15 Things I Learned About Wine After a Year in France

Like any Frenchman worth his sel, my French host dad loves wine. On any given night we might be uncorking a 1997 Côtes du Rhône or pulling an award-winning Rioja out of the cave à vin. And as someone who once felt that yellow tail was a splurge, I’m not sure I deserve all of this well-aged goodness.

But thanks to my host dad I really have gotten a wine education this year, and have learned a lot about wine pairings, varietals and growing regions. So without further ado, here is what I have learned about wine after a year in France.

1. White wine is better with cheese. In fact, never drink red wine with cheese.

French wine

2. When it comes to wine pairings, it’s best to choose a wine that comes from the same region as the dish. For example, if you are cooking a boeuf bourguignon, which comes from Burgundy, pair the dish with a Burgundy wine.

3. When pairing a wine, consider the dish’s sauce- if it’s a white sauce, like blanquette de veau, pair it with a white wine. If the dish has a dark sauce, pair it with a red wine.

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A rooster dish that I braised in Côtes du Rhône. So for the meal I served it with… the same Côtes du Rhône.

4. If wine is used in the dish, serve the same wine alongside it.

5. Wine and chocolate do NOT go together, contrary to common belief.

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Map of the principal wine regions in France, source

6. The top five wine regions in France, in terms of quality, are traditionally Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, the Loire Valley and the Rhône Valley.

7. There is such a thing as white burgundy by the way, and it’s delicious. (Bourgogne Blanc)

8. Wine qualifications are extremely complicated, but as a rule of thumb grand cru is a qualification for the best-quality wines in the region. In most regions premier cru is one ranking below grand cru. (Both of which fall into the category of wines I definitely can’t afford.)

9. French wine is much cheaper than American wine because it’s not taxed to death. You can buy a passable bottle of wine here for 2 or 3 euros, and a great one for less than 10.

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10. Wine, baguettes and cheese are all completely reasonable pre-gaming selections. In France we rarely pre-drink with beer because wine is worlds cheaper.

11. Only sparkling wine that comes from Champagne, the wine region, should be called champagne. Random fact- French people often refer to champagne as “champ.”

12. On the third Thursday of November the year’s supply of Beaujolais Nouveau is released to great fanfare. And even though it’s sold everywhere on that Thursday, no one actually thinks Beaujolais Noveau is a high-quality wine because it’s young and inexpensive. (It’s good enough for me though!)

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13. Serious winos know which years were good wine years by heart. Apparently 2005 was a good wine year, for example.

14. If a French person asks you if you’d like a glass of wine, say “volontiers”, not “bien sûr.” In this context bien sûr means, “obviously”, as in, “Obviously I want some wine, don’t you know I drink allll the time?” P.S. I learned this the hard way.

15. Terroir is the unique combination of natural factors that affect a wine or food product: soil, rock, altitude, sun, etc. Even in the same area, no two vineyards have exactly the same terroir. As Wikipedia wisely states, “In other words: when the same grape variety is planted in different regions, it can produce wines that are significantly different from each other.” 

I love that this is such a French concept that there isn’t even a word for it in the English language.

 

My French Wine Region Cheat Sheet (also known as French Wine for Dummies):

Alsace: Lots of crisp white wines like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc, and sweet white wine like Muscat.

Armagnac: Where Armagnac comes from, a brandy I like to use for flambé-ing.

Bordeaux: Very high-quality wines, mostly red. The red wines produced are usually blended, from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sometimes Cabernet Franc.

Bourgogne (Burgundy): Very high-quality wines, lots of grand cru, both red and wine produced. Chablis and Beaujolais are also produced in Burgundy.

Champagne: Where the best bubbly comes from of course!

Cognac: Where Cognac comes from, the famous brandy.

Languedoc-Roussillon: The largest French wine region in terms of vineyard surface and production, so it is where most of France’s cheap bulk wines are produced.

Provence: Rosé, rosé, rosé!

Loire Valley: Great wines, mostly white.

Rhône Valley: My personal favorite for red wines. The most famous appelation from this region is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Do you enjoy French wine? Which one if your favorite?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

41 thoughts on “15 Things I Learned About Wine After a Year in France”

  1. Great post, Ashley!

    I still find French wine intimidating – I used to be so nervous showing up at a French household with a bottle of wine because I had no idea if it was a good choice or not. My usual methods of choosing wine (i.e. reading the back of the bottle or finding cool labels) don’t work with French wine.

    So cool that you have someone teaching you about these things on a regular basis – I think that’s what I need ;-)

  2. Yes, great post Ashley! I also learned all about wine during my year in France – and the hard way, as you say, because it really requires learning. What I still find difficult about French wines is that they do not list the “cepage” on the bottle as most other regions in the world do. You really have to know the terroir to know what you are buying. Have been on a South African wine kick lately, but you have me keen to buy some French this weekend!

  3. This knowledge is reason enough to move to France! I’ve always wanted to know more about wine, but believe you need a real hands on experience to actually soak it all in. I’m envious of you! I love all your points…except that wine and chocolate don’t pair well together. I’m going to just pretend I didn’t read that ;-)

  4. being a French student has kind of turned me into a complete snob about wine. :) I’m totally picky now when it comes to picking out a new bottle! I have to study labels and look for the vineyard and where it was bottled and blah blah blah. have you gotten to visit a vineyard in France? they’re really interesting!

  5. This was a very interesting and informational post! :) I like drinking wine, but I really don’t know anything about it, so this was helpful. I generally prefer white wine to red wine, but I think it has to do with the fact that Germany produces mostly white wine, so that’s what I’m used to. :) By the way, Fact 14 is hilarious!

  6. What a shame you think that Languedoc-Roussillon produces only “cheap bulk wine”. You should come here and try some — you might be pleasantly surprised. You might even discover that Maury or Rivesaltes go very well with chocolate. PS sparkling wine was invented here, not in Champagne :)

    I can’t agree with point 1 either. White wine is good with cheese, especially blue cheese, but so is red. Depending on the cheese, and the wine.

    • That’s what I was told, but I’d love to try some good ones from Languedoc-Roussillon- maybe I will get down there at some point :) . Also I didn’t say that sparkling wine was invented in Champagne, only that you can only call sparkling wine from the Champagne wine region is a true Champagne.

  7. This is great Ashley! There were quite a lot of facts in here that I didn’t know about. (Shame on me for pairing cheese and red wine for such a long time!) And you really made me crave a proper glass of French wine!

    • I’m glad you liked it, Julika! One of the most fun things about wine is that there are so many ways to enjoy it and it’s such a personal experience, so keep pairing cheese and red if that’s what you enjoy :)

  8. Ashley, Three of my favorite wines: Champagne,
    chateauneuf de pap, and white burgundy. Loved your blog on wine–fabulous and so much inofrmation.
    Love,
    Gamma

  9. There is so much to learn about French wine that it can be overwhelming. This is a great introduction and you kept it so simple. As I’m traveling in France now I will be referencing this a lot! Sante!

  10. This is a fantastic post, Ashley! It was fun to read, informative, and something I’m saving for later to reference. THANK YOU! :)

  11. Hi dear
    Thanks for the above information. I find it so useful as I’m wine lover.
    I will go to Lyon on week 3 and i will drink “Chateauneuf du pape”

  12. I am a Wine enthusiast but my knowledge is very limited and wanted to spend a month in France to learn more about wine. I was thinking of going to a school and getting certified but I imagine that would be a little boring. Any suggestions on where to start?

  13. I sorry, but very good wine in France or italy for less than 15 Euro is almost impossible to find, but l have developed a fool-proof way to buy the best wine for a good price.
    You ease over to the CArre4 market-you sneak back to the wine section, looking all around, and you look on the top shelf and if it’s red and it has a bottle lock on it–take it
    down and if it has14% alcohol, you can buy it. HEY, someone has already picked it out–but please don’t tell everyone about this.
    But, You can’t miss.

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