French Wine


Wine (Vin) Tasting in France 

France is just as renowned for its wine as it is for its food, and it used to be that France produced more wine, and had more land devoted to vineyards, than any other country in Europe.  Italy and Spain now produce more, but French quality and variety are the benchmark for quality in the world.


Wine is produced in almost every region of France, but a few of these regions are the most famous.  Top among them are Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, the Loire Valley, Provence, the Rhône and Savoie.  When you travel France, be sure to visit a wine cellar, vineyard or local wine shop where you'll find the producers happy to talk with you about their wines. 


Visiting a Winery 

Small wine vintners may only accept visitors by appointment, but calling a couple of days (or even hours) in advance is usually adequate.  Larger vineyards and cellars are open to the public and offer standard hours of operation.  In most wine regions, you find local wine shops carrying a variety of wines to be tasted, compared and purchased.  Other shops owned and operated by an individual wine maker will carry only that producer's wares.


At most major wineries a small charge is required for tasting wine.  Smaller wineries do not charge, but expect that you will purchase a bottle or two of the wine after your sampling.  If you have called ahead to visit a small winery, it is polite to make a purchase, keeping in mind that they have taken the extra effort to make time to visit with you.


Tasting the Wine

If you are going to a winery or local cellar or shop, keep the following wine tasting tips in mind.  

  1. Hold the wine glass by the stem so as to not affect the temperature of the wine with your body heat. 

  2. Tilt the glass toward the light so you can view the wine's color.

  3. Swivel the glass to swirl the wine releasing the wine's flavors.

  4. Lower your nose to (almost putting your nose into) the wine glass to smell the wine.

  5. Sip a small amount of the wine and swish it around inside your mouth.

  6. To keep a clear head spit, or if you're not driving, drink!

Keep in mind that wine tasting is just that, a tasting.  There is no need to drink the wine to fully appreciate its flavors.  If you take a drink from each sample, you will not be able to distinguish the difference in qualities after a couple drinks.  If you are visiting a winery where several samples will be offered, it is customary to taste and then spit out each sample, except possibly the final one.  Typically you will find a bucket (un crachoir) for you to spit into.  In a true cellar it is acceptable to spit the wine onto the floor.  Typically you will be offered tastings in order from the lowest to highest quality, so saving the drink for the best and last is customary.  


Classifications of French Wine

French wine is divided into the following classifications.  These classifications relate to the controls that have been put into place on the production of the wine, and not necessarily the quality.  While you might assume that those wines with the strictest controls will taste the best, this is not always true.  Follow your taste buds!

  • Vin de Table- This classification has few controls.  The grapes may come from anywhere within France and may even include some grapes from other countries.  This is everyday table wine that is often sold in plastic bottles in markets.

  • Vin de Pays- This classification relates to where the wine is from.  For example, a vin de pays must only include grapes from a very specific region.  The region will be listed on the bottle.  Each region also has a limit on the amount of vin de pays that can be produced.

  • VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure)- These are wines of superior quality and have stricter controls than the previous two types.  With these stricter controls you will find higher prices.

  • Appellation Contrôlée- This is the highest of qualities and also most expensive.  Typically these wines were once classified as VDQS but their quality has improved with age.

For more information about Drinking in France, Eating in France or Meals in France, please click on these links.  Bon Appétit!


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