Top-12 Red Grapes of France

When buying wine North American consumers love the ease and straightforward nature of labels that express what kind of grape (or grapes) a given wine is made from. That said, most European wines – and especially those from France – tend to emphasize the place a wine was made ahead of the grape variety it was made from on their labels. A good preponderance of French wines are also made from a blend of different grape varieties, rather than the mono-varietal wines that have become more common in “new world” regions like California or Australia.  This handy guide to the 12 most widely planted wine grapes of France will give you a quick introduction to where you’ll most often finds your favourites, as well as what they tend to taste like and the winemaking processes most commonly used in the production of each grape. Let the countdown begin – in reverse order, here are the 12 most widely grown wine grapes in France.


#12 – Malbec
15,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE DOES IT GROW?

Bordeaux, Cahors + Languedoc

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Rich, robust and full-bodied red wine with chunky tannins, intense berry fruit and spicy flavours

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Used in tiny percentages in some of the famous red blends of Bordeaux, or as a standalone grape in the production of varietal wines in southwest France


#11 – Mourvedre
23,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Languedoc, Roussillon, Southern Rhone + Provence

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Robust and full-bodied red with sturdy tannins and flavours of blueberries, blackberry, plum and spice

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Along with Grenache and Syrah this grape is used to produce blends known as G-S-M (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) across France’s southern winemaking regions of Languedoc, Roussillon as well as the Southern Rhone


#10 – Pinot Meunier
28,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Champagne

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Adds acidity and freshness to sparkling wines – rarely used to make red wines, tastes of light tart summer fruit + flowers

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this grape is used as part of a blend in the production of some Champagnes, and is generally grown in the areas of Champagne too cool for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir… Often thought of as a bit of an “insurance policy” and is used in higher proportions in poor vintages in Champagne


#9 – Cinsault
55,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Languedoc, Roussillon, Southern Rhone + Provence

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Lean and zesty medium-bodied reds with assertive acidity and tannins and bright red fruit flavours

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Commonly used in the production of Roses, or as a part of a blend in red wines across France’s southern winemaking regions, this grape tends to be a bit too acidic and tannic to use on its own, but is a useful addition to some red blends lacking these virtues


#8 – Pinot Noir
73,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Burgundy, Alsace, Languedoc, Jura + Savoie

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Lighter more delicate medium-bodied red wines with flavours of cherry, cranberry and raspberry

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

One of the few red grapes most commonly used to produce mono-varietal wines, this is one of the “noble” grapes of France used to produce the expensive and acclaimed red wines of Burgundy


#7 – Gamay Noir
78,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Beaujolais

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Light and fruity red with flavours of sweet candied strawberry and raspberry

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Gamay is used in the production of light, fruity and young mono-varietal wines in Beaujolais and in small quantities in other lesser known northern French appellations


#6 – Cabernet Franc
92,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Bordeaux, Loire + Southwest France

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Cabernet Sauvignon’s intellectual cousin – medium-bodied with flavours of cranberry, cherry and a touch of spearmint

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Part of the “holy trinity” in Bordeaux where it is used in varying proportions to produce famous and celebrated red wines, and is also used as a standalone in the production of somewhat lighter and less age-worthy mono-varietal wines in the Loire Valley to the north of Bordeaux


#5 – Cabernet Sauvignon
143,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Bordeaux, Languedoc + Southwest France

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Full-bodied wine with gripping tannins and a flavours of red and black fruit, chocolate and cedar

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Makes up the largest percentage of some of the most celebrated and sought after red wines of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon has extended its reach across France and around the globe largely due to the starring role it plays in some of the world’s best and most expensive wines


#4 – Carignan
146,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Languedoc, Roussillon, Southern Rhone

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Fuller-bodied red known for excellent aging potential with juicy black cherry, gamey and smoky flavours

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Amongst this entire list, Carignan may be the one that catches the largest number of readers off-guard, both for it’s place at #4 on this list, but also for the extraordinary quality reds it produces that too few wine lovers have tasted, a star player making up a large percentage of fine red blends in the Languedoc – most notably around Corbieres.


#3 – Syrah
172,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone, Languedoc, Roussillon

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Rich and full-bodied higher alcohol wine with flavours of dark berries and fruit with a distinct peppery/spice note

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Syrah is one of France’s best-known red wine grapes used to produce both mono-varietal wines in the Northern Rhone, and playing a major role in the blends from the Southern Rhone and across southern France’s winemaking regions.


#2 – Grenache
240,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Southern Rhone, Languedoc, Roussillon + Provence

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Medium to full-bodied red with flavours of fresh crushed berries and plums

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

If Syrah is the star of show when it comes to Rhone reds, then Grenache is the quiet workhorse, often comprising a higher proportion of the red blends of the Southern Rhone and noted for its contribution to highly pedigree’d wines.


#1 – Merlot
288,000+ acres of vineyard


WHERE IS IT GROWN?

Bordeaux, Languedoc + Southwest France

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Medium to full-bodied red wine with softer silky tannins and flavours of plum, cherry and other red fruits

WHAT ARE THE MAIN WINEMAKING METHODS?

Many will be surprised to see Merlot at the #1 spot on this list, but much like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot has leveraged its presence in some of the most expensive and sought after wines of Bordeaux (where it is used both as an addition to blends along with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc – or as a mono-varietal) to expand its footprint right across the wine producing regions of France.

Andrew A. Hanna / Winetrader.ca

Top-12 Most Widely Grown Red Wine Grapes of France


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More about Andrew Hanna

Pulling corks and pushing cases as a third generation wine importer in Ontario, Canada selling fine wines and spirits produced by families - not factories. Get the full story at winetrader.ca

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