Your Ticket To French Wine Is Actually A Map

Map of France

I’ve always been into wine. But it was French wine that turned “into” = a career writing about wine. And I’m not French.

But I was writing a novel (I’ve been a fiction writer for 15 years) about winemakers in Provence (stop me if you’ve heard this!) and I’d figured out the basics about the region from reading. Seriously, reading. I hadn’t tasted much wine from Provence at all. This was before Provençal rosé had a strong presence in the U.S. market and there wasn’t much of it being served. I’d gotten a bit obsessed with the culture and history and from there it led naturally, into wine. (At the time, I’d say Spanish wine was probably my favorite, so I wasn’t even coming from a very French place, wine-wise.)

Coteaux des Travers, Dentelles de Montmirail, Southern Rhone

A view of Rasteau from the elevated vineyards of Domaine des Coteaux des Travers. Credit: Jill Barth

To learn enough to write about it, I went to France. A few times. With my husband. There we tried the wines, met the people, drove around, listened to the birds, touched the soil, ate the food, lived the life. It was a charmed introduction that we invoked on our own, and I’ll never regret it.

Because when I came back, I had a ton of great material. I was able to finish the novel and start writing about wines from Provence. Eventually I earned a certification from the Wine Scholar Guild to call myself a master. (Remember: I was a writer, not a wine industry pro, so this shored up the fact that I’d indeed learned some facts, was reliable, wasn’t going all fiction on my readers.)

But more than that, I kept at it. I, as they say, pounded away, at Provence, then Southern Rhône, the the Languedoc. I learned, by reading, tasting, visiting, interviewing, en masse, about these areas. I made a career out of it.

Then I expanded (ahem, am expanding). Went for Northern Rhône, Burgundy, South West France, Bordeaux, Champagne, the Loire Valley. And while I’ve now visited most of these areas, and have tasted hundreds of wines from around France. Plus I read every day and am involved in a full-time vocation of writing about wine, a lot of it French.

The vineyards of Beaumes-de-Venise with the commune of Suzette in view. Credit: Jill Barth

So, my friends that are beginners (newcomers), just getting to know French wine, you don’t have to do all this. There is a secret to French wine that, in my opinion, makes it a bit easier to learn than wine from other parts of the world, and that is geography.

In France, nearly all wines are labeled according to where they were grown and produced. While this confuses some consumers, from the U.S. and elsewhere, that are accustomed to choosing a wine based on the type of grape it’s made from, bear with me. Because: in order to label a French wine with a place indicator, it also must contain grapes that are eligible to grow there.

So, find out where it’s from and then you’ll know a few things about what’s in the bottle.

Les Baux de Provence Vineyards

Domaine Dalmeran in Les Baux de Provence AOP. Credit: Jill Barth

The hard part is knowing all of this information. But if you are interested in learning French wine, this should excite you. There’s really no way around knowing the geography of the wine regions and the basics of what grows there without learning it.

If you don’t give a flying fig, ask your server or wine shop to sell you a bottle that has xyz characteristic that you love. There is, (am I loud and clear?) NO shame in asking for help or saying that you honestly don’t know. For some reason, some people feel embarrassed to order wine if they don’t quote/unquote know about it. Well, how would you know about it if you didn’t learn it? But on the flip, it’s totally cool to ask a pro and just be done with it.

There are people (I’m one of them) actually being paid to tell people what they know about wine and for goodness sakes we love it that someone out there wants to learn and we aren’t 7 billion wine nerds sharing a planet!

While there are always exceptions, and my more seasoned readers will say WTF at this level of simplicity, there is truth in clarity.

And so, a cheat sheet:

French Wine Basics


Invitation to Join in the Fun
Join the fun this weekend! The French Winophiles will all have fresh blog posts online and we’ll be chatting on Twitter on Saturday morning, January 18th at 10:00am CST, 8:00am PST. You’ll find us at the hashtag #Winophiles. You can always join the chat, even if you don’t have a blog.

Preview of Our Posts
Take a look below at all the great ideas for newcomers to French wines. There’s sure to be something here to ignite your interest!


16 thoughts on “Your Ticket To French Wine Is Actually A Map

  1. I love your infographic. Have you considered making it a clickable link? I’ve tried that on occasion, makes it easy for someone to pop it open from their phone while in the wine shop.


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