
  5. Merlot: Full-bodied merlot is traditionally produced as a blending wine in Bordeaux, but it's also popular worldwide as a varietal wine.
  6. Gamay noir: This early-ripening variety from Burgundy has a fruity, acidic flavor and is popular in Beaujolais, including Beaujolais nouveau, the wine's youngest expression.
  7. Mourvèdre: This late-ripening grape grows in the warmer climates of southern France, such as the Bandol (Provence) and Châteauneuf-du-pape (Southern Rhône) appellations.

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