Vino veritas - the truly best French wine routes
We may have spent a goodly part of last weekend consuming Breton cider (thank you, Marks and Spencer supplier people). Et so, we thought it logical to turn our attention to other forms of tasty beverages available in France, namely wine.
The Pitchup.com team’s approach to French wine runs along the spectrum of ‘carefully checking vineyards and year to buy only the finest wines known to humanity’ (mostly the French team) and going for quantity rather than quality in an algebraic equation where x = ABV and y = price (mostly everyone else).
Mais nevertheless, and despite an occasional wrath of grapes on a morning after, we are all very fond of French plonk, so have put our heads together to bring you the definitive guide to French wine routes:
Our first, bubbly, route takes booze boffins to the vineyards of the Champagne region, about an hour north-east from Paris and the first wine region in France to be given legal protection. We bet that was a cause for celebration...
The Routes de Champagne have 600 kilometres' worth of walks/staggers to try along five trails, all with many, many vineyards and cellars: the Massif Saint Thierry Route from Reims (after you see the city’s cathedral, naturellement); the Reims Mountain Route; the Marne Valley Route and marne-vellous views over the vineyards; and the Côte des Blancs and The Côte des Bar routes through many wine-filled villages.
If your head is fizzing trying to figure out where to start, pop to Reims first and the Office de Tourisme beside the cathedral for introductory info; then to Eprernay 16 kilometres north for the grave of Dom Pérignon, the friar who invented champagne in the 17th century. ‘Come quick, I am seeing stars,’ he’s reported to have cried, to which we say, ‘We hear you, Dom.’
Next up is the Bordeaux wine region, which the knowledgeable say is akin to a pilgrimage for serious wine lovers (raises hand; books ticket) and ‘total gastric gratification’ once there.
The 500 communes, 8,000 chateaux and 13,000 or so winemakers of the ‘world wine capital’ are clustered in the wine regions surrounding Bordeaux city in Aquitaine’s department of Gironde, on either side of the Gironde river (yes, boat trips can be had to certain vineyards, which combines two of our favourite things).
Start off in the city of Bordeaux to see what’s what: you can book vineyard tours from the Office de Tourisme on Cours du 30 Juillet, and drink in gallons of info – and wine – from the Maison du Vin opposite.
At the tip of the Médoc peninsula five kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, Camping Les Franquettes has an outdoor pool, kids’ clubs, games room for teenagers, evening entertainment and a snack bar.
Along with Champagne and Bordeaux, the Burgundy wine region is probably the best known of the French trails, starting in the Auxerrois and going south to Burgundy’s capital Dijon and down to Mâcon.
It includes the vineyards of the northern Rhône and the two halves of the Côte d’Or meeting at Beaune’s Musée du Vin de Bourgogne (in a 14th-century mansion, no less), before merging into the Beaujolais wine trail, home of the latest production of Beaujolais nouveau each November and something that still makes us titter in Tesco’s wine aisle remembering Del Boy asking for a Beaujolais nouveau from 1979.
Pour les reds, try the Route des Grands Crus, a 60-kilometre trail from Dijon south to Santenay and through the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune; pour les whites, go for the chardonnays of Chablis in the north and Puligny-Montrachet to the south, home of world famous Montrachet chardonnay.
Combine cycling and wine tasting (wobbly) at Camping des Sources between Beaune and Chalon sur Saône, close to the Eurovelo 6 cycle trail following the River Loire and surrounded by Burgundy vineyards.
The vineyards of the Loire Valley are also where to visit for white and sparkling wines: this is the biggest producer of sparkling white wine (Crémant de Loire) after Champagne and Nantes produces the most popular white wine in France, Muscadet.
The Loire Valley wine region covers an area from Muscadet on the Atlantic coast to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé outside Orléans, with five regions in between: Anjou, Bourgueil, Chinon, Saumur and Vouvray (find more sparkling whites here).
Head west of Tours for red wines, Restigné for cave cellars on the go since the seventeenth century, and Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire for Sauvignon blancs.
Domaine de la Grangée is in the south Tourraine region with easy access to the Loire Valley and with fishing available in the pond nearby.
It's also only a short distance from the goat cheese production of La Chapelle Blanche Saint Martin: perfect to sample for those who wish to carefully cultivate their rounding wine tum.
Alsace wine route
The 170-kilometre Alsace or Alsatian wine route is in eastern France on the France/Germany border, from Strasbourg to Mulhouse via Barr, Colmar and a mouth-watering 67 communes.
Most of the 12 varieties of wine produced in this region are white and use similar grapes to German wine, but you can (and should) also try some regional rosé from Pinot Groir grapes, especially if you bring some back for us as souvenirs.
Beer buffs will be bowled over here too, as Alsace is the biggest beer producer in France, mainly based in and around Strasbourg.
Camping La Sténiole is 730 metres above sea level and set in a pine forest, for sniffing tre-based scents along with one's wine. It has a trout fishing pong, bouncy castle, trampolines and a restaurant dishing up wood-fired oven pizzas.