The best way to make sense of French red wines is to simply start tasting them. France offers the perfect red wine for every occasion—from steak frites on Monday, to boeuf bourgignon with the in-laws on Sunday, and everything between.
Many of France’s best red wines are labeled with the name of the wine appellation, rarely by grape variety.
If you’ve ever felt completely overwhelmed while browsing an French wine section, knowing just a few key wine names will help keep your shopping trip focused and ensure that you have the perfect wine to drink at a moment’s notice.
Two French red wines to buy for special occasions
Bordeaux is one of the best french red wine for special occasion. An excellent candidate for ageing, it’s the perfect choice for birth-year gifts, holiday meals and all of life’s milestones. Cabernet and Merlot meet their ideal soil matches in this area of France. Whether you choose the big and bold Cabernet-based wines of left bank or the elegant, polished Merlot of the right bank, these are serious red wines for the serious wine lover.
Bourgogne Pinot Noir
France’s Burgundy region offers the world’s finest wines made from Pinot Noir. This winegrowing area is so well-suited to this grape that very few other varieties are even grown here. The reds of Burgundy age exceptionally well, so each bottle is as special as the occasion being celebrated—for years to come. Look for bottles bearing the words “Grand Cru” or “Premier Cru” on the label. These indicate that the wines were made from grapes grown in Burgundy’s best vineyards.
Three French red wines to buy for next year
The communal or village-level wines of both Bordeaux and Burgundy offer solid examples of what each region has to offer at often very affordable prices. Exploring these fantastic red wines are a great way to learn about the regional differences that make them so distinctive. However, Bordeaux and Burgundy are not the only French regions that produce red wines built for ageing.
Though Provence is better known for rosé wines, the Bandol appellation crafts delicious, structured red wines from the Mourvèdre grape variety. These are dark wines with dark-fruit flavors that are particularly well-suited to pair with braised-meat dishes.
Côte Rôtie and St Joseph
The Rhône Valley is yet another source of high-quality, ageable wines and some of the best French red wines. The Syrah variety hails from the northern sector, and by many accounts, the appellations here produce the world’s greatest wines from this popular red variety. The Côte Rôtie, Cornas and Hermitage appellations are particularly treasured by those in the know, while the St Joseph and Croze Hermitage growing areas often offer tremendous value. The warmer southern Rhône has a larger pool of allowed red varieties and most of the area’s wines are blends. Grenache dominates here and is often blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre, among others. These are ripe, rich wines full of flavor and personality. Stars of the Southern Rhône include Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas.
Three French red wines to open in a couple of months
Chinon and Bourgueil
Often over-looked for red wines, parts of the Loire Valley are committed to the Cabernet Franc grape variety. Wines from appellations such as Chinon and Bourgueil are considered to be the benchmark for this distinctive red grape. Savory and earthy, Cabernet Franc is less tannic than its offspring (Cabernet Sauvignon) and is quite versatile when it comes to wine and food pairing.
Malbec is the star of France’s Cahors appellation. South of Bordeaux, Cahors is the birthplace of Merlot. The wines of Cahors are surprisingly different from popular Argentinian versions. Deeply pigmented and full of flavor with polished tannins, these wines are perfect for cold weather fare.
Two French red wines to buy for tonight
Beaujolais is one of France’s most under-rated wine regions. Overshadowed by the immensely quaffable Beaujolais Nouveau, the “crus” of this region make seriously delicious wines from Gamay, the principal red grape of the area. Top crus include Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon and Fleurie.
France’s Languedoc region
France’s Languedoc region is a great source for delightful wines ready to enjoy at a moment’s notice. The Languedoc AOC covers both the Languedoc and Roussillon winegrowing areas and offers producers great flexibility in allowed grape varieties. The primary red grapes of the appellation include Grenache, Syrah and Carignan.
Your favorite red grape varieties are easy to find in France’s wine landscape, you just have to know where to look. Don’t worry if you forget which French region grows Grenache, good wine stores are staffed with knowledgeable people, ask them questions!
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BY Kirra Barnes
Wine educator, writer and editorial assistant for the Wine Scholar Guild.
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