What to look for - Fresh, light, if overpriced, young Savoie white and reds, and pleasant Pinot Noir, rich fizz and nutty, sherry-like whites from Arbois.
Location - To the east of, and running parallel to, Burgundy: Savoie comprises a series of small wine-producing areas from Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) south to Grenoble; Arbois lies within the Cotes du Jura to the north of Savoie, on the slopes of the Jura mountain range.
Official quality - AOCs: Arbois and Arbois Mousseux; Arbois Pupillin; Cotes du Jura and Cotes du Jura Mousseux; L'Etoile; Chateau-Chalon (vin jaune); Crepy; Roussette de Savoie (and cru); Seyssel; Seyssel Mousseuz; vin de Savoie (of which the most widely seen cru is Apremont) and Vin de Savoie Mousseux. The best-know VDQS is Bugey (and cru); Bugey Mousseux is also made.
Style - Still and sparkling white wines are very fresh, floral and light, reminiscent of the wines of nearby Switzerland; more traditional wood-aged Jura whites are slightly fuller. Jura reds and roses are light and vaguely Burgundian, while Savoie reds can sometimes be quite robust. Vin jaune and vine de paille are the Jura's speciality styles; the former, though unfortified, has been called France's answer to fino sherry, while the latter is extremely sweet with an appealing nuttiness. Arbois Pupillin reds can be characterful, if rustic.
Climate - The area is affected by the proximity of the Alps and, while the summers are warm, it can be very damp, cold and frosty during the winter and spring.
Cultivation - The vineyards are found on gentle lower slopes. The soil is predominantly clay, with some limestone and marl.
Grape varieties - Cacabboue, Chardonnay, Chasselas, Gringet, Jacquere, Molette, Mondeuse, Mondeuse Blanche, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Poulsard, Roussanne, Roussette (Altesse), Savagnin, Tressot, Trousseau.
Production/maturation - Stainless steel and, in the Jura, large wood is used for fermentation. Sparkling wines are made by the methode champenoise. Cotes du Jura Mousseux is the best sparkling wine Appellation here. Vin jaune must be matured for at least six years in oak with no topping up, and a yeast flor develops, as in fino sherry; vin de paille is made from bunches of grapes that have been laid out to dry for up to six months while the sugar concentration intensifies. Vin jaune is made entirely from the Savagnin grape, while vin de paille is generally made from blend of grapes, but always including the Savagnin. Labour-intensive to produce, these are fairly rare, expensive wines.
Longevity - All Savoie whites should be drunk as young as possible, as should roses. Red wines will last for between 3 and 6 years, while vin jaune and vin de paille appear to last almost indefinitely.
Vintage guide - 95.
What to look for - Traditional reds, fresh modern styles, especially varietals, rich fortified Muscats and fast-improving fizz.
Official quality - AOCs: Banyuls (VDN - vin doux naturel); Balnquette de Limoux; Clairette de Bellegarde; Clairette due Languedoc; Collioure; Corbiere; Costieres de Nimes; Coteaux du languedoc; Cotes du Roussillon; Cotes du Roussillon-Villages; Faugeres; Fitou; Limoux; Maury (VDN); Minervois; Muscat de Frontignan (VDN); Muscat de Lunel (VDN); Muscat de Mireval (VDN); muscate de St-Jean-de-Minervois (VDN); Muscat de Rivesaltes (VDN); St Chinian; Vin Noble du Minervois. VDQSs include: Costieres du Gard; Cotes de la Malepere; Cabardes. Vins de pays include: Gard; Coteaux Flaviens; Herault; Coteaux de Murviel; Cotes de Thongue; Aude; Vallee de Paradis; Oc; Pyrenees Orientales; des Sables du Golfe de Lion.
Style - The majority of wines produced are red. At their best, Corbieres or Cotes du Roussillon-Villages for examples, they are firm, rounded, deeply colored and packed full of spicy, peppery fruit. White and rose wines may be dry or medium-dry and are improving fast. Sparkling Blanquette de Limoux is produced using a local (and ancient) variation on the methode champenoise, appley-lemony, sometimes quite full and earthy, it can more resemble Spanish Cava than more northerly French sparkling wines. Some of the region's most interesting wines are its vins doux naturels from Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes; deep, dark and raisiny-sweet. Muscat de Frontignan is lighter but just as intensely sweet. Bordeaux grapes-especially Merlot - are increasingly being planted in the Midi and more modern vinification techniques are being incorporated into the wineries. The resulting wines are cleaner fresher and decidedly fruitier. These southern French wines are some of the best value-for-money wines to be found anywhere.
Climate - Influenced by the Mediterranean and also the savage marine and mistral winds.
Cultivation - Vineyards are found on the alluvial soils of the plains and on slopes above valleys such as the Aude.
Grape varieties - Alicante-Bouschet, Aspiran Gris, Aspiran Noir, Auban, Bourboulenc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Clairette, Couderc, Grenache Blanc, Cinsault, Clairette, Couderc, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Rose, Fer, Lladoner Pelut, Malbec, Malvoisie, Maccadeo, Marsanne, Mauzac Blanc, Merlot, Mourvedre, Muscat d'Alexandre, Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat Rose a Petits Grains, Negrette, Oeillade, Palomino, Picpoul, Picpoul Noir, Roussanne, Syrah, Terret, Terret Noir, Tourbat, Ugni Blanc, Villard Blanc.
Production/maturation - While (old) wooden vats are still sometimes used for fermentation, stainless steel and new oak are now common. Vins doux naturels (VDN) are half-fermented, then a very strong spirit is added to stun the yeasts and raise the alcohol level.
Longevity - Most wines are made to drink within 3 years, although some of the better reds may last beyond 5. If a VDN is non-vintage it should be ready to drink, but vintage VDNs can continue to develop in bottle for decades.
What to look for - Distinctive, if sometimes rustic, reds and whites made from indigenous grape varieties, plus alternatives to Bordeaux
Official quality - AOCs: Bearn; Bergerac; Cahros; Cotes de Bergerac; Cotes de Saussignac; Cotes de Buzet; Cotes de Duras; Montravel; Cotes du Frontonnais; Gaillac; Irouleguy; Jurancon; Madiran; Monbazillac; Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl; Pecharmant; Rosette. VDQSs: Cotes du Marmandais; Tursam; Vin d'Entraygues et du Fel; Vin d'Estaing; Vin de Lavilledieu; Marcillac. The best-known vins de pays are Cotes de Gascogne, Charentais and Tarn.
Style - Dry white wines are generally fresh, crisp and Bordeaux-like, the exception being dry Jurancon, which has a spicy, honeyed quality. Sweet Jurancon is rich and raisiny while the best examples of Monbazillac resemble Sauternes. Red wines vary from the rustic to Bordeaux-style; from good producers, these can be good-value alternatives to Bordeaux petit chateau or cru bourgeois wines. The wines of Charos, made primarily from the Malbec grape, tend now to be lighter in style. In Irouleguy, it is again the reds to look out for; rather earthy, spicy wines made from the Tannat grape. Gaillac can produce good Gamay.
Climate - Atlantic-influenced, with warm and long summers but wet winters and springs.
Cultivation - Soils are varied. Vineyard sites facing east or southeast offer protection from the Atlantic.
Grape varieties - Abouriou, Arrufiac, Baroque, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Camaralet, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Clairette, Caret des Gens, Claverie, Colombard, Courbu Blanc, Courbu Noir, Crachiner, Duras, Fer, Folle Blanche, Fuella, Gamay, Grapput, Gros Manseng, Jurancon Noir, Lauzet, L'En de l'Elh, Malbec, Manseng Noir, Mauzac, Mauzac Rose, Merille, Merlot, Milgranet, Mouyssagues, Muscadelle, Negrette, Ondenc, Petit Manseng, Picpoul, Pinot Noir, Raffiat, Roussellou, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Syrah, Tannat, Ugni Blanc, Valdiguie, Villard Noir.
Production/maturation - White wines and some red wines are produced by modern methods as in Bordeaux. Sparkling wines are made by the methode champenoise.
Longevity - Most red wines are at their best between 3 and 5 years, although some of the heavier wines, notably Cahors and Madiran, can last beyond 10. The dry white wines should be drunk within 3 years. Good Monbazillac and sweet Jurancon will last for at least a decade.
Vintage guide - 83, 85, 86, 88, 89, 90, 92