A Guide to the Old World Wines of France and Portugal


There’s something special about seeking out new tastes and flavours on your travels, and wine is so often the thing that best captures the feeling of time and place. Wine has been produced in some areas of Europe for thousands of years, making it an integral part of the culture, heritage and traditions of many destination across the continent.

Nowhere is the influence of viticulture more keenly felt than France and Portugal, whose ancient soils have been cultivating vines since long before New World destinations were even discovered. The Romans, inspired by the Greeks before them, introduced winemaking to these two nations over 2,000 years ago – and wine has endured to become an essential part of local life ever since.

If you love wine as much as we do, join us as we explore the viticultural traditions of some of Europe’s most prominent winemaking regions, including Provence, Burgundy and the Douro Valley.

France

It should come as no surprise that Provence is one of France’s oldest and most successful wine-growing regions. Since the Romans arrived over 2,000 years ago, the region has proved a fertile and bountiful place, and is today revered for the quality of its gastronomy and viticulture.

The grape vines of Provence stretch from the cusp of the Mediterranean to the cooler foothills of the eastern Alps, giving the region a hugely diverse and productive terroir. The area has long been known for its rosé wines, which were popular even in Roman times, but other white wine varieties are becoming more common, including white Sémillon and Ugni Blanc.

Take a tour through the vineyards and varieties of Provence below.

Burgundy

Extending over a distance of 140 miles, roughly between the towns of Auxerre and Mâcon, Burgundy is among France’s largest wine regions, offering a diverse grape variety that produces some of the world’s most famous wines. The area has been producing wines since Roman times, and over the centuries, it has earned a reputation for two varieties in particular: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Burgundy is home to some of France’s most beloved wine districts, including Beaujolais and Chablis. The region produces a diverse array of different wine types, each offering an incredible flavour and tasting experience.

Spreading from the Saône River, the Burgundy region is dotted with historic vineyards and estates which are classified by the quality of their terroir – a French term used to identify the land and the place where wine is produced. In total, four classifications are used, including Grand Cru (the highest), Premier Cru, Village Wines, and Regional Wines (the lowest).[i]

Within Burgundy sits the world-renowned wine-producing village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This humble village is home to more than 80 different growers and 3,200 hectares of vines producing the 15 grape varieties which are used in the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s famed wine. As part of our Flavours of Burgundy and Provence river cruise, you can enjoy a tasting in one of the village’s wine estates. The same itinerary also opens the door to a winery tour and tasting in the historic Beaujolais region.

Learn more about the signature varieties and vineyards of Burgundy below.

Regional Varieties in Burgundy

Pinot Noir

Burgundy has a long history of producing delicious reds, and by far the most celebrated variety of the region is Pinot Noir. Noted for its spiced, red fruit finish, Burgundian Pinot Noir gets its aromatic flavour from the long ageing process, in which grapes are left to macerate and ferment for a considerable amount of time. Interestingly, the Pinot Noir grape is colourless, and it’s the long fermentation process that results in the deep red colour.

Chardonay

Burgundy is renowned for several white grape varieties, the foremost being Chardonnay. This robust, round fruit produces white wine known for its floral nose, yellow fruitiness, and aromatic mineralisation. Indeed, Burgundy Chardonnay is recognised as one of the world’s finest, offering the perfect blend of dry tartness with a recognisable fruit finish which comes from the region’s unique terroir. 

Renowned Vineyards in Burgundy

Discover a handful of Burgundy’s best-loved wineries in our interactive map below.

Provence

It should come as no surprise that Provence is one of France’s oldest and most successful wine-growing regions. Since the Romans arrived over 2,000 years ago, the region has proved a fertile and bountiful place, and is today revered for the quality of its gastronomy and viticulture.

The grape vines of Provence stretch from the cusp of the Mediterranean to the cooler foothills of the eastern Alps, giving the region a hugely diverse and productive terroir. The area has long been known for its rosé wines, which were popular even in Roman times, but other white wine varieties are becoming more common, including white Sémillon and Ugni Blanc.

Take a tour through the vineyards and varieties of Provence below.

Regional Varieties in Provence

Sémillon White

Rosé may be the queen of Provençal viticulture, but a growing demand for white wines has led growers to diversify their vines with varieties like Grenache Blanc, Rolle, and Ugni Blanc. Among the most popular white grapes of the region is Sémillon, which is known for its ability to add an exceptional level of flavour to other varietals. The grapes are aged and macerated to deliver the very best fragrance and taste, delivering hints of honey, apricot, white flowers and hazelnut.

Tibouren Rosé

Provence is world-renowned for its delicate and fragrant rosé wines, and while many grape varieties are used to produce this style of wine, one of the most popular of the region is undoubtedly Tibouren. One of the signature grapes of Provence (it’s grown only here), Tibouren produces elegant wines with a rich bouquet and refreshing palate. These grapes are often blended with other Provençal varietals, like Cinsault, to produce an even greater depth of flavour in a rosé vintage.

Renowned Vineyards in Provence

Explore the charming vineyards of Provence in our interactive map.

A word from our expert

France remains the world capital of viticulture, attracting the enduring fascination of viticultural experts and amateurs alike. Find out what wine expert, Victoria Koning of Mirabeau Wine, had to say about the wines of the region:

“Provence’s sunny climate and herbal landscape known as ‘garrigue’ are reflected in the deliciously fruity pale pink wine, rosé, which is delicately balanced with fresh acidity that makes this style of wine so versatile. Quality rosé wines are enjoyed as an aperitif on a lovely summer’s day, as much as they are at the table over candlelight paired with fine food.

“Other regional grapes used for Provence rosé include Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon. The herbal notes of Syrah make it a perfect match for Mediterranean foods and the slightly darker colour is reminiscent of classic rosés. Grenache grapes deliver elegant, paler wines that are excellent with a variety of cuisines.”

guide to wine france

Discover the wonders of French wine with Emerald Waterways

If the thought of savouring a glass of wine in the heart of Provence or Burgundy sounds like your idea of heaven, be sure to take a look over our collection of river cruises on the Rhône river.

Portugal

Portugal is an often-overlooked destination on Europe’s viticultural map, but did you know that the Iberian nation is home to one of the world’s oldest protected wine-producing regions? The Douro Valley DOC became an official appellation in 1756, making it the third oldest designated wine-growing province on Earth, after Chianti, Italy, and Tokaj, Hungary.

The Douro Valley

With the powerful Atlantic seaboard to the west and the intense heat of central Spain to the east, the Douro Valley is in a prime position for vine production – something the Romans discovered during their conquest of Iberia around the turn of the first millennium. Over thousands of years, the great Douro River has carved a mighty chasm out of the Earth, leaving behind sun-kissed valley slopes that are ideal for growing terraced grape vines.

The Douro Valley DOC is, of course, famous for a very specific style of wine, and that’s port. The region’s rich terroir and year-round warmth are perfect for cultivating the type of dark grape varieties needed to produce this strong fortified wine, and the traditional ‘quintas’ – the Portuguese term for ‘winery’ – have been making the beverage to great success for centuries.[i]

That’s not to say other styles of wine can’t be found on the banks of the Douro. The region is steadily earning a reputation for red and white varietals, which you can learn more about in our guide below.

Regional Varieties in Portugal

Gouveio Dry White Wine

As the profile of Portuguese wines from the Douro Valley continues to grow, several producers have chosen to diversify their vines to develop new varieties, including dry white wines which have earned a reputation for their crisp, bone-dry freshness. One of the grapes used to produce this type of very dry white is Gouveio, which is known for its citrus aroma, freshness and acidity. It’s often paired with other varietals like Moscatel, Malvasia Fina, and Viosinho to create brand new varieties of dry white wine.

Port Wine

There are few greater joys in life than enjoying a delicious glass of port amid the astounding backdrop of the Douro Valley. The region’s fortified wines have enjoyed great success thanks to historic interest from overseas, chiefly from the British, who fell in love with Douro Valley port back in the 17th century. Traditionally, port wine is produced in a range of different styles, including Ruby, Tawny, Vintage (Garrafeira) and White.

Renowned Vineyards in Portugal

Explore the age-old quintas and beautiful wineries of the Douro Valley in our interactive map below.

A word from our expert

Those in the know have long heralded the Douro Valley as one of Europe’s finest wine destinations, with varieties to rival those of France, Spain and Italy. Find out what wine expert Amanda Barnes of Around the World in 80 Harvests had to say about the wines of the Douro below:

"The Douro is such a spectacular wine region to visit, and the best way to arrive is by water; you get a great understanding of the scale and sheer incline of the vineyards in the valley. Beautiful terraces of vineyards create contours on the landscape which have been cultivated for centuries.

“The wines of the Douro really reflect the landscape and sensations you feel on visiting – fresh orange blossom, hot schist rock and intense sunshine. Red wines are vibrant and concentrated, white wines are structured and mineral-driven, and the ports are intense and rich. Combine this with the excellent Portuguese cuisine and you have an unforgettable experience!"

Discover our collection of Douro River cruises and Portuguese tours

If you’re keen to sample the local wines of the Douro Valley for yourself, a river cruise on the beautiful Douro river is the perfect way to experience this iconic wine region.

At Emerald Waterways, we share your passion for fine wine and local produce, and endeavour to include tastings, tours and other related experiences on all of our deluxe European river cruises. For more information on our award-winning river cruise offering, visit our homepage or call us today on 0808 159 4193.