The History of Wine in France

The nation of France stands out among all others as the home of exquisite cuisine and fine wine. Known as the City of Lights, Paris beckons visitors from near and far to stroll the boulevards, tour the Louvre Museum, marvel at the Eiffel Tower and revel in her cafes, bistros and restaurants. But for wine tourists, the real magic of France is in the countryside. From Bordeaux to Burgundy, from the Loire Valley to the Rhone Valley and beyond, the wine treasures of France are so plentiful, you may never want your France wine vacation to end.

History of French Wine

The cultivation of vines goes back to antiquity in the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. It’s likely that the Romans brought the practice of viticulture to what is now modern day France. Like many other European countries under Roman rule, by the time Rome fell and barbarian tribes invaded, wine was firmly established as a trading commodity and a part of everyday life.

With the rise of Catholicism, wine grew in importance and medieval religious orders had a strong influence on winemaking. While the church frowned on over indulgence, it also was responsible for perfecting wines such as Champagne, widely attributed to the famous French monk, Dom Perignon.

Along with all of northern Europe, much of France’s wine industry was nearly decimated in the nineteenth century due to the vine louse, phylloxera. When it was discovered that American root stock was immune to the bug, vineyards in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne were grafted over and recovered rapidly.

In 1855 emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system be developed to identify Bordeaux’s best wines. The so-called first through fifth "growths" or crus was a highly subjective designation but is still in place today with only a few small changes. On top of this system, the AOC or appellation d’origine côntrollee, is based on the idea that food and wine products that come from a specific place need to have protections to ensure quality and prevent fraud. The French adopted this system in the 1930s.

Top French wines command some of the highest prices in the world today from collectors with deep pockets, but it no longer holds the same level of power in the market it once did due to intense global competition and slowing level of wine consumption within its borders. But wherever you go in France, rest assured that a fabulous meal and equally wonderful wine are waiting to be enjoyed.

France Wine Production

France is currently the world’s number one producer of wine by volume. Nearly every type of wine imaginable is made in styles that vary from modern to very traditional. The top wine regions are Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Rhone Valley, Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon.

When it comes to what is grown in each wine region, the French have very strict controls on the varietals that go into any wine under the AOC system. Some regions are more clearly defined by a single varietal. Other regions grow a very wide variety of grapes and blends are common.

Some of France’s most famous wine regions and wines are:

Alsace – White wines made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling
Bordeaux – Red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc.
Burgundy – Reds made from Pinot Noir and whites made from Chardonnay
Champagne – Sparkling wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
Loire – White wines made from Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc
Rhone Valley – Red wines made from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and others

Throughout France, change is occurring as winemakers struggle with falling demand for everyday wines, increased competition and a Byzantine system of quality control that allows for little flexibility or consumers changing tastes. But in spite of its challenges, the highly-touted collectibles remain in constant demand and visitors to France will be delighted with the spectacular range of wines at every price level.