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Activities in France - vineyards in France
Great guide to vineyards, wines and spirits regions of France
   
  MAP OF WINE REGIONS OF FRANCE  The diversity of French wines reflects the diversity of France itself. Each region offers a unique landscape, climate, culture, and history that have combined to produce the most famous wines in the world.

Visiting the Vineyards of France invites you to explore 11 regions and to meet the winemakers, who are proud to share their knowledge and love of their traditions.

 

A.O.C., or Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée: A classification given to wines which meet strict French quality standards
Cave: Wine cellar
Côtes, Coteaux: Hillsides planted with vines
Dégustation: Tasting
Gare: Train station
Route du Vin: Wine route indicated on road signs throughout the regions
Syndicats d'Initiative: Local tourist offices which can be found by following blue road signs marked with an "I"

 
Alsace - Strasbourg Area, Eastern France, At the border of Germany
   
 

MAP OF ALSACE WINE REGION  The wine-producing region of Alsace is a 100 kilometer-long strip of enchantment, one to five kilometers wide, that clings to the foothills of the Vosges Mountains and overlooks the Rhine River. Running through it is the Route des Vins, a 120-kilometer itinerary that starts north of Strasbourg in Marlenheim and ends at Thann outside Mulhouse, famous for its automobile museum. In charming Alsatian villages of narrow cobbled streets and half-timbered houses bedecked with colorful flowers, producers offer tastings in their cellars, or samplings can be bought by the glass in local bistros known as winstubs.

The wine capital and tourist center of the region is Colmar, which boasts such treasures as the Bartholdi and Unterlinden Museums and the Petite Venise canal district. Villages along the Wine Route which epitomize the charm of Alsace include Molsheim, Ribeauvillé, Kaysersberg, and Rouffach. Three more, Eguisheim, Obernal, and Riquewihr, have walking paths through the vineyards.

Alsace is the only A.O.C. region in France that labels its wine by grape variety. There are five "noble" grapes of A.O.C. status-Sylvaner, Pinot Gris (sometimes called Tokay d'Alsace), Muscat, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling. An Edelzwlcker wine is a blend of these varieties.

Other interesting sights in the region include the feudal Haut-Koenigsbourg castle rising through the forest treetops and Strasbourg, the political and cultural capital of Alsace, with its fine museums, Gothic-spired cathedral, and medieval Petite France section.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Strasbourg, 490 km, 4 hours, via A4; Mulhouse, 532 km, 5 hours, via A6 to A36
  • By train from Paris Gare de I'Est to: Strasbourg, 4 hours; Mulhouse, 5 hours
  • By plane to: Strasbourg or Mulhouse
 
ARMAGNAC: Midi-Pyrenees  - Toulouse Area, Extends from Center France to Border of Spain Southwestern France
   
 

MAP OF ARMAGNAC WINE REGION  The great wine region of the Southwest is a mosaic of vineyards, but each resulting wine has a distinct character that is a reflection and expression of its particular district and method of production.

Most renowned of the Southwest wines are the Cahors reds, which have recently gained new stature. Jurançon, from the Basque country, is produced from three grape varieties found nowhere else in the world-Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, and Courbu.

From the Pyrénées Mountains come Madiran wines, based on Tannat grapes and produced mostly in cooperatives. The Côtes de Buzet hillsides east of Agen yield distinctive reds of at least 50 percent Merlot. While Bergerac is better known for Cyrano than Bacchus, a standout wine is sweet white Monbazillac. The Gaillac district, divided by the Tarn River, is known for white wines, both still and sparkling, produced from Mauzac and Len de I'El varieties. The Côtes du Frontonnals produces mainly red wines with a distinctive aroma.

Armagnac, the Southwest's golden elixir and France's oldest brandy, is produced in the heart of Gascony. The main production areas of Haut-Armagnac, Ténarèze, and Bas-Armagnac provide rich and fine Armagnacs often used for blending. Traditionally distilled in a pure copper still that operates continuously, Armagnac is then poured into oak casks to begin its maturation. After several years of aging, Armagnac reveals its true complexity and finesse.

The Southwest is a land of many wonders for the traveler. Not only was it the home region of the illustrious Three Musketeers, but it is also rich in medieval castles, bastides (ancient fortified towns), and the natural beauty of the Dordogne. The "rose city" of Toulouse and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi are especially worth a visit.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Bordeaux, 579 km, 6 hours, via A10; Toulouse, 700 km, 7 hours, via A10 to A62
  • By TGV train from Par's Gare Montparnasse to: Bordeaux, 3 hours; Toulouse, 5 hours
  • By plane to: Bordeaux or Toulouse
 
BURGUNDY/BOURGOGNE:  Burgundy/Bourgogne - Between Paris and Lyon, Eastern France  
   
  MAP OF BURGUNDY WINE REGION   BURGUNDY offers more A.O.C. wines than any other area of France. Burgundy wines are distinguished by quality level: regional (marked Bourgogne on the label), village (village name only), premier cru (village and vineyard), and grand cru (vineyard only).

The Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune are home to noble reds made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes.

The Côte de Nuits is anchored to the south by Nuits-St-Georges (where cassis used in the famous Kir is also produced) and includes the Clos de Vougeot estate, home to the Confrérie des Chevalliers du Tastevin, an international wine fraternity with an historical exhibition open to visitors. The Côte de Beaune is named for Burgundy's wine capital, best known for its 15th century Hospice, an extraordinary example of Flemish-Burgundian architecture. The Côte Chalonnaise district also produces quality reds and whites.

Famous Wine sale Les Trois Glorieuses in mid-November each year - tel. 03-80-26-21030, fax. 03-80-26-21-39

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Dijon, 3 1/2 km, 3 hours, via A6 to A38; Lyon, 462 km, 4 hours, via A6
  • By TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon to: Dijon, 1 hour and 30 minutes; Lyon, 2 hours
  • By plane to: Dijon or Lyon
 
BEAUJOLAIS:  Burgundy/Bourgogne - Between Paris and Lyon, Eastern France
   
  MAP OF BEAUJOLAIS WINE REGION   In BEAUJOLAIS verdant rolling hills and church-spired villages turn out 99 percent red wines made from 100 percent Gamay grapes. Quality levels are basic Beaujolais, better Beaujolais-Villages, and Beaujolais Cru, which comes from 10 qualifying villages.

The third Thursday of November marks the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, a fresh, fruity young wine, which goes from vine to retail shelf in a matter of weeks.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Dijon, 3 1/2 km, 3 hours, via A6 to A38; Lyon, 462 km, 4 hours, via A6
  • By TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon to: Dijon, 1 hour and 30 minutes; Lyon, 2 hours
  • By plane to: Dijon or Lyon
 
BORDEAUX:  Aquitaine - Bordeaux Area, Southwestern France
   
 

MAP OF BORDEAUX WINE REGION  Bordeaux constitutes the largest quality wine region in the world and produces about one-third of the fine wines of France. In the city of Bordeaux, an introduction to wines with tastings can be had at the Maison du Vin, 1 Cours du 30 Juillet, Tel: 05-56-00-22-66. The center of town itself is a port of grandiose 18th-century architecture, varied cultural happenings, and an illustrious past.

But for the oenophile, the main attraction is the vineyards that surround the city. A visit win be characterized by stops at the large estates of the grands chateaux, most of which, especially in the Médoc region, welcome visitors for a cellar tour, explanation of the winemaking process, and a tasting of the most recent vintage.

Although there is not one set of legislation that covers the entire region, Bordeaux wines are often grouped into six categories, four red and two white. The Médoc and Graves red districts include such famous appellations as St-Estèphe, Pauillac, and Margaux. The noble Libourne region includes St-Emilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac. The other two red families are the Bordeaux and various Côte appellations. Whites are generally divided into dry appellations, such as Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers, and sweet, including the celebrated Sauternes

The three major red grape varieties, which are almost always blended, are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Sometimes small quantities of Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenère are used for balance. The white wines of Bordeaux use mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon varieties.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Bordeaux,
    579 km, 6 hours, via A10
  • By TGV train from Paris Gare
    Montparnasse to:
    Bordeaux, 3 hours
  • By plane to: Bordeaux
 
CHAMPAGNE: Champagne-Ardenne  - East of Paris
   
 

MAP OF CHAMPAGNE WINE REGION  Only sparkling wine that comes from this region of France can properly be called Champagne. Its namesake province, a day-trip east of Paris by car or train, is a picturesque countryside of vine-covered hills forested with maple, elm, and pine at higher elevations.

France's northernmost A.O.C. wine-producing region is divided into three major districts, and the famous Champagne houses are easily visited because they are mainly in the towns of Reims and Epernay. Each district has a signposted wine route that laces together quaint villages via tractor-wide roads. The Montagne de Reims route starts in Reims and travels 75 kilometers south to Epernay.The 52-kilometer Marne Valley route starts in Epernay and goes west to Vincelles.The Côte des Blancs route covers 108 kilometers from Epernay south toVillenauxe-la-Grande.

Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk at the Hautvillers abbey around 1700, is credited with discovering the unique double fermentation process, méthode champenoise, that gives white wine its characteristic effervescence. Today, three varieties of grapes are used to produce Champagne-Chardonnay, a white grape, and Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, red grapes. Most Champagnes are made with a blend of juices from all three varieties and wines from several years, but ones made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes are known as blanc de blancs. Only a few times every decade is there a vintage year-a blend of wine from one superior growth year.

The region's most famous site is the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Reims where 25 French kings came to be officially crowned from 1137 to 1825.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Reims, 144 km, 90 minutes, via A4
  • By train from Paris Gare de l'Est to: Reims, 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • By plane to: Reims
 
CALVADOS:  Normandy - North West of Paris
   
 

Who can decide whether Normandy is more captivating in spring when blooming apple trees impart their sweet fragrance, or in fall when their limbs are heavy with golden and red fruit? Since the climate is too cool and damp for grapes, the apple of the Norman's eye is Calvados, the region's famed brandy.

The cider apples used in Calvados differ from common apples and are unique in the world. Forty-eight varieties are recommended by law for making the cider which is distilled into Calvados. There are two A.O.C. producing regions. The Pays d'Auge is a small demarcated territory between Caen and Rouen with Lisieux at the center and a signposted Route du Cidre for visitors. The Calvados appellation comes from western Normandy and a small area east of Rouen.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Rouen, 137 km, 1 hour and 20 minutes, via A13; Caen, 240 km, 2 hours and 20 minutes, via A 13
  • By train from Paris Gare St-Lazare to: Rouen, 1 hour and 15 minutes; Caen, 2 hours and 20 Minutes
  • By plane to: Rouen or Caen
 
COGNAC:  Poitou-Charentes - Western France
   
 

MAP OF COGNAC WINE REGION  The world's most famous brandy comes from the peaceful countryside 100 miles north of Bordeaux. In the town of Cognac, along the narrow streets and quays of the Charente River, brandy is aged in chais, or huge warehouses. Tours and tastings are available here and in Jarnac and Rouillac. Outside towns, local producers also sell directly to the public.

Each Cognac house has a unique process to mix its eaux-de-vie. "Trois Etoiles" means that the eaux-de-vie used have aged at least 30 months in oak barrels, VO and VSOP have aged four and one-half years, and Extra, XO, Napoléon, and Grande Réserve can be as old as 50 years or more.

Cognac is divided into six areas-Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires-that reflect decreasing finesse. When at least 50 percent Grande Champagne is blended with Petite Champagne, the result is sold with the special appellation Fine Champagne.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Cognac, 463 km, 5 hours, via A 10 to N 141
  • By TGV train from Paris Gare Montparnasse to: Cognac, 3 hours and 10 minutes
  • By plane to: Angoulême
 
LANGUEDOC:  Languedoc-Roussillon - Straight Southern France, by the Mediterranean Sea
   
 

MAP OF LANGUEDOC WINE REGION  Languedoc-Roussillon is France's largest wine-growing region, representing more than one-third of the country's total vineyard area. In recent years, it has emerged as an exciting wine producer, with new growths, new wines, and a new sense of importance among wine lovers.

Leading this revolution are the vins de pays - or country wines - whose labels always bear "Vin de Pays", followed by the name of the area, department, or region from with they come. These wines are becoming increasingly important, with such world-class varieties as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The region is also an important producer of vins de table - every day table wines - that accompany most French meals. Sold under a brand name, the vins de tables are blends of grapes from all regions of France with a significant percentage coming from the Languedoc-Roussillon.

The more distinguished A.O.C. red wines come from, among others, the Côte du Roussillon hillside villages of the eastern Pyrénées Mountains, the Corbières foothills and mountains, the Fitou Mediterranean coast-line, and the Minervois rugged inland country-side. Languedoc-Roussillon is also known for its vins doux naturels - naturel sweet wines - such as Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat de Frontignan and Banyuls.

This hot sunny region bordering Provence and curving along the Mediterranean coast hides a cache of delightful tourist destinations. There is everything from Nîmes, with its well-preserved Roman amphitheater and temple, to Montpellier, a lively and radiant university town with squares, gardens, and majestic mansions. The fortified town of Carcassonne is like a medieval fantasyland of towers and ramparts. The red-tiled roofs of charming 18th-century Perpigran and the domed bell tower of Collioure, made famous by the Fauvist painters, deserve a detour.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Montpellier, 759 km, 8 hours, via A6 to A7 to A9
  • By TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon to: Montpellier, 5 hours
  • By plane to: Bézier, Montpellier, Nîmes, Perpignan
 
LOIRE VALLEY:  Loire Valley - Southwest of Paris
   
 

MAP OF LOIRE VALLEY WINE REGION  The banks of the Loire, France's longest river, sport ancient forests, verdant fields, royal chateaux, and a tapestry of vineyards which produce a wide variety of wines.
The Pouilly-sur-Loire and Sancerre vineyards at the eastern edge of the Loire Valley surround charming hilltop villages with alleylike streets, small squares, and charming chateaux. They are renowned for white wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Chasselas grapes. A small quantity of red and rosé wines come from the Cabernet Franc variety.

Touraine, the area around Tours, boasts the grandest of the grands châteaux, among them Amboise, Chambord, Chenonceau, and Blois. And from here comes a bounty of grand wines as well. The most celebrated is Vouvray, a white which can be either dry, sweet, or sparkling, and comes from the Chenin grape. Sweet Vouvray can age for many years. But it is the distinctive dry whites made from Sauvignon and a red from Gamay that predominate. The best reds of the Loire Valley come from Chinon and Bourguell, made from Cabernet Franc.

The town of Angers and its splendid medieval castle stand guard over the Saumur and Anjou districts. Saumur is best known for white wines, sparkling and still, from Chenin Blanc grapes blended with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The rosé of Anjou, the best made from Cabernet Franc alone, has been prized since the Middle Ages.

The Pays Nantals vineyards surrounding Nantes, where the Loire flows into the Atlantic, are the birthplace of Muscadet white wine made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes. Sur-lie on the label means the wine has added character from remaining with its sediment before being bottled.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Tours, 237 km, 2 hours, via A10; Nantes, 384 km, 3 hours and 30 minutes, via A11
  • By TGV train from Paris Gare Montparnasse to: Tours, 1 hour and 10 minutes; Nantes, 2 hours
  • By plane to: Tours or Nantes
 
RHONE VALLEY:  Rhone-Alps  - Lyon and Grenoble Areas, Southeastern France
   
 

MAP OF RHONE VALLEY WINE REGION   Ninety percent of Rhône Valley wines are red, with the famed rosé of Tavel an important exception. The particularly long, hot, and sunny growing season makes for wines with a higher alcohol content than found in most French wines. Vineyards, starting just south of Lyon at Vienne and extending 225 kilometers south to Avignon, are divided into north and south regions.

The northern vineyards zigzag up steep hillsides clinging precariously to narrow terraces. Individual producers make wines uniquely from the Syrah grape, which gives a deep ruby color and unique bouquet. Some well known appellations are Côte Rôtie, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage, esteemed as the oldest vines in France.

The southern vineyards are different in almost every way from their northern cousins. Here vines are not con fined to the river's banks, but are part of a patchwork of lavender fields and olive, almond, and pear orchards. Reds are made primarily from Grenache grapes, but may be blended, as in the case of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, from up to 13 different grape varieties.

Only a wall and a tower remain at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the town with the 14th-century "new castle" of the Pope, 16 kilometers north of Avignon. The ruins afford a magnificent view of the town and its vineyards, whose owners are permitted to use the old Papal coat of arms on their labels.

Along with the Popes' Palace in Avignon, other vestiges of area history which require a visit are the Pont du Gard aqueduct built in 19 B.C. and the theater in Orange, both of which date from the Roman occupation of Gaul.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Vienne, 49 1 km, 4 hours and 1 5 minutes, via A6 to A7; Avignon, 688 km, 7 hours, via A6 to A7
  • By TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon to: Lyon, 2 hours; Avignon, 3 hours and 30 minutes
  • By plane to: Lyon or Avignon
 
PROVENCE WINE REGION:  Povence  - Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence Areas, Southeastern France
CORSICA WINE REGION:  Corsica  -  Island Southeast of France, in the Mediterranean Sea, Home of Napoleon I
   
 

MAP OF PROVENCE & CORSICA WINE REGIONS    The oldest wine-producing region in France had its first vines planted by Phoenicians over 2000 years ago. Today this ever-more popular sun-drenched province boasts vine-laced hills, poetic villages, picturesque ports, and rugged backcountry.

Numerous grapes are used in Provencal wines, but the main varieties for reds and rosés are Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Whites are generally produced from Clairette, Ugni Blanc, and Sémillon grapes. Since the vineyards are often small and spread out, much of the production is carried out by cooperatives, which, along with many individual cellars, welcome visitors.

The Côtes de Provence rosé wine, dubbed petit rosé, is the most typical and plentiful of Provençal wines. There are five other A.O.C. regions. The hills behind the Côte d'Azur's star city, Nice, harbor the Bellet vineyards where vines are planted among fields of cultivated flowers. Bandol reds, which come from vines planted on terraces of craggy hills behind the port town, are among the best of Provence and must contain a high percentage of Mourvèdre. The white wines of Cassis are grown on slopes facing the sea. The tiny Palette appellation, south of Aix-en-Provence and well protected from the famed Mistral wind, produces red, white, and rosé wines of age-old renown. The Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, named for the town famous for its stately Cours Mirabeau plane-tree-lined boulevard, produces mainly red wines.

A ferry-ride away from Toulon, Marseille, and Nice is the spirited island of Corsica, the "Belle Ile," best known as the birthplace of Napoléon. The A.O.C. Vin de Corse wines, mostly reds from Nielluccio, Sciacarello, Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah grapes, are grown on the hilly coast. The rugged interior is filled with snow-capped mountains and deep gorges.

Directions

  • By car from Paris to: Marseille, 972 km, 8 hours, via A6 to A7; Nice, 932 km, 10 hours, via A6 to A7 to A8
  • By TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon to: Marseille, 4 hours and 15 minutes; Nice, 7 hours
  • By plane to: Marseille or Nice; Ajaccio or Bastia
  • By ferry to Corsica: from Toulon. Marseille, or Nice, 3 to 12 hours