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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
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.
Burgundy: Pinot Noir
Cahors: Malbec mostly
Chambertin: Pinot Noir
Chinon: Cabernet Franc
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
Fronsac: Merlot dominated Bordeaux blend
Gevrey-Chambertin: Pinot Noir
Graves: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend
Haut Medoc: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend
Madiran: Tannat, mostly
Margaux: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend
Medoc: Cabernet Sauvignon blend with Merlot
Nuits-Saint-Georges: Pinot Noir
Pauillac: Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend
Pomerol: Merlot dominated Bordeaux blend
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
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