France has 10 wine districts scattered throughout the country. Each region has its own unique climate, soil and growing customs, which result in very different wines. There are several famous regions such as Bordeaux and the Loire Valley as well as some lesser known, but still impressive, areas.
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The Loire Valley, situated in Southwest France, has been a major wine-producing region since the Middle Ages. Because the area stretches through a large portion of central France, it contains several microclimates, which make the wine produced there subtly different from vineyard to vineyard.
Bordeaux is perhaps the most prestigious wine-producing region in France and is known for the quality and diversity of its wine. Much of the 800 million bottles produced there each year are intended for export, a tradition that began in the 12th century.
The region of Languedoc/Roussillon is located to the south of Bordeaux and up until the 1980s was recognised as the birthplace of cheap table plonk. This region still offers produces inexpensive wine but has worked hard in recent years to increase the quality.
The Mediterranean climate of Provence produces a very different wine that the more temperate northern regions. When the Greeks arrived in 600BC, there were already vines growing. It was the Romans however, that began to systematically cultivate grapes.
The Rhone region is the second largest wine producing area in all of France. It is divided into two distinct parts Ė North and South.
The Northern Rhone is a narrow-strip of land next to the river and is known for its outstanding wine.
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In the eastern part of France lies the Savoy region. Itís limestone rich soil and temperate continental climate are perfectly suited to white grape production. Most of the white wine produced in Savoy in light and fruity and often sparkling.
Burgundy is also located in Eastern France and incorporates the famous wine regions of Beaujolais and Chablis. The region incorporates two thirds of the nearly two hundred appellations in all of France and grouping them together is extremely complicated. Although Burgundy produces some of the finest wine available, it pays to be savvy as poor imitations abound.
The Jura region, located just east of Burgundy, has been producing grapes since the first century but seen a large decline in the total area under vine over the last 100 years. The climate is harsh and grapes are only grown in the sunniest of spots.
Alsace is also in Eastern France, nestled at the foot of the Vosges Mountains. This region was renowned throughout Europe for producing superior wine until it was ravaged by the Thirty Years War. It took three centuries for Alsatian wine to reach its regain its former glory and it is, again, the producer of some of the most sought after bottles. Somewhat unusually, Alsatian wines are named by their grape rather than by the village in which they are grown.
Champagne is, of course, where the bubbly is produced. It is the most northerly of Franceís wine regions and as a result, farmers have to battle the elements throughout the year. Because the weather can be so volatile, the harvest yield can vary enormously from year to year. The formula for Champagne manufacture is a heavily guarded secret and varies from vineyard to vineyard.
Corsica has had a turbulent political history but is now under French control. There is evidence that wine has been grown there for over 2500 years. The majority of wine made in Corsica is intended for table use only, although significant improvements in quality have been noted in recent years.
Learning about French wine can be quite an overwhelming activity. If it seems like the walls are caving in because you canít taste a hint of leather in your latest acquisition, take a deep breath (after youíve spat out the wine, of course) and relax. Wine can be a simple or as complicated as you want it to be. As your experience broadens, you will be able to notice subtle differences between wine made from different grapes, in different regions and even different vintages. It may seem hopeless at first but youíll get there in the end.