French Red Wine will be where many people’s journey into the world of wine begins. It is perhaps the most famous and easily located kind of wine.
Indeed, France is perhaps the greatest of the old-world wine nations. However, it is a large area. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the wines of this great old-world winemaking country are rich and varied.
So, we will take you on a quick tour through the world of French red wine. We will dip into France’s most well-known wine regions and pick out a grape or style of wine that we feel is the one to look out for when choosing a wine from that region.
You’ve likely tried some French red wine, but you may be looking to broaden your horizons. Maybe you’re a fan of Bordeaux, but you’ve never travelled south to Languedoc-Roussillon? Or, you could love Rhône Valley reds, but not tried the wines of France’s other great valley – the Loire Valley.
Well by the end of this, you will certainly have the urge to get out and sample some more French red wine. So, without further ado, let’s take a deeper look into the world of French red wine.
French red wine – Bordeaux
Bordeaux is the obvious place to start. It is home to some of the most prestigious names in wine, but it is also an omnipresent feature in almost any supermarket, bottle shop or restaurant wine list.
Of these six grape varieties, there are two which hold the focus in Bordeaux. They are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Bordeaux wine region is primarily split into two portions. The Left Bank and the Right Bank.
The Gironde river runs inbetween these two sections of Bordeaux. The Left Bank is more famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and the Right Bank is more famous for Merlot. However, you’ll generally find the two blended together.
If you love Cab Sav, then seek out the regions of Médoc, Haut-Médoc and Graves. Each provides elegantly structured and powerful wines which display intense notes of blackcurrant, plum and subtle spiced notes of cedar and smoke.
Then, Merlot fanatics should look for St.Émilion and Pomerol. The latter is home to Château Pétrus – one of the world’s most expensive wines. The 2000 vintage of the right Château Pétrus can be worth around $1 million. Not your average weekday drinker, unless you’ve done very well for yourself.
Don’t be dismayed though, great Right Bank Merlot can be found which doesn’t break the bank entirely! These wines display powerful notes of cherry and plum, as well as a real soft and supple quality.
This is why these two grapes work so well as a blend. They both bring different qualities to the table, (or the bottle). Structured and supple. Tannic, but soft. Then, a whole heap of different tasting notes meld into one glorious concoction. There is a reason that Bordeaux is as famous as it is. It is delicious! You’ve likely tried Bordeaux wine before, but now you have a bit more information about this style of French red wine and hopefully, you can find the right one for you.
French red wine – Burgundy
Next on our tour of French red wine is Burgundy – the home of terroir. With this area, there is only one grape variety to choose. This is Pinot Noir country. Burgundy is the ancestral home land of this grape variety, (as it is to Chardonnay, its premier white grape).
You can find some really expensive stuff, (particularly in the Côte d’Or region), that will cellar for years and be some of the finest wine that you’ll ever taste. However, more ‘entry-level’ Burgundy wines are out there and they are delicious as well! These can be ‘Bourgogne Rouge’ or the ‘Village Wines’ which list a particular village on the label.
Any Burgundy Pinot Noir will show similar characteristics. You can expect strong red fruit flavours, particularly cherry and raspberry. Then, beyond that some interesting notes of smoke, vanilla, cloves, mushrooms, forest floor and violets. The list can go on for a while as Burgundy Pinot Noir is truly some of the most complex wines French red wine out there!
French red wine – Beaujolais
Interestingly, Beaujolais is actually a part of the Burgundy wine region. At least in an administrative sense. Yet, the climate, the terroir and the key grape varieties all differ. So, it’s worth including as a separate section.
Beaujolais wine is not a one note wine though. All of these French red wines come from the Gamay grape variety, but this grape can express itself very differently. You can get the infinitely light and fresh Beaujolais Nouveau, the still light but slightly stronger standard level Beaujolais, right up to the stronger and more intense cru level Beaujolais.
The best wines are grown on granite soils, which have a low level of nutrients. This helps to limit yields and this increases the intensity of flavour. The wines are deeply perfumed with wonderful notes of roses and violets. It also shows strong red fruit notes. Think of redcurrants, strawberry, raspberry and red cherry. These are a great summer red wine and beautiful when served slightly chilled.
French red wine – Rhône Valley
Next up is the Rhône Valley. While the Rhône Valley does produce some great white wine, it is certainly red wine for which it is more famous. This can be the single varietal Syrah to the North and the Grenache led blends to the South.
The Northern section of the Rhône is more prestigious and the prices generally reflect that fact. One particularly famous sub-region is Côtes-Rôtie. These vineyards are set into hand-built stone walls which stops the loose ancient soil from tumbling down the hills. They still can fall down the hill, at which point the soils are dragged back up the hills in buckets by hard-working vintners. The wines deserve this level of care and attention. They’re deeply complex wines with powerful notes of black fruit and white pepper.
In the south, you still have incredibly prestigious appellations, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Then, there’s Côtes du Rhône. The latter are the bread and butter of the Rhône Valley and often represent an excellent value for money, particularly at the Côtes du Rhône Villages level. All of these French red wines are blends, which are generally led by Grenache. They display an assortment of black fruit flavours and more of that distinctive Rhône Valley peppery pop.
French red wine – Loire Valley
Now, we move onto the beautiful Loire Valley wine region, which is lovingly referred to as the ‘Garden of France’. The Loire Valley is more well-known for white wines, particularly Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. However, French red wine excels here to. Pinot Noir and Gamay have found great success here, but one red grape variety stands out. Loire Valley Cabernet Franc is a real joy. It is particularly desirable in the appellations of Touraine and Chinon.
Cabernet Franc from here has a nice level of acidity and a palpable spice. Beyond that, you’ll get red fruit flavours such as raspberry and strawberry, but also herbaceous notes. Bell Pepper is often a key flavour in Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, but it really works!
French red wine – Alsace
Next on our list is Alsace. This is another region which excels in white wine. However, one red grape variety has carved out a name for itself. High-quality Pinot Noir can be found in Alsace, but it is a different style to that of Burgundy.
It is lighter, less tannic and fruitier than Burgundy red. It is a French red wine that is not dissimilar to those of Beaujolais. Tart red fruits dominate the palate in this crisp and refreshing offering. This French red wine is another red wine which is great for summer.
If you love your natural wine, then look out for the ‘Glou-Glou‘ style. This translates roughly to ‘Glug-Glug’ and is meant to delineate the particularly quaffable style of Alsace wine.
French red wine – Languedoc-Roussillon
Our last stop on this tour is the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The Languedoc is a sprawling region which produces a staggering portion of France’s table wine. Much of this is simple French red wine. However, there a few particular styles which we highly recommend that you seek out.
One is similar to the wines of the Southern Rhône. These are blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and other red grape varieties. Then, Mourvèdre appears as a single-varietal wine in the Bandol region. This is a small sub-section of the Provence region which is more well-known for the classic dry rosé wine.
Yet, there is one style of French red wine which stands out in the Languedoc wine region. We are recommending Old Vine Carignan. Here, low-yielding vines produce concentrated and complex offerings with juicy red fruit flavours and nice levels of tannins.
That concludes our whistle-stop tour of the world of French red wine. Now, there are many more regions and grape varieties that could deserve a mention but we think that this is a great place to start. If you want to keep learning, then be sure to check out our review of the world of French white wine here.
Be sure to take a look at our collection of French red wine. We’re sure with the guidance above, you’re sure to find a French red wine to fit your needs!
Browse the full range of French red wine here.
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