French Wine: A History


Oakland: University of California Press, 2016.                           US$34.95.                                                  Available on-line at and University of California Press, as well as in book stores.


I’m a lover of both France and its wines, so it gave me great pleasure to write this first English-language history of French wine. The story starts two and a half millennia ago, when wine was introduced by Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans to the beer-drinking Celts of ancient France. I discuss the connection between wine and Christianity, the emergence of a wine trade in the Middle Ages, the development of wine styles such as claret and sparkling wines, the recognition of prestigious regions (especially Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne), the impact of wars, revolutions, climate, and vine diseases and pests on wine, as well as fraudulent and counterfeit wines, wine laws, wine consumption patterns, and the global reputation of French wine. I also look at the way wine has related to health, gender, religion, and class in France.

One of the major things I do in the book is explode many of the myths about French wine: that there is such a thing as “tradition” in winemaking, for example, and that the French figured out how to match grape varieties and vineyard sites hundreds of years ago. I call into question the usefulness of terroir when discussing French wine and I rehabilitate the much-maligned Algerian wine, which was vital to the survival of French wine between 1890 and the 1950s. The story of French wine shows that it has been reinvented several times during its long history, and I suggest that what we now call French wine was largely a result of the period following the Second World War. 

My point is that French wine doesn’t need myths, any more than Champagne needs the myth of Dom Pérignon: champagne is terrific without the fiction of the blind monk discovering sparkling wine in his cellar, and French wine has enough stars without myths of Burgundian monks chewing vineyard dirt to discover terroir.


This book reads like a novel, with new suspense in the plot in every chapter. It gives a new perspective on the long term challenges and success of French wines through the centuries.
— Winner “Best Wine History Book” (USA) in Gourmand Food and Drink Awards 2017, China
… almost every page contains a gem.
— Included in The Guardian’s “Best Books on Drink of 2016”
For years we’ve had books about French wines, but never a book like this before. Rod Phillips’ comprehensive book, French Wine: A History, is an absolute tour de force, sure to be an instant classic.
— Pam Strayer, Wine Country Geographic
From the Celts to the Cistercians, claret to Chaptal, Rod Phillips tells the story of French wine with the detail and insight that also characterised his A Short History of Wine. His new book is a brilliant overview of the greatest wine-producing country on earth.
— Tim Atkin MW
Rod Phillips’ comprehensive book, French Wine: A History, is an absolute tour de force, sure to be an instant classic.
— Pam Strayer Wine Country Geographic
Written with an academic’s knowledge and a connoisseur’s understanding, this magisterial overview is the most authoritative and compelling history of the world’s most important and inspiring wine country.
— Neil Beckett, Editor of The World of Fine Wine
Offers insight on France’s modern rise to wine world prominence, taking us back through several eras (Enlightenment to the Middle Ages, and beyond) to show us that the country’s current premiere status was hard-won. Wine does not exist in a vacuum, and Phillips touches on several of the industry’s outside forces in France, including religion and politics — two things you want to avoid talking about when you’re drinking, but should feel free to read about anytime.
— Michael Austin, Chicago Tribune
A fascinating book that belongs on every wine lover’s bookshelf.
— The Wine Economist
This is a masterful survey of French wine that takes us from the Etruscans through the modern love affair with terroir. For those interested in wine and wine history, Rod Phillips takes us on an adventure that will broaden both our historical knowledge and our palate.
— Kolleen M. Guy, author of When Champagne Became French
Rod Phillips’ new French Wine: A History… is even more candid, crashing and trashing some of the wine world’s favorite mythology to entertaining effect.
— Doug Frost MS MW, Kansas City Star
This is a wonderfully instructive and interesting book. Phillips’s writing style helps the reader get over rough ground lightly, and his background as a historian of France enables him to add color and texture to the bare bones of the story. Over the years, he has published Alcohol: A History (2014), A Short History of Wine (2000), and now French Wine: A History (2016). Where does he go next? … anything he writes will be substantial, interesting, and well worth reading.
— Kathleen Burk, The World of Fine Wine
A book like this has the potential to be dry and academic - best left to MWs and history students - but Phillips has a gift. In his hand, the heavy flour sack of facts turns into a very digestible and rather moreish loaf... Phillips has packed so much into this book that no one-page review will ever do it justice…
— Tamlyn Currin,
Phillips’ lively masterwork seamlessly wraps culture, politics and religion into an adventurous saga covering 25 centuries and a fascinating array of happenings into a compelling and engaging narrative. History lessons should always be this engrossing.
— Bill Ward, Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)
This is a landmark book. Phillips captures with great authority the ups and downs of the world’s most illustrious winemaking nation and tells the story of French wine from its beginnings 2,500 years ago to the present day. The history of France’s big three wine regions—Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne—are given special attention, but other regions are also part of the story. Lively, serious, and engaging, Phillips’s book provides the only overview of French wine in English.
— Noelle Plack, Newman University
…a marvellous overview. Phillips is also very good at making the connections through his synthesis.
— Dean Tudor,