It is never enough to be said about France and French wine, as it is one of the biggest wine-producing countries in the world and one of the finest as well, and it is always in the top 3 biggest wine countries together with Spain and Italy. France is considered the leading country in the fine wine making, because of the many centuries of well-kept traditions and attention to detail and nature.
French wine history can be traced back to the 6th century BC, with many of its regions recording their wine-making history to Roman ages. Romans have brought vines in the south-west on the Mediterranean coast, which led to a very successful trade by the two nations, until the 5th century when the French have started cultivating vines and produce wine. Vine cultivation spread in the 1st century BC by Julius Caesar in the Rhône valley, and then in the 2nd century BC in Burgundy and Bordeaux and the 3rd century BC in the Loire. Later on, the King and successively the Emperor Charlemagne gave decisive impulse for viticulture in present-day France through his decrees. A great significance in developing the viticulture in France was the Catholic order of the Cistercians founded in the Cîteaux monastery in Burgundy, which quickly spread throughout Europe. They did a marvelous work in terms of soil type and grape variety selection and winemaking techniques. There was another Catholic order of the Benedictines, whose most famous member was probably Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715), the inventor of the assemblage, the artful blending of wines. The modern era of the French wine begins with the Bordeaux classification in 1855, which had a great influence on the quality class systems that were subsequently created.
There is something very special about the French approach to wine, through the unmistakable characteristics produced on a certain type of soil, under the influence of the local climate or microclimate, specific grape varieties and also the art and philosophy of the winemaker. All these factors try to define the concept of Terroir, very difficult to properly define.
France has always been very romantic about the concept of the Terroir, which literally links the characteristics and style of the wine with its location. And from there it comes to the Classification system called since 2012 Appellation d'Origin Protégée AOP and before Appellation d'origine contrôlée AOC, which defines the grapes and winemaking practices for all appellations in the country. But before it comes to the AOP system which is the top of the pyramid, there is the Vin de France as the first categorisation and Indication Géographique Protégée IGP as the second.
French wine has a great diversity in terms of styles and that is due to the country's wide range of climates. The Champagne region is situated in the most northerly part of the country which has the coolest climate anywhere in the world, a vast contrast to the warm dry Rhone Valley in the south-east. Bordeaux lies in the south-west and has a maritime climate heavily impacted by the Atlantic Ocean to its west and the several rivers. Very far from any oceanic influence is the eastern region of Burgundy and Alsace, which have a continental climate with warm, hot summers and cold winters. And in the south, the Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon regions are enjoying a definitively Mediterranean climate, marked by hot summers and moderately mild winters. The topography and the geology of the country are playing a very important role in the diversity of French wine. Each small wine-growing area or even a vineyard can be totally different from its neighbour, which gives the unique characteristics to each one of them.
The country has numerous indigenous grape varietals, but the most notable and most planted are: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Gamay, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. These grape varieties are hugely spread all over the 12 designated wine regions of France - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Rhône, Loire, South-West, Languedoc-Roussillon, Alsace, Jura, Provence, Corsica and Savoy.
French wines are divided into 4 categories:
Vin de Table (VdT), any grape, any French region, no vintage on the label
Vin de Pays (VdP), indicate the region from which the grapes comes from
Vin Delimite de Qualite Superieure (VDQS), very rarely found, between Vin de Pays and Appelation d’Origine Controlee
Appelation d’Origine Controlee (AOC), wine from specific areas made with specifi grapes, AOC wines have rules and regulations
There are more classifications for individual wines, from Bordeaux to Chablis.
French wines is considered to be the most prestigious wines in the world, and many other wine making countries have tried to copy the success of it. Nowadays, the country keeps its long winemaking traditions as well as experimenting with new wine-producing techniques and natural approach to viticulture with sustainable practices.