Which grape variety is the most planted in France?

What is your guess? Cabernet? Syrah? Ugni blanc? Or something else?

No, none of those.

For most of the 20th century it was carignan, but half of that acreage has been up-rooted, primarily in the Languedoc region.

So, the answer is: merlot.

Here’s the latest statistics:
1. Merlot: 117 000 ha
2. Grenache: 99 000 ha
3. Ugni blanc: 83 000 ha
4. Carignan: 74 000 hektar
(according to the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin, plantings in 2006)

Much has changed during the 20th century. Looking back, this is the evolution of carignan plantings:
1958: 169’ ha
1968: 211’ ha
1979: 207’ ha
1988: 167’ ha
1998: 102’ ha
2006: 74’ ha

Carignan was hard hit by the campaigns to pull up vines to dry out the “wine lake” in Europe. 130,000 ha were lost (a bit more than the entire acreage in Bordeaux) and plantings were cut in half. Which today many lament inn the Languedoc region since there are many talented producers there who know how to make quality wine from carignan (albeit it used to be used mainly for quantity). As is the case in e.g. Priorat in Catalonia, under the name cariñena or mazuelo. But yes, too much went into bad wine.

Merlot (merlot noir)
1958: 17’ ha
1968: 25’ ha
1979: 38’ ha
1988: 60’ ha
1998: 90’ ha
2006: 117’ ha

Merlot is the big winner with its friendly, fruity and round wines.

Grenache (grenache noir)
1958: 25’ ha
1968: 52’ ha
1979: 78’ ha
1988: 87’ ha
1998: 92’ ha
2006: 99’ ha

Also a grape that has progressed much. Which in many ways is positive. It is a relatively unknown grape that many think is uninteresting. But in the hands of a competent winemaker it can produce excellent wines. E.g. in Châteauneuf and in the Languedoc.

Ugni blanc
1958: 62’ ha
1968: 94’ ha
1979: 127’ ha
1988: 102’ ha
1998: 96’ ha
2006: 83’ ha

A grape that is primarily used to produce the base wine for cognac, which is the explanation for the extensive plantings.

In other words, until 1998 carignan was the most planted grape, but since then it has declined dramatically.

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