Plan to sip some of the most prestigious and delicious wines in the world on your next vacation. The best destination for this, whether you’re an oenophile or enthusiast, is France.
Wine has been in production here since the 6th century BC, and over time many of France’s grape varieties and techniques have been successfully replicated around the world. French wine regions also immerse travelers in gorgeous countryside, history, and excellent French cuisine.
Which French wine region to visit depends mostly on the varietal of wine that you prefer. They all have wine routes to enjoy by car, foot, bike, or horseback and we cover four here that are easily reachable on Air France via Paris.
The good news is that now is the time to start planning as the fall harvest season is right around the corner and one of the best times to go.
The Rhône Valley is a mostly red wine region along the Rhône River from Lyon to the Mediterranean in south-eastern France. It’s the second-largest wine-growing region in France with fourteen wine routes to explore on foot, by bike, on horseback, or in a car.
Vineyards grow on both sides of the river, and the styles and varietal composition differ from one side to the other. The northern side produces only red wine from Syrah grapes, sometimes blended with white wine grapes, and white wines from Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier grapes. The southern side has more of a Mediterranean climate conducive to producing red, white and rosé wines. One of the most famous wines from here is Châteauneuf-du-Pape (which is a blend containing up to 19 varieties of wine grapes).
Fly into Lyon but also take time to explore the other charming and historic cities in the region including Another Vienne, Valence, Vaison la Romaine, Orange, Avignon, and Nîmes.
Head north of Lyon to the Province of Beaujolais to sample the light and refreshing wine bearing the same name. Beaujolais is made from the thin-skinned Gamay grape and synonymous with celebrations.
The 85-mile wine route passes beautiful hillsides, valleys, chateaus, and villages along the way. The area is widely regarded as France’s most beautiful wine country.
Also rising in popularity, Beaujolais Nouveau is bottled at the end of harvest season after a very short few-week fermentation process. Bottles are released on the third Thursday of November (celebrated across the country as Beaujolais Nouveau Day) at which time races to bring the first bottle to Paris and other major cities ensue as part of a huge marketing campaign. Wouldn’t it be fun to celebrate in person?
Alsace in eastern France is primarily a white French wine region. The wines, also famous for their reasonable pricing, are similar to but drier than German Rieslings. The climate is conducive to also producing a range of other rich, aromatic wines including Gewürztraminer, Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine, Sylvaner, and Pinot Noir. Alsatian wines can pair well with both rich and delicate foods alike.
The vineyards run in a relatively narrow strip between the Vosges Mountains and Ill river (part of the Rhine), bordering Germany on one side. Explore via the Alsace wine route, one of the oldest in France and over 105 miles long, while passing through about 100 villages along the way. Festivals occur along the route between April and October but are particularly plentiful in October.
Those who enjoy fine wines should put Bordeaux on their French wine itinerary. With six different wine-growing districts in this wine region no matter what style of wine you like, it’s probably here. We’re talking about bold or light reds, dry or sweet whites, rosés, and also sparkling whites. Wine in Bordeaux is a multi-billion-euro industry.
I took a rather lengthy Wine Spectator course on Bordeaux wines because the everything from the terroir to the winemakers to how the labels are organized is so fascinating. Over 90% of the wine made here is red made with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon though other permitted red grapes include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carménère. Reds are medium to full-body and referred to as Claret in the United Kingdom.
It’s possible to spend an entire holiday experiencing the over 100,000 vineyards scattered throughout Bordeaux’s subregions of Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Médoc, and Graves. Not to mention, the Bordeaux region is home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the city center of Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion.
When it’s time to return to the city, explore the urban wine trail in Bordeaux comprised of over 20 wine bars and discover the world of wine in one place at Cité du Vin, Bordeaux’s outstanding wine museum. Inside the 3000-square-meter facility is a wine bar, wine boutique (14,000 bottles from 80 countries, some unknown wine producers), reading room, exhibition space, multimedia displays and much more. Parliament Square is also home to a number of cozy wine bars and bistros like Le Petit Bois that are perfect for spending an afternoon with friends.
Wine and Champagne on Air France
Travelers on Air France enjoy some of France’s best wines and champagnes on board. The selection is curated by Paolo Basso, named the world’s best sommelier in 2013, and by wine experts Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve.
Air France is the only airline in the world to offer a glass of champagne to passengers in all classes of service.
Now, that’s the way to start off on an epic adventure.