French Wine Labels Deciphered

French Wine Labels Deciphered

Many wine regions of the world are driven by grape varietal, and when purchasing a bottle, it is the grape type that is at the forefront of the mind for wine drinkers. Yet in France, the traditional view of representing a wine by their region and appellation is most important. This can prove difficult for casual wine drinkers of Australia just trying to find a nice chardonnay from France without having to spend hours researching the regions of France that produce them.

Bound by traditions, AOC restrictions, and pride, many French winemakers champion the location of the vines from which the grapes were picked to make the vine, followed by the overall region/sub-region and the vintage. Below are a few examples of French wine bottles from different regions of France as well as explanations for each element presented.

General Label Structure

Winery Name

The name of the Domaine or Chateau is included as an emblem or simple text.

Vintage

The year the wine was harvested and vinified, unless a blend of several years.

Region/Sub-Region/Village

The location in which the grapes were harvested

Appellation Distinction (Read more here)

Three tiers of classification.

  • Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC)
    • Includes the geographical location, quality, and style of wine
    • Premier Cru
      • Second tier of wine classification
      • Vineyard plot of superior quality
    • Grand Cru
      • Highest classification of French wine
      • Plot of land where the grapes are grown. 
      • Or in Bordeaux, the chateau at which the wine is made
  • Vin de Pays:
    • The broader classification as the pre-European Union equivalent of IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée)
    • Only classified based on the geographical region of where the wines were made with a larger area that the main AOCs. This allows for wider boundaries with respect to individual styles of winemaking.
  • Vin de France
    • The least regulated classification with minimal rules around which grapes are grown where, and how the wines are made.
    • The labels do not mention a specific region of origin, with vintage and grape variety optional

Varietals

Every so often you will find the types of grapes that are within the wine.

Producer name & Address

For Domaines or Chateaus not named after the current winemaker, the producer adds their name or signature along with their location.

Burgundy wine labels


French wine label Terms

Biologique

Organically produced

Mis en bouteille au château/domaine

Bottled at the chateau/domaine

Blanc de Blancs

White sparkling wine made with 100% white grapes 

Moelleux 

Sweet

Blanc de Noirs

White sparkling wine made with 100% black grapes 

Mousseux 

Sparkling

Blanc

White

Negociant

Merchant who buys the grapes or wine and sells under their own label

Brut

Sweetness level in sparkling wine. Brut represents a dry style. 

Non-filtré

Unfiltered

Cave

Wine Cellar

Pétillant

Lightly sparkling

Cépage

The grapes used in the wine

Premier Cru

“First Growth” 

In Burgundy and Champagne it distinguishes the region’s 2nd best vineyards

Chateau

Estate/Castle

Propriétaire

Estate or vineyard owner

Clos

A walled vineyard

Recoltant

Grape grower, harvester

Cooperative

Group of wine growers working together

Rouge

Red

Cote/Coteaux

Slope of a hill/hillside

Wines from a slope or hillside, often along a river.

Coteaux is a grouping of slopes or hillsides.

Sélection de Grains Nobles

Sweet wines made from grapes affected by botrytis

Cremant

Sparkling wine other than Champagne

Sec

Another term for Dry 

Cru

“Growth”, indicates the status of the winery or vineyard

Sur Lie

Aged on lees 

Cru Classe

Classified vineyard

Supérieur

Wine with higher (superior) alcohol content as a result of being made from ripe grapes

Cuvée

A specific wine blend or batch  

VDQS

Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure, a mid-level classification used between 1949 and 2012.

Demi-Sec

Lightly sweet

Vedange

harvest

Domaine

Estate

Vendangé à la main

Hand harvested

Doux

Sweet

Vendange Tardive

Late harvest

Élevé en fûts de chêne

Aged in oak

Vielles Vignes

Old Vines

Grand Cru

Highest quality wine

Vigneron/Viticulteur

Grape grower

Grand Vin

Indicates a winery’s “first label” or best wine they produce, only in Bordeaux

Vignoble

Vineyard

Methode traditionnelle

Traditional method of making sparkling wine

Vin

Wine

Millésime

Vintage/Date of Harvest

Vin Doux Naturel (VDN)

Fortified wine created in fermentation (often sweet dessert wines)

 

 

Wine Labels

Read more

Rhône Valley | Historic Region of Winemaking

Rhône Valley | Historic Region of Winemaking

Château Lafleur | Guinaudeau Vineyards

Château Lafleur | Guinaudeau Vineyards

Pinot Noir | Champion of Burgundy

Pinot Noir | Champion of Burgundy

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