Wine regions of France
Burgundy, Champagne, Beaujolais, Chardonnay… France produces some of the most famous wines in the world.
Their names alone conjure images of rolling vineyards, majestic chateaux and sun-kissed slopes, so a driving holiday in any of the wine-producing regions promises glorious scenery, as well as the chance to taste and take home your favourite reds, whites and rosés.
France has many wine producing regions, each with its own speciality and ‘terroir’ - environmental characteristics such as soil type, altitude, slope and orientation to the sun. Naturally, these shape the type of grapes that will thrive in the region, giving us fruity Beaujolais from the Burgundy region and light, dry Muscadets from the Loire.
As a guide to categories and quality, Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) wines are strictly controlled by grape and region, Vin de Pays wines comes from wider, less-regulated sources and Vin de France wines are from anywhere in France.
Drive times: 2.5 hours’ drive from Calais; 3 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 3 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
Champagne is the northern and most celebrated of France’s wine regions. Depending on the time of year you could watch the grapes being harvested and pressed or the champagne being blended, as you sip and savour your way through beautiful scenery, fabulous French food and some of the finest champagnes in the world.
Reims, jewel in the crown of the Champagne region, is home to some of France’s most famous producers including Pommery and Taittinger. There are some fascinating tours available of the Pommery cellars and surrounding Elizabethan-style estate, and at Tattinger House you can discover the history of the cellars and taste the famous champagne.
Reims also boasts the oldest Champagne House in the world, the Maison Ruinart, which was founded in 1729. Its 40-metre deep chalk cellars are a UNESCO-listed monument, and tours include the opportunity to taste and buy various blends or ‘cuvées’ during your visit.
Drive times: 5.5 hours’ drive from Calais; 6 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 6.25 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
The Alsace region sits in the north east of France, close to the German border. The grapes grown here are similar to those found in German wines, and many of the world’s finest Rieslings and aromatic Gewurztraminers are produced in the region. You’ll taste primarily white wine in Alsace, both sweet and dry varieties, although recent years have seen a focus on sweeter, dessert-style wines.
Alsace has been producing wines for more than 1000 years, and has a long tradition of wine tourism. It even has its own Wine Route, which meanders through picturesque villages and rolling green countryside. October heralds the end of the wine harvest, and towns and villages along the route mark the occasion with celebrations and open cellars where wine tastings take place. Following all 170km of the Alsatian Wine Route is a simple, easy way to experience the beauty and scenic diversity of the Alsace region, whilst tasting some of its finest wines along the way.
Drive times: 5 hours’ drive from Calais; 5.5 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 3.5 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
The Loire Valley is perhaps most famous for its majestic chateaux such as Chambord, Chenonceau and Amboise, many of which were built during the French Renaissance period for kings, queens, dukes and nobles. However, it also boasts some of the most picturesque vineyards in France, where fine wines such as Saumur, Sauvignon, Chinon and Muscadet are produced.
It’s a wonderful region to tour with your car. The scenery is spectacular, the chateaux are breathtaking and – during the summer – there are many wine festivals in truly memorable settings. Why not try wine tasting under the stars at the Chateau de Chenonceau, subterranean wine tasting in illuminated Troglodyte Caves or attend the September Festivini Festival in Saumur for fun guided walks and torch-lit vineyard tours.
Drive times: 5.5 hours’ drive from Calais; 6 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 5 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
Burgundy is one of the most famous wine producing regions in France. In 2015, the Burgundy vineyards received UNESCO World Heritage status, a testament to centuries of viticulture and a remarkable diversity of wine-growing conditions (terroirs) that nurture the production of iconic wines such as Pinot noir, Beaujolais and Chardonnay.
The region also offers some of France’s most beautiful scenery, and a drive along its famed Routes des Grand Crus will take you through verdant valleys dotted with mustard fields, and past wine villages, wineries and medieval villages that seem untouched by time. Other wine routes in Burgundy highlight the Grand Vins de Bourgogne, the wines of the Maconnais-Beaujolais, the riverside Yonne vineyards and the vineyards of the Nievre. If you enjoy Chablis, a visit to La Cave du Connaisseur in Chablis offers the chance to taste this delicious dry white wine in an atmospheric and historic setting.
Drive times: 6 hours’ drive from Calais; 6.5 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 5.75 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
Drive south through Burgundy and you’ll soon come to the Beaujolais region and the wonderful city of Lyon, the gourmet capital of France. The region’s namesake wine is a light and fruity red made from the Gamay grape and – unusually for wine – its Beaujolais Nouveau is drunk at just six weeks old.
Known as ‘vins de primeur’ or nouveaux wines, these wines are pressed and fermented over just a few weeks, and may be sold in the same year that they are harvested.
Autumn is a wonderful time to drive through Beaujolais, when its rolling hills and the banks of the Seone wear cloaks of red, russet and gold. On the third Tuesday of November, Beaujolais Nouveaux day is celebrated in renowned wine-producing villages such as Brouilly, Villie-Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-a-Vent. It’s a huge celebration, marked with festivities not just in Beaujolais, but throughout France and around the world.
Drive times: 8 hours’ drive from Calais; 8.5 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 6.5 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
Bordeaux is the largest wine-growing region in France, and – with its 120,000 hectares of vineyards and more than 8,500 wine producers or ‘chateaux’ - is considered to be the world’s wine capital. The region’s most famous wines include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and in the Medoc area you can taste prestigious vintages called ‘Grand Crus’.
Even if you’re not a wine connoisseur, Bordeaux is one of the most rewarding regions of France to explore with your car. Half of the region’s eponymous capital is UNESCO-listed making it the world’s largest urban World Heritage site, and the vineyards of medieval St Emilion were the first to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for their exceptional ‘cultural landscape’.
In June 2018, Bordeaux will host its bi-annual Bordeaux Wine Festival. With light shows, fireworks, live music and 1000 visiting wine makers, it’s sure to be a fantastic event.
Drive times: 10 hours’ drive from Calais; 10.5 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 8 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
As a wine-producing region, the South West is one of France’s best-kept secrets. South of Bordeaux and close to the Pyrenees and stunning Atlantic coastline, the region grows the same varieties of grapes that thrive in Bordeaux, and produce similar tasting wines. However, wines from the South West are less expensive than those produced by its illustrious neighbour, so this is a great place to stock up delicious, well-priced wines.
Drive times: 7 hours’ drive from Calais; 7.5 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 6.5 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
The Rhone Valley is France’s second largest wine-producing region, producing a staggering 400 million litres of wine every year. Almost 80% of wine from the Rhone Valley is red, half of which is the famous Cote du Rhone AOC.
The Rhone Valley flourishes on both sides of the River Rhone, and offers a wealth of medieval and Renaissance architecture as well as world-famous wineries such as Hermitage, Cote-Rotie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Its 14 wine routes wind through the most spectacular French countryside, and highlight famous cities such as Lyon, Vienne, Avignon, Nimes and Valence.
These wine routes reflect the sheer diversity of the Rhone Valley terroir, the complex soils and variable Mediterranean climate that gives the Rhone Valley wines their depth, breadth and colour. In the north, the valley produces robust reds and aromatic whites, and in the south full-bodied reds and fruity rosés.
Drive times: 10 hours’ drive from Calais; 10.5 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 9.5 hours’ drive from Dieppe.
The sun-drenched vineyards of Provence have been producing fine French wine for more than 2,000 years. Located on the Mediterranean south coast of France, Provence is best known for its light rosé wines, the most famous of which are the classic Cote de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix.
However, a driving tour through Provence will reward you with more than delicious rosé wine. This is one of the most famously picturesque regions in France, with its rolling lavender fields and ancient olive groves. The celebrated wine route from Toulon to the Massif des Maures highlights some of the best sights and scenery in Provence. Stunning vineyards, romantic Provencal landscapes and the heady delights of chic Saint Tropez make this an ideal tour for wine lovers and fashionistas alike.
Drive times: 10 hours’ drive from Calais; 10.5 hours’ drive from Dunkirk; 7.75 hours’ drive from Dieppe
Languedoc Rousillon is the largest wine-producing region in the world. In fact it’s estimated that one in 10 bottles of wine produced in the 20th century came from the Languedoc Rousillon region.
Collectively Languedoc Rousillon produces more than three times the wine output of Bordeaux, and most producers use ‘blends’ of grape varieties instead of single varietal wines. The area produces a huge variety of wines, many of which are the less-stringently regulated Vins de Pays. Its most famous wines include the white Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, and the red Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Genache Noir.
Add to that the fact that Languedoc Rousillon wines are very competitively priced, and you begin to see why this is becoming one of the most popular regions for wine tours in France.
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