For centuries, French wines have set standards to inspire winemakers around the world. No other country has France’s long history of fine wine production, which has helped define wine styles around the world.
How significant is France in the world of wine? The most popular international grape varieties, from Chardonnay to Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon, are native to France. In many years France produces (and consumes!) more wine than any other country. Its production and export of fine wines is unmatched.
The ancient Greeks were the first to take advantage of France’s potential for wine production, as they planted vines in their colonies along the Mediterranean coastline more than 2,500 years ago. After the Romans conquered Gaul in 51 B.C., they took vines and winemaking practices north across the land. In the following centuries, Christian monasteries became centers for viticulture, and their monks made pioneering advances in both winemaking and distilling. By the Middle Ages, the English had already recognized the excellence of wines of France, and while they controlled Bordeaux they expanded the region’s existing vineyards to supply the brand-new export market.
For example, French wine names that include “Champagne” can only be used on wines made in the Champagne region, from one or more of three permitted grape varieties.
Today, the AOC system – now used in France in concert with a similar one designed for European Union countries – is a model for regulations that guide winemaking practices around the world, including American Viticultural Areas in the United States, Denominazione di Origine Controllata in Italy and Denominación de Origen in Spain.