Growing up in Europe, I spent a lot of time in France, took wine courses, and cooking classes. I have led groups and love sending people to enjoy the various aspects of the country, and of course, food and wine play a big part of the experience. When I give presentations on France, I always cover the various wine regions.
The Rhone Valley is fed on glacial water in Switzerland and joined by the Saone at Lyon. The Rhone river snakes through the mountains before sweeping through southern plains into the Mediterranean. The Rhone Valley wine region is best thought of as a pair of regions, northern and southern, as they are distinctly different.
The northern Rhone is home to spectacular Shiraz, known in France as Syrah. Adjacent to Vienne sits Cote Rotie, whose fragrant Shiraz is an entrancing fusion of power and finesse. It is sometimes infused with a little of the white grape Viognier made famous in the adjoining vineyards of Condrieu.
Cruising by boat is an ideal way to appreciate the dramatic hillside vineyards towering over the swollen river. Following the river south you will come to Saint-Joseph, source of lighter and more accessible wines than its neighbor across the river, Hermitage, the revered pinnacle of French Shiraz.
Further to the south near Valence, Cornas bookends the northern Rhone’s Syrah appellations where the best wines are capable of meaty intensity. The southern Rhone’s sweeping plains take in more than 40,000 acres of vineyards in the Vaucluse, Gard and Ardeche departments. Red Cotes due Rhone wines are the bread and butter of the south, blended across varieties like Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Shiraz and Mourvedre.
My favorite is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, named for the historic papal affinity with nearby Avignon as King of the south. Close to Libourne are the twin communes of Saint Emilion and Pomerol. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the red mainstays, the wines invariably more modern and charming than those of the left bank. The wines and scenery are simply not to be missed.
Visit Bordeaux Tourist Office in Bordeaux. Daily wine tours and tasting rooms along a well traveled route. Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux. Whether you have three days to devote to a course or only two hours, this is an excellent wine school. Chateau Mouton Rothschild is one of the most famous estates.
This is the world’s most famous red wine region. Inland from the Atlantic ocean, it is a very pleasant three hours by TGV from Paris. The wine industry is driven by big numbers here, in excess of 100,000 acres under vine (almost 90 percent of which is red), producing around 850 million bottles a year from more than 10,000 growers in 57 appellations. The best releases attract four digit prices although the sky is the limit when great vintages reach the auction market.
The rivers of Bordeaux play an important role on the wine growing map. The Garonne, when joined by the Dordogne forms the swarthy Gironde and divides the region into two very distinct and different sides commonly described as the left bank and the right bank.
Along the left bank runs the peninsula like Medoc, where Cabernet Sauvignon rules the regions and grand chateaux from gravelly terraces assisted in smaller amounts by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The aristocratic communes of Saint Estephe, Pauillac and Saint Julien comprise a formidable enclave of power, with Estephe’s wines the more brooding. Pauillac’s capable of both muscle and elegance and Juliens marrying these qualities together.
Closer to the city, the commune of Margaux proudly takes its name from the most famous estate, the first growth Chateau Margaux. Here the wines are softer and more fragrant. Upstream of the city, Graves contains some of the most gravelly soils producing reds with finely defined structure. Dry white are also common here.
Even if you aren’t a wine lover, this is an exciting area and well worth a visit.
Maureen is President of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street, which is a member of the Signature Travel Nework. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure.