France is home to so many of the world’s most popular grape varieties. It’s also made up of regions which showcase these grapes spectacularly, due to their unique climate, soils, and winemaking traditions.
From Champagne in the north, right down to Languedoc and Provence in the south, France’s white wines are a masterclass in variety. Whether you’re a fan of crisp, mineral whites, or prefer something rich and buttery, you’ll discover more of what you love.
Here’s our guide to the grapes and regions you need to know to get the most out of this country.
White Burgundy is a benchmark style of wine. The region is home to some of the finest expressions of Chardonnay in the world and has set record prices at auction. At one extreme, the best white Burgundy is endlessly complex, and can age for decades, developing until it’s worthy of the most special occasions.
You can also find delicious, everyday wines here. They're perfect for drinking freshly after they’re released. The vast majority of white wine in Burgundy is made from 100% Chardonnay, but the local Aligoté is also allowed.
Within Burgundy, distinct areas are known for producing markedly different styles of Chardonnay.
Chablis is the northernmost part of Burgundy and has a cool climate. It’s known for fresh, crisp wines with higher acidity, and sometimes characteristic flavours or aromas of minerals, steel and flint. Some of the Premier and Grand Cru wines will spend time ageing in barrels, but typically time in oak is low compared to other rich white Burgundies.
Mâcon is at the south of the Burgundy region and is most well known for flavoursome, riper wines. Wines from Mâcon can offer great value for money – it might not be a ‘big name’ region, but there’s still lots of superb winemaking to be found. Wines can be oaked or unoaked.
Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet
Located in the Côte de Beaune, these are two of the ‘superstar’ areas of Burgundy thought by many to produce the finest examples of Chardonnay in the entire world. The area has a high concentration of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards (the very best sites in the region), and prices can reach extremes. But if you’re looking for the flavours that only superb Chardonnay can provide, then you’ll want to explore the individual producers and wines of the area.
Production methods, individual winemaking styles, and microclimates mean there are few generalisations to be made about either Puligny or Chassagne beyond overall depth and complexity of flavours.
The Loire valley meanders its way inland from the western coast of France. There are three main white wines to consider here. Muscadet (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape) is made close to the sea and claims the title of France’s ultimate seafood wine, matching with oysters perfectly thanks to its light, crisp and zippy flavours.
Further inland, you’ll encounter wines made from Chenin Blanc – either made in a fruity, simple everyday style with flavours of citrus and fresh apple, or in more premium, substantial and age-worthy wines which can develop a rich, golden colour (with flavours to match) as they age.
The third, and probably most famous, grape from the Loire is Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon may have originated in Bordeaux, but this is its stylistic home, and where it was originally grown to display those delicious, mouthwatering flavours which travelled so well to newer regions like Marlborough in New Zealand.
Look for simple, fresh examples of Touraine Sauvignon to match classically with goat’s cheese, or head to some of the region’s most famous sub-regions for more depth and complexity. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the biggest names here. Sancerre should have a beautiful concentration of citrus and grass flavours, while Pouilly-Fumé is more mineral and can also display smoky, flinty notes.
South of France
The climate in the South of France may be warm, but it’s still capable of producing some deliciously crisp, refreshing white wines – Picpoul de Pinet is the perfect example. Grown right by the Thau Lagoon to the west of the Mediterranean, the Picpoul grape is known locally as ‘lipstinger’, capturing its tangy, crisp, mouthwatering flavours perfectly. It’s a great match with seafood – particularly the mussels which are grown in lagoon beds nearby.
Provence in the south east may be known best for its roses, but it also produces some stunning white wines from local grapes such as Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc and Vermentino (known locally here as Rolle). They tend to be very flavoursome, thanks to the local varieties and the generous sunshine. Look out for the delicious herbal notes that Provence soils can provide, as well as excellent freshness from the maritime climate.
Alsace may not be quite as famous as some of the other regions, but the white wines made here are some of the most interesting in France. They primarily use what are locally called the ‘Noble’ grape varieties of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewürztraminer, growing them on the steep slopes of the Alsacian hillsides to produce full-flavoured wines which can offer superb value and really come into their own with food.
It might be the reds of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage which steal the spotlight in the Rhône Valley, but the whites are no less worthy. The sublime wines of Condrieu in the north show what 100% Viognier can taste like at its absolute best – and are priced to match. Further south, Côtes du Rhône Blanc is a great way to taste the typical flavours of white Rhône wines, using local varieties like Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc to make generous, ripe whites to match with richer dishes.
Keep exploring the white wines of France – just one country contains a multitude of different flavours, styles and wines to discover.
Our top tip? Use your exploration as an excuse to try some of the regional dishes too – nothing tastes better with a bottle than the dish that evolved alongside it.