Beaujolais is a French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine generally made of the Gamay grape which has a thin skin and is low in tannins. Like most AOC wines they are not labeled varietally. Whites from the region, which make up only 1% of its production, are made mostly with Chardonnay grapes though Aligoté is also permitted until 2024 (on condition the vines were planted before 2004). Beaujolais tends to be a very light-bodied red wine, with relatively high amounts of acidity. In some vintages, Beaujolais produces more wine than the Burgundy wine regions of Chablis, Côte d'Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais put together.
The wine takes its name from the historical Province of Beaujolais, a wine-producing region. It is located north of Lyon, and covers parts of the north of the Rhône département of the Rhône-Alpes region and southern areas of the Saône-et-Loire département of Burgundy. While administratively considered part of the Burgundy wine region, the climate is closer to the Rhône and the wine is sufficiently individual in character to be considered separately from Burgundy and Rhône. The region is known internationally for its long tradition of winemaking, for the use of carbonic maceration, and more recently for the popular Beaujolais nouveau.
The region along the Atlantic coast is naturally divided into three parts by the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers. The left bank that is west of the Garonne is further subdivided into the Médoc upstream and Graves downstream. The left bank is called the “Land of the cabernet sauvignon”. The right bank that is east of the Dordogne is comprised of the vineyards of Saint Emilion and is called the “Land of the merlot”. The zone in between the two rivers is called l’Entre-Deux-Mers that translates to “Between Two Seas.”
The principal grapes used for red wine are the cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, and 85% of the wines produced in Bordeaux are red. The white wines are made from the sémillon, sauvignon blanc and sometimes muscadelle grapes. The two rivers create an oceanic climate for the region. The region’s best vineyards are located near the Gironde and there is a saying that the best estates can “see the river” from their vineyard.
This region is the second largest wine growing area in the world, only Languedoc is larger. It counts 57 appellations with nearly 12,500 wine producing chateaux, 57 cooperatives and 400 négociants. With an annual production of over 700 million bottles, Bordeaux produces large quantities of everyday wine as well as some of the most expensive wines in the world.
The principal appellations of the left bank are Médoc, Haut Médoc, Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Moulis, Margaux, Pessac Léognan and Sauternes. The Sauternes is known for its intensely sweet, white dessert wines. The principal appellations of the right bank are Saint Emilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac.
Burgundy is in eastern France extends nearly 175 kilometers, from Auxerre in the north, home of the Chablis, to Lyon in the south, home of the Beaujolais. The Chablis and Beaujolais areas are sometimes considered as separate regions. The Burgundy region is otherwise divided in four main parts: The Côte de Nuits (from Marsannay-La-Côte to Nuits-Saint-Georges), the Côte de Beaune (from north of Beaune to Santenay), the Côte Chalonnaise, and the Mâconnais.
Two principal grapes are cultivated: the Pinot for red wine and the Chardonnay for white wine. The red and white wines here play roles of equal importance.
The vineyards here are especially conscious of terroir, dating back to Medieval times when monasteries were developing the Burgundy wine industry. This is a hilly region, and the best wines, the grand cru, are usually grown from the middle and higher slopes where the vineyards have the most exposure to sunshine and the best drainage. Because the weather is very unpredictable, there is a lot of variation between vintages from Burgundy.
The most prestigious and expensive wines originate in the Côte d’Or, south of Chablis. The Côte d’Or is split into two parts, the Côtes de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. The Côte de Nuits is home to 24 out of the 25 red grand cru appellations in Burgundy, while all of the region’s white grand crus are located in the Côte de Beaune. This is explained by the presence of different soils, which favor pinot noir and chardonnay grapes respectively.
Burgundy is divided into the largest number of appellations of any French region. Burgundy appellations include Marsannay, Fixin, Morey Saint Denis, Chambolle Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne Romanée, Nuits Saint Georges, and Gevrey Chambertin, the favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte who diluted it with water!
The most celebrated vineyard of Burgundy is the Romanée Conti that produces 7500 cases of velvety wine per year, the best years being 1990, 1996 or 1999.
Quality ranking in Burgundy is not by wine estate as in Bordeaux, but by geographical area.
This region includes the French wine regions situated along the Loire River from the Muscadet region near the city of Nantes on the Atlantic coast to the region of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé just southeast of the city of Orléans in north central France.
The area includes 87 appellations. While the majority of production is white wine from the chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc grapes, there are red wines made from cabernet franc. In addition to still wines, rosé, sparkling and dessert wines are also produced. The Loire Valley is the second largest sparkling wine producer in France after Champagne.
Wines have been made in this region of southeast France for at least 2600 years since the ancient Greeks founded the city of Marseille in 600 B.C. It was later named “Nostra Provincia” or “Our Province” by the Romans as just north of the Alps, it was the first Roman province outside Italy.
Today the region is known predominantly for its rosé wine that currently accounts for more than half of the production of Provencal wine with red wine accounting for about a third of the region’s production. Unlike the “blush” wines like White Zinfandel known in the United States, Provencal rosés are rarely sweet and almost always dry. White wine is also produced in small quantities throughout the region.
Provence has eight major wine regions with AOC designations. The Côtes de Provence is the largest followed by Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. The Bandol wine region is one of Provence’s most internationally recognized wine regions.
Provence is the only French wine region outside of Bordeaux that has developed a classified ranking for wine estates.
This region situated in Southern France is divided into two sub-regions with distinct vinicultural traditions, the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône.
Both regions grow Syrah grapes for red wine and Viognier grapes for white wine. However, the northern Rhône is cooler than the southern Rhône which means that the mix of planted grape varieties and wine styles are slightly different.
The most famous wine grows in the southern Rhône subregion. It is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend containing up to 13 varieties of wine grapes, both red and white, as permitted by the Châuteauneuf-du-Pape AOC rules.
Côtes du Rhone is an appellation that covers both the northern and southern sub-regions of Rhône. Typically it is only used if the wine does not qualify for an appellation that commands a higher price.
Unlike Bordeaux and Burgundy, Rhône does not have an official classification using “grand cru” or similar terms. The classification system is more geographically based.