The Ten Best French Red Wines: A Beginner’s Guide

The Ten Best French Red Wines: A Beginner’s Guide

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 bourguignon with the in-laws on Sunday.

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 a 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

1. Bordeaux

Bordeaux is one of the best French red wines for special occasions. An excellent candidate for aging, 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 the left bank or the elegant, polished Merlot of the right bank, these are serious red wines for the serious wine lover.

2. Bourgogne Pinot Noir 

France’s Burgundy region offers the world’s finest wines made from Pinot Noir.  This wine-growing 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 is 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 aging.

3. Bandol

Though Provence is better known for rosé wines, the Bandol appellation crafts delicious, structured red wines from the Mourvèdre grape variety. These dark wines with dark-fruit flavors are particularly well-suited to pair with braised-meat dishes.

4 & 5. 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 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

6 & 7. Chinon and Bourgueil

Often overlooked 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.

8. Cahors

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 a cold-weather fare.

Two French red wines to buy for tonight

9. Beaujolais

Beaujolais is one of France’s most underrated 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.

10. France’s Languedoc region

France’s Languedoc region is a great source of delightful wines ready to enjoy at a moment’s notice. The Languedoc AOC covers both the Languedoc and Roussillon wine-growing 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!


Kirra Barnes

Kirra is an independent wine educator and writer.

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