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French wine regions, vocabulary and explanations: talk about wine like a pro!

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

France is famous for its cuisine, its pastries, its monuments... but also for its wine! Second only to Italy in terms of wine production, France is also the world's second-largest consumer, just behind the United States. Indeed, wine is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in France, an integral part of our culture and a bottle to be found on every table, for every occasion. Get ready to discover this national treasure with the French wine map and the vocabulary you'll need to understand it all during your trip!

The different French wine regions

There are 16 main wine-growing regions spread over almost the whole of France. The main wine-producing regions are Bordeaux, Alsace, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Champagne. Each region has its own terroir, i.e. its own soil in which to grow grapes, combined with a specific climate. These particular properties give each region its own unique characteristics.

Find out more about the different terroirs with this French wine regions map:

French wine regions map
"Les vins de France" by Solène Debiès

Grape varieties

As with all other fruits, there are different varieties of grape. These are known as "cépages". Each variety has its own characteristics in terms of grape berries and leaves, so each variety has its own aromas and color, which are then found in the wine.

The main French grape varieties are :

  • pinot noir, mainly grown in Burgundy

  • chardonnay, a white grape variety also native to Burgundy but grown throughout the country

  • cabernet franc, found mainly in the Bordeaux region

  • Merlot, also found around Bordeaux

  • Syrah, generally grown in the Rhône Valley

  • Riesling, known for Alsace wines

Vocabulary : 50 words to talk about wine like a pro

Le vin rouge (red wine)

Le vin blanc (white wine)

Le vin rosé (rosé wine)

Le vin de champagne (champagne wine)

Un vin mousseux (a sparkling wine)

Un vin liquoreux (a sweet wine)

Un vin sec (a dry wine)

Un vin fortifié (a fortified wine)

Un cépage (a grape variety)

La vigne (the vine)

Le vignoble (the vineyard)

Un cep de vigne (a vine plant)

Le raisin (the grape)

Une grappe (a cluster)

Une feuille (a leaf)

Un pépin (a seed)

Les vendanges (harvest)

La fermentation

Une région viticole (a wine-growing region) Le terroir (the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced)

Un vigneron (m.), une vigneronne (f.) (a winemaker)

Ouvrir une bouteille (to open a bottle)

Un tire-bouchon (a corkscrew)

Un bouchon en liège (a cork)

Déguster du vin (to taste wine)

Un(e) œnologue (oenologist)

Servir un verre (to pour a glass)

Un verre à vin (a wine glass)

Un verre à pied (a wine glass)

Une coupe / une flûte à champagne (a glass of champagne)

Une carafe

Un grand cru (a great vintage)

Le millésime (a vintage)

Un sommelier, une sommelière

Un(e) caviste (a cellarman)

Une cave à vin (a wine cellar)

Le vieillissement / Faire vieillir le vin (to age wine)

Un bar à vin (a wine bar)

Faire une dégustation de vin (to enjoy a wine tasting)

Faire tourner le vin dans son verre (to swirl the wine in your glass)

Sentir (to smell)

Le nez (the smell)

Prendre une gorgée (to take a sip)

Les arômes : fruités, frais, végétaux, épicés... (the aromas: fruity, fresh, vegetal, spicy...)

La robe (the color)

Les tanins (tannins)

Astringent (=said of a wine that leaves a sensation of dryness in the mouth, caused by the tannins)

Cracher le vin (to spit the wine out)

La lie (the lees=the deposit at the bottom of the bottle)

La teneur en alcool (alcohol content)

If you want to know more specific vocabulary to describe a wine, take a look at this site. 👀

"AOP" appellation

AOP Appellation d'origine protégée

In France, we love and defend the products of our agricultural regions. That's why we have labels like AOP, "Appellation d'Origine Protégée", which protect the know-how of producers and the terroirs (the geographical areas where the wines are produced).

The PDO guarantees that the product has been produced in a specific region. Champagne, for example, has held a PDO since 1936, which means that no other wine not produced in the Champagne region can be called "champagne". It's a guarantee of the product's authenticity, protecting the terroir, the producer and the consumer alike.

But beware: a PDO does not necessarily guarantee quality!

🇫🇷 PDOs exist for all agricultural products: cheese, cream and butter (e.g. Camembert de Normandie, Isigny butter and cream), certain fruits and vegetables (Grenoble walnuts, Puy lentils, Nîmes olives, etc.) and meat (Bresse poultry, Camargue bulls).

What is the difference between white, red and rosé wines?

White wines are generally made from white grapes, and red wines from black grapes. This is true for most wines, but not always: it depends on the production and fermentation processes. Some white wines are made from black grapes from which the skin has been removed, leaving only the flesh and juice (which are white). Rosé, on the other hand, is produced in the same way as red wine, but the skin and seeds are removed earlier, when it has reached its pink color.

In terms of taste, red wine is stronger and more tannic, as it is made from the whole grape, with seeds and skin. It's best drunk at room temperature (around 16-18ºC).

White wine is sweeter, fruitier and citrusier. It should be drunk chilled, like rosé.

How to enjoy wine?

Tasting a glass of wine isn't just about drinking a glass of wine. Wine tasting involves several stages:

  • It's best to open the bottle in advance - between 1 and 4 hours before drinking, depending on the wine. You can also pour the wine into a decanter to let it settle, allowing any solid deposits to separate from the liquid, as well as oxygenating the wine to remove any unpleasant odors contained in the cork. The aromas will then be more fully developed.

  • The wine is poured into a wine glass (you can't drink wine out of a water glass!). Don't fill the glass, just pour a small quantity (about 100mL).

  • Look at the wine: observe its color, intensity and clarity.

  • Then you smell the wine: put your nose in the glass and smell the wine without stirring it. What aromas do you smell? Are they strong or discreet? Repeat the operation, stirring the glass. Can you smell any other aromas?

  • Finally, we taste: take a sip and hold it in your mouth to coat your palate. Is the wine acidic? tannic? balanced?

Find out more about the tasting in this video :

It's a vast universe, and it's hard to sum up such expertise in just a few lines, but I hope you've enjoyed this trip to wine country!

Does your country also produce wine? Do you like wine?

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