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French Red Wine Decoder


When you are used to buying wine by grape variety it can be confusing to travel to France and be presented with a wine list that doesn’t mention varieties, only the region the wines come from.

Unlike the new world where a wide range of grape varieties may by grown in close proximity, French wine laws restrict the varieties grown in a region. If you buy a wine grown in Napa Valley just the name Napa on the label won’t tell you what type of wine it is because it could be any variety, but Burgundy – for instance – on a label of red wine will be made from only Pinot Noir.

Here is a French red wine decoder naming wine regions you may encounter and the grape varieties used there.

Bandol: Mourvedre mostly

Beaujolais: Gamay

Beaune: Pinot Noir

Bordeaux: A Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon blend sometimes with Cabernet Franc and maybe a tiny amount of Malbec and/or Petit Verdot. Bordeaux is a huge region with thousands of producers. Some areas are mostly Merlot and some mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. In the following list the dominate of the two varieties will be named. The famous Bordeaux blend is also known as Claret or Meritage in the USA.

Bourgogne: Pinot Noir

Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains: Gamay, mostly with Pinot Noir. Not often seen outside Burgundy.

Brouilly: Gamay

Burgundy: Pinot Noir

Cahors: Malbec mostly

Chambertin: Pinot Noir

Chénas: Gamay

Chinon: Cabernet Franc

Chiroubles: Gamay

Corbiere: Carignan mostly

Cote de Beaune: Pinot Noir

Côtes-de-Blaye: Merlot dominated Bordeaux blend

Côtes-de-Bourg: Merlot dominated Bordeaux blend

Cotes du Rhone: Grenache often with some Syrah and Mourvedre.

Cote de Brouilly: Gamay

Côte-Rôtie: Syrah

Fleurie: Gamay

Fronsac: Merlot dominated Bordeaux blend

Gevrey-Chambertin: Pinot Noir

Graves: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

Haut Medoc: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

Hermitage: Syrah

Juliénas: Gamay

Madiran: Tannat, mostly

Margaux: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

Medoc: Cabernet Sauvignon blend with Merlot

Morgon: Gamay

Moulin-a-Vent: Gamay

Nuits-Saint-Georges: Pinot Noir

Pauillac: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

Pomerol: Merlot dominated Bordeaux blend

Saint-Amour: Gamay

Saint Emilion: Merlot dominated Bordeaux blend

St Estephe: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

St Julian: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

Saint Nicholas de Bourgeil: Cabernet Franc

If you know what type of wine you want, these are the sections on the wine list to look for them:

Cabernet Sauvignon – Bordeaux – especially Medoc and Pauillac

Gamay – Beaujolais

Malbec - Cahors

Merlot - Bordeaux – especially St Emilion and Pomerol

Pinot Noir – Burgundy, Bourgogne

Shiraz – The Rhone

Syrah – The Rhone

Tannat - Madiran

Zinfandel – not grown in France, look to the Rhone for similar wines



Like French red wines? Tell us on our forum.




Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available as an eBook for the Kindle, iPad and Nook.





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Content copyright © 2014 by Peter F May. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Peter F May. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Peter F May for details.

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