Why would anyone go through the agony of studying and sitting for an exam in French wine? The answer is quite simple: knowing French wine, culture, and history means that you possess one of the greatest foundations of wine knowledge, period.

Is it intimidating? Yes. Is passing the French Wine Scholar exam achievable? Definitely! By diving in deep to the viticulture, regional characteristics and production history of wines from France, you will gain an understanding of wines from all over the world on a different level than you had previously. That wine menu boasting page after pager of French wines? You’ll have the confidence to read it with ease. You’ll even find yourself musing over bottles in retail shops, sure of your recommendations for friends, and for yourself. As of now, you probably have your go-to French wine regions, but listen: there are exceptional wines far beyond Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne. Whatever your prerogative for wanting to learn more about French wine, you’ll certainly gain an understanding of the different styles within the more well-known regions, which can be extremely beneficial to your future enjoyment of wines from France.

Here are 5 tips on how to learn about French wine and pass the French Wine Scholar exam:

1. BE PASSIONATE and open minded about French wine and culture. Nearly all classic grape varieties today were sourced from France. French wine continues to stand as the benchmark to which new world wines are compared against. Learning with passion makes studying fun.

2. STUDY WITH INTENTION and make it a priority. French wine can be intimidating and something easy to put off for tomorrow. France has thousands of years of wine history compared with the hundreds of years in the new world. Give it the time and respect it deserves.

3. EMBRACE CREATIVITY in the ways you recall the history, geography, and grape varieties of each region. Don’t just read the text –dissect the material, draw comparisons between regions, make maps and lists to help quiz yourself.

4. HAVE CONFIDENCE in the fact that you probably already know more than you think. Most wines in France are not varietally labelled, but rather they are named after the growing region in which they were produced. Most likely, you know the major varieties, so once you learn the varieties in each region, you are more than halfway there.

5. KEEP EXPLORING and tasting different wines. Compare an Argentine Malbec to one from Cahors; a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to a Sancerre; and a Napa Cabernet to a left bank Bordeaux. Travel if possible and immerse yourself in what you’ve learned.

Remember that French wine is all about celebrating with joie de vivre. Have fun and conquer French wine once and for all!

Shelley Cartland, FWS, WSET-Advanced (with distinction) is originally from Los Angeles, but now lives in Napa. She created Passaporto Vino to share her wine journey online and across social channels, particularly Facebook and Instagram. Cartland is also currently working part-time in the tasting room at Sequoia Grove Winery in St. Helena.


French Wine Scholar