France is arguably the world’s most important wine-producing country. For centuries, it has produced wine in greater quantity – and of reportedly greater quality – than any other nation. The enduring attraction of French wine is not necessarily its volume or prestige, but rather the variety of styles available.
The diversity of French wine is due to the country’s wide range of climates. Champagne, its most northerly region, has one of the coolest climates anywhere in the wine-growing world – in stark contrast to the warm, dry Rhone Valley 350 miles (560km) away in the south-east. Bordeaux, in the south-west, has a maritime climate heavily influenced by the Atlantic ocean to its west and the various rivers that wind their way between its vineyards. Far from any oceanic influence, eastern regions such as Burgundy and Alsace have a continental climate, with warm, dry summers and cold winters. In France’s deep south, Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon enjoy a definitively Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot summers and relatively mild winters.
Geology and topography play equally important roles in the diversity of French wine. The country’s large number of independently recognized wine regions and sub-regions reflects its wide range of soil types and are at the heart of the concept of terroir. A region’s terroir dictates the grape varieties used to produce its traditional wines. Thus, the relationship between French wine regions and their key varieties have evolved naturally over many centuries, as exemplified by the close relationship between Pinot Noir and Burgundy.
France’s appellation system was created in the early 20th century and has since been imitated in many other countries. This complex system of laws ultimately defines each wine region and its boundaries and imposes strict rules around winemaking practices. Protecting the names of French wines and guaranteeing the quality and provenance of the products themselves are its key objectives.