Wine tours in France
France has the reputation of producing the best wine in the world. Increasingly this is challenged, but what is undeniably true is that France's wine regions are all beautifully situated and offer as diverse a range of scenery as the wines themselves.
There are the wine regions of France such as Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy which are already well known outside of France and this is often reflected in the price.
For me the real excitement is looking at the so called new wave areas of France where exciting changes are occuring and there are bargains to be had before they achieve wider renown and higher prices. Our wine tours are designed not to concentrate solely on wine but to enjoy other attractions in the region. Where possible we look to visit smaller family run wineries where the owner explains his philosophy and methods in producing his wine.
I have a diploma in wine and have picked quite a few grapes at harvest time so know the labour involved. In England I worked in the wine trade and being a French speaker I am able to translate during visits. The vineyards we visit are selected on the basis of quality of wine and welcome. Generally when visiting vineyards tastings are offered for no charge and with no obligation to buy.
Of course wine can be bought but in France very few producers have export licenses. Normally depending on your country of residence one works with a local importer.
Our wine tours are designed for the wine enthusiast who wish to sample the fruits of France's wine regions whilst enjoying other area attractions.
Where possible we pick family run vineyards who produce great wines and are keen to open their doors to share their knowledge and give tastings of their wine.
New Wave Wine Tour - 4, 5 or 6 days
Without doubt the most exciting region of France which has been undergoing a revolution over the last twenty years is the Midi region, principally the Languedoc. An area that previously was known for mass production of very ordinary and industrial wines has undergone an amazing transformation. In have come adventurous and innovative new producers, often from overseas with new grape varieties in addition to the classic Syrah and Mourvedre. With them have come new techniques and barriques.
The unifying factor in this new wave is passion. People often second careerists, have staked everything on the belief that they could produce stunning wines and only needed a place to do it. Et voila, in the words of Rosemary George, world renowned wine writer and Master of Wine: - the Midi is an area that "has captured the imagination of the wine world. Its coming of age as a producer of top quality and original wines makes it without question the most stimulating region to visit."
Visiting includes the Mediterranean, the Canal du Midi, the via domitia Roman road, Castles of the Cathars, the walled Medievil city of Carcassone, the sumptuous gorges of the tarn, the finest climate and some of the "most beautiful' villages in France and a heavy Spanish influence on its culture and cuisine.
Begin at Montpellier, which is easily reached by TGV train or Plane.
Ideally three nights in Montpellier and three nights in Carcassonne would enable us to fully explore the areas attractions as well as the wines, however four days gives an amazing overview too. It is a question of your time available.
Montpellier is the ideal place for exploring the central and eastern end of the Midi and we visit amidst the classic communes of the Coteaux du Languedoc. Appelation, such as Aniane St Saturnin, Pic-St-Loup, St Drezery, Picpoul-de Pinet and Faugeres. We mustn't be too hung up on Appelation D'Origine Controle (AOC) in the Midi, for it is here that many have broken with tradition trying new grapes and methods and produce wines under the "Vin de Pays" banner.
During our time we visit foreign owned vineyards which may have a "flying winemaker" from the Southern Hemisphere; we visit small family run vineyards started by people who have turned their backs on their succesful careers to indulge their real passion and we visit family run businesses that have been there for a long time but are embracing change and expressing the traditional wines in a new world way.
Time permitting lets also visit the Tarn Gorges, the world's highest bridge, the home of Roquefort Cheese, the Roman Aqueduct over the river Gard, the Roman Ampitheatre and town of Nimes, the Mediterranean seaport of Beziers renowned for it's oysters and mussels and crisp white wines. Next, we move west following the Via Domitia and the Canal du Midi to Carcassone a walled medieval city that is worth a visit in itself. We stay within the walls and explore the surrounding wine country.
Like Montpellier, Carcassonne is an ideal base for exploring the western Midi and in the heart of two well known Appelations; Minervois and Corbierres.
Here too though there are hundreds of new wave and traditional producers that give us an outstanding array of wines.
Other than the spectacular Carcassone, there is a scenic drivethrough the Black Mountains to Albi famous for its imposing red brick Cathedral and association with Toulouse Lautrec. For those with heads for heights the largest Castle in the area is Peyrepertuse built on top of a rock.
The great thing about this region is the hospitality and passion of the people, a passion they are keen to share and they open their doors to us and explain their wine and techniques as we taste the evidence. A fantastic experience in a exquisite setting. Come and enjoy
In addition to the New Wave Tour, several regions go well together for touring:
Beaujolais/Rhone and Provence
Loire Valley and Bordeaux
Champagne/Burgundy and Alsace
Each of these has stunning wines, great scenery with many attractions other than wine. We would be delighted to put together an itinerary based on your requirements, time available and particular interests.
Beaujolais/Rhone and Provence wine tour
First night - Lyon
Lyon, the second city of France, lies between two of the great wine rivers of France the Rhone and the Saone. The former leads south through Provence, the latter north through Burgundy. It is a perfect place to start in this amazing city, famous for its old town between two rivers, wonderful old buildings, town squares, art museums and great cuisine.
Just a forty minute or so drive North takes us to the beautiful region of Beaujolais. Recently the region's reputation has been detracted somewhat by the Beaujolais Nouveau which has been of indifferent quality and marketed more on the event than for the wine itself. This does it a great injustice since the real definition of a great Beaujolais lies in the northern roof top villages known as the ten "crus", such as Brouilly, Morgan and Fleurie. As we visit family run vineyards we find out that the real truth about beaujolais lies in the quality of the wine in the glass, the warmth of the welcome and the beauty of the rolling hills.
Second and Third nights Avignon
Now we head to the south of Lyon and follow the Rhone exploring the aristocrats of Rhone wines that concentrate on the Syrah Grapes for its stunning red wines. We make visits in the Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, St Joseph and Cornas areas before reaching our destination for two nights Avignon which is claimed both by the Rhone and Provence.
The next day we explore the best known southern Rhone wine appelations of Chateau Neuf du Pape and Gigondas where we discover the wonders of a spicy southern rhone red, and the refreshing nature of the famous roses of this region before returning to Avignon to explore this ancient walled city where the Popes lived for a century.
Fourth Night Marseille
We head east from Avignon to the delightful perched villages and rolling hills of the Luberon made so famous by Peter Mayle. We visit Gordes and Bonnieux and enjoy the Cotes du Luberon in this the quintissential Provence, and, needless to say visit some splendid wineries before heading further south on a scenic drive to Marseille - the Port Capital of Provence. Time to explore here in the place where it is said the Greeks introduced wine to France.
The next day we venture along the coast to Cassis where again we visit the local wine appelation and enjoy lunch before heading back to Marseille and the end of a great sensory week.
Loire Valley and Bordeaux Wine Tour
We start in Bourges a sumptious Medievil Town famous in France for its Cathedral and proximity to Sancerre quite the aristocrat of Sauvignon Blanc wines. We base ourselves here for one night and explore the town and the vineyards.
Day 2 and Day 3
We travel a little further west visiting the most beautiful of the Loire Chateaux, Chenonceau before continuing to explore Touraine which after Sancerre is the most renowned area in the Loire for its stunning range of wines. Here we see the fantastic expression of the Chenin Blanc grape in Vouvray, which also makes stunning late harvest wines. Aside from Vouvray the area is known for it's reds in the form of Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicholas and for its sparkling wines made in the Champagne style. Of course the area is also renowned for its sumptious "butter" stone which is quarried locally and many wineries are based in these caves. We base ourselves for 2 nights in the Tour area giving us ample time to enjoy the wines and other highlights of the "playground of the Kings"
Day 4 and Day 5 and Day 6
Now we head South for Bordeaux stopping en route at the town of Cognac which lies on the Charente River. Today the Town name has become synonamous with the drink and we visit one of the worldwide names located on the river to discover the secrets of this famous spirit. Continuing South we arrive in St Emilion easily the most beautiful and fascinating of the Bordeaux wine towns and a great base for exploring the area.
St Emilion a delightful town built on the slopes of a limestone plateau overlooking the Dordogne Valley, ancient ramparts, stone stairways, narrow lanes, churches hewn out of the stone and golden tones and surrounded by famous vineyards. We explore here and the other most celebrated world wine area, the Medoc and its appelations of Margaux, Pauillac, St Estephe and St Julien plus a visit into Bordeaux itself capital of Aquitaine and the wine capital of the world.
Champagne/Burgundy and Alsace Wine Tour
VISITING AND TASTING WINES IN THESE CONTRASTING REGIONS AND OTHER MUST SEE HIGHLIGHTS WITHIN--(town tours/cathedral visits/scenic drives)
Day 1 and 2
We start in Reims which boasts the Cathedral where most of the French Kings were crowned it is also one of the Capitals of the Champagne producing area. Many world famous Champagne Houses based here such as Krug and Veuve Cliquot and we spend our time visiting some of these and also smaller family run concerns. We also travel a short distance to the other capital Epernay for some more visits in the beautiful Marne Valley area and pay our respects to Dom Perignon in the charming village where he lies buries in a church that has a Champagne producer opposite.
Day 2, 3 and 4
We continue via Troyes a little known medieval gem with timber framed houses and stunning churches before arriving in Chablis a delightful village where just about everybody is involved in the wine of the same name. Known world wide this crisp, dry expression of Chardonnay, a wander along the river here with a tasting.
The scenery in this part of Burgundy is quite delightful and a trip here wouldn't be complete without a visit to Vezelay our destination for tonight. Vezelay is a village perched on a hill with the largest Romanesque Basilica at the very top overlooking the the Morvan area. According to one legend, the monk Baudillon brought bones of Mary Magdalene to the Vezelay from southeast France. As a consequence Vezelay became a start point for the medieval pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostella. It was also here that the Pope and French Kings launched the Second and Third Crusades to the Holy Land. Vezelay is one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Our next two nights we are based either in Dijon or Beaune in the most concentrated quality wine area of the French Cote D'Or. For between Dijon to the North and Beaune to the South is the most famous wine road in the world where the village names read off like a list of the world's best wines: Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanee, Nuits St George, Chassagne and Puligny-Montrachet to name but a few.
Here then the white wines are Chardonnay and the reds Pinot Noir. We have plenty of time to explore vineyards and the towns before heading East to Alsace and the German Border.
Day 5, 6 and 7
Here the buildings, scenery food and wine are quite Germanic and although perhaps little known outside France the white wines here can be quite stunning as too is the scenery. We base ourselves in Colmar a town oozing Alsatian character,narrow streets lined with highly colured timber houses adorned with carvings and ornamentation and a great base for heading into the Vosges mountains.
Here in the Vosges, little villages dot the hills like pearls on a necklace. We explore these and taste the sumptious Tokay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines in enchanting villages such as Riquewihr and Ribeauville.
We allow plenty of time to finish our tour with a visit to Strasbourg the crowning end to a fantastic Tour.
Learn More About The French Wine Regions
Germanic in style, in terms of quality, most noted for dry white wines and the stunning late harvest sweet wines. Only region in France where grape variety has presidency over "terroir". Glorious expressions of Riesling, the great Rhine grape. Increasingly fashionable Tokay-Pinot Gris, a rich luscious wine. Finally the third of the best varieties - Gewurztraminer round, fragrant and slighty exotic.
Quite independant in wine terms from Burgundy with which it is associated politically. In recent times its reputation has been marred by the world renowned "Beaujolais Nouveau" event where in recent times the wine has not been up to the party. However, for centuries in the slopes hills and valleys of the Northern Beaujolais region, they have been producing delightful sof t, aromatic wines with the Gamay grape. Particularly noted in the "United States" of the ten AOC "crus" Brouilly, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Chiroubles, Julienas, Morgan and Fleurie to name a few.
Undoubtedly the best known quality and quantity great red wine producing region of France. A complicated and spread out region of Chateaux principally centred round three rivers the Dordogne,Garonne and the Gironde. There are two dominant red grape varieties,Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The export of wine here goes back to the middle ages and the wines mostly go by their 1855 classifications. Today despite the excellence of New World Wines many still rate Bordeaux as the best overall for quality in volume. This is certainly reflected in the prices when in good years the big five Chateaux. Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rothschild command prices up to and over a thousand dollars a bottle. Not to overlook the crisp dry white wines, but certainly the other legendary wines from this region are the late harvest or 'noble rot" Sauternes such as Chateau d'Yquem
Although much smaller in terms of output, it is along with Bordeaux the most prestigious wine region of France. It is equally reputed for its red wine from the Pinot Noir grape and its white from the Chardonnay grape. Here the great wine producing area is densely concentrated in what must be the greatest wine road in the world. The road between the delightful Burgundy, wine capitals Dijon and Beaune, called the Cote d'Or we find villages whose names are synonymous with the world's greatest wines. The Cote d'Or is made up of the Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits; the former best known for stunning whites such as those coming from Puligny-Montrachet,Chassagne-Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne to name a few grand crus;the later for voluptious red pearls such as Vosne-Romanee, Clos Vougeot and Gevrey-Chambertin. Let us not forget the small northern outpost of Burgundy the village of Chablis renowned for its steely, flinty white Chardonnay wines.
The only thing to mark a special occasion; Champagne is synonymous with celebration and romance. Remember that not all that sparkles is champagne,only wine produced in this clearly defined region can use the name.The region itself is the most northerly wine producing area in France which produces wines of high acidity and lesser developed flavors the perfect recipe for the creating sparkling wines.There are two very different Champagnes; those of the prestigious great houses such as Veuve Cliquot, Moet Chandon, Bollinger, Pol Roger who are based in the Champagne Capitals of Reims and Epernay and buy most of their grapes from top ranked villages and whose principal markets are outside of France. On the other side are the vignerons or producers themselves who vinify only the grapes from their own vineyards and are on a much smaller scale and produce largely for the local market. There are only three grape varieties permitted in Champagne;chardonnay,pinot noir and pinot meunier and this is the only appellation where blending from different vintages is allowed,so the test of a champagne is in the blending skills of the winemaker in what are known as non vintage Champagnes. Great years are declared "vintage" where the grapes from that year can be used exclusively in producing a vintage. Only 120 Kilometres Northeast of Paris this an area well worth the visit.
Innovative new techniques - excellent quality & reasonable price
The Loire has many faces,it is the longest river in France,some 625 miles East to West.It is the dividing line between North and South. It is a UNESCO world heritage sight due to the proliferation of Chateaux from the days when it was the playground of the French Kings. It is also an extremely rich and varied wine region with over 60 different appellations. Perhaps best known outside of France for its wonderful white wines of the grape Sauvignon Blanc in Sancerre and the Chenin Blanc grape in Vouvray and the crisp dry whites from the Pays Nantais. To be discovered are the light fruity reds of the Cabernet Franc grape as best expressed in Chinon and Bourgueil. Around Saumur are to be found some great sparkling wines at great prices. An area that has so much to offer in every way.
Thought of more as a holiday destination than a wine region Provence none the less produces a wide range of different style wines some of great distinction and of increasingly good quality as it attracts new winemakers. A vast wine region of beach and mountain and forest bounded on the east by Italy,on the east by the Rhone on the north and southby the alps and the mediterranean.Perhaps best known for its Rose wine which is the thing to quaff in St Tropez it has some stunning red appellations such as Bandol where the grape Mourvedre is king or the marvellous white wine of Cassis. No better place to combine the beauty of France and great wine than the Cotes-du-Luberon appellation where villages perched on the luberon hills offer some stunning local wines.
The Rhone Valley is the oldest wine region in France predating the Romans. The 400 km stretch of the Rhone river from below Lyon into the Mediterranean is where the marvellous wines are produced. Although considered to be one wine region in terms of style it can be split into two distinctive regions: the Northern, and the Southern Rhone. Northern Rhone is characterised by steep hillsides extends over 80 kilometres of the river from Ampuis to Valence. There are six major appelations where the red Syrah grape dominates in Cote-Rotie, Cornas,Hermitage, St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, whereas Condrieu is exclusively a white wine appelation using the Viognier grape. Southern Rhone is a much larger region accounting for 95 % of the total production. Whereas the Northern appelations cling to the river, the south is much more spread out - the river a vague point of reference. Again a predominantly red region and a blenders paradise with over a dozen grape varieties. Grenache is the primary grape and other stars include Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. The major whites are produced from Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier. Increasingly a la mode in France are the amazing rose wines produced here most noteably in Tavel and Lirac. Of the red appellations the best are undoubtedly Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueras. However, in this enormous and varied region there are many jewels to be discovered prompting wine expert Robert Parker to desribe the Rhone as "the worlds most underrated great wines exhilarating.