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Information about French wines and how to read a wine label – the web magazine for visitors to France.

Wine Labels

Information on French wine labels and what they mean.

There is no set of rules for wine labels and a label that looks good may contain something which just doesn't taste very nice. It may tell you something about the wine's origin, its alcohol degree, the name of the producer, its vintage, and perhaps the grape variety or varieties. These points only serve as a guieline not a guarantee to its quality.

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French WinesRegionsAbout labelsChampagnesWine Tasting

Wine Glossary

Acid/ Acidity – Acids, primarly citric, malic and tartaric, occur naturally in wine and, in the proper proportion, are essential ingredients, giving the wine character and helping it age. As a rule, cool regions produce wines that are hight in acidity, while warm regions produce wines that are low in acidity

Alcohol – The alcohol present in wine, ranging from about 6.5 to 14 per cent.

Appellation Contrôlée (AC or AOC, French) Part of French law that guarantees that a wine comes from where the label says it does, that it is made from specific grapes and that it is produced in a certain way.

Aroma – The smell of a wine. As the wine matures and takes on more complex characteristics, the term can change to "bouquet".

Balance – Good balance refers to a wine in which the acids, tannins, alcohol, fruit and flavour are all in pleasing proportions.

Barrique (French) The regular Bordeaux oak barrel of 225 litres.

Blanc (French) White.

Blending – A wine can be blend of different varieties, different vintages, different areas and even different barrel.

Blind Tasting – A tasting of wines where all clues as to the wines' identities including the labels and shapes of the bottles are obscured from the tasters.

Body – Term used to describe the weight and the structure of a wine.

Bouquet – The scent of a wine that develops as it ages and matures.

Brut – The term given to a dry champagne.

Cave (French) – Cellar.

Cepage (French) – term for grape variety.

Chambrer (French) – To allow a wine gradually to reach room temperature before drinking.

Château (French) – Term given to a wine-growing property.

Clos (French) – An enclosed vineyard, used particularly in alsace and Burgundy.

Cru (French) – A growth or vineyard.

Cru Classé (French) – A term which translates into English as "classed growth". in 1855, 61 red wines of the Médoc (including one from graves – Château haut-Brion) were classified as "cru classé", which were divided inti five ranks determined by price (and therefore, in theory, quality), ranging from "premier cru" (first growth) down to "cinquième cru" (fifth growth). At the same time, the sweet white wines of Sauternes were divided into three categories – "premier grand cru, premier cru and deuxième cru", or first great growth, first growth and second growth. Although now hopelessly outdated, these classifications do still denote a lot of prestige to a property and its wines. In 1955, also in Bordeaux, the wines of St-Emilion were similarly classified into three ranks "premier grand cru classé, grand cru classé and grand cru", while "grand cru classé (without subdivisions) has also been used since 1953 for red wines of Graves and, since 1959, for white wines of that area.

Cru Bourgeois (French) – The term given to Médoc wines categorised just below those of cru classé status.

Cuvée (French) A blended wine or a special selection.

Domaine (French) – Property or estate.

Doux (French) – Sweet.

En Primeur (French) – The system whereby each spring, following the vintage, the Châteaux of bordeaux reveal the opening prices of their new wines. Customers pay in advance for these wines through wine merchants and take delivery of them after bottling some 18 months later. this method ensures that customers get the wines that they want, and almost always at the most advantageous prices. Prices rarely fall after the opening offer.

Grand Cru (French) – Term used for top-quality wines in Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy and champagne.

Label – It's everything you need to know about a wine. most wine laws insist that labels reveal the following – the wine's name, the size of the bottle, The wine's vintage, The wine's alcoholic strength, The producer's name and address, The wine's quality level.

Mis en bouteille au Château (French) – The wine was bottled at which it was made.

Moelleux (French) – Sweet.

Mousse (French) – The satisfying froth that fizzes in a glass of champagne or sparkling wine as it is poured, savoured and drunk.

Mousseux (French) – Sparkling.

Pétillant (French) – Slightly sparkling.

Récolte (French) – Crop or vintage.

Rouge (French) – Red.

Sec (French) – Dry.

Sommelier (French) – A wine waiter.

Terroir (French) – at its simplest, the worde means "soils", but winemakers use it to refer to the differing types of soil, climate, drainage and position of a vineyard.

Varietal – a wine named after the grape from which it is made.

Vendange (French) The harvest or vintage.

Vendage Tardive (French) – late harvest.

Vigneron (French) – Vine grower.

Vin de pays (French) – country wine of a level higher than table wine.

Vin de table (French) – Table wine. Law quality wine.

Vin doux naturel (French) A fortified sweet wine.

Vin ordinaire (French) – Basic wine not subject to any regulations.

Vinification – The process of making wine.

Viticulture – The cultivation of grapes.

On a wine label

Appellation Controlée (AC or AOC) – official designation covering most French Wines. Could indicate wine made from a clearly defined grape varieties, using a specific method or in a specific region.

Cru bourgeois – Médoc classification for wines officially beneath cru classes.

Cru classé – Bordeaux classification for the best wines of the Médoc, Sauternes and Graves regions. Mostly genuinely classy.

Cuvée – as in cuvée spéciale or cuvée Jean Pierre refers to a specific batch of wine

Domaine – French for wine estate; the Burgundy equivalent of a Bordeaux château.

Grand cru (Classé) – refers to vineyards with the potential to produce better wines. In Burgundy and Champagne however it refers to pieces of land which may be shared between several producers. In the Médoc, Graves and Sauternes regions of Bordeaux it refers to individual châteaux.

Grand cru bourgeois exceptionnel – superior grand cru bourgeois, always aged in wood and Château bottled.

Mis en bouteille par – French for "bottled by".

Réserve personnel – French term for wine of which the producer feels proud.

Vendage tardive – late harvest – indicates sweet wine from Alsace.

Vieilles vignes – old vines (generally more than 25 years old) – should be a mark of a more concentrated flavour.

Villages – refers to the best part of the overall Côtes du Rhônes or Beaujolais region.

Vin délimité de qualité supérieure (VDQS) – curious designation between vin du pays and appellation contrôlée – increasingly rare. second official category of French wines, subject to less rigorous regulations than AC.

Vin de Pays – Country wine – supposedly but not necessarily, of lesser quality than AC and VDQS.

Méthode traditionelle – sparkling wine made by the same method as champagne.

Wine Labels

Sometimes it can be difficult to work out from the many rows of type on a label which one is the name. Generally, it should be the letters in the biggest type. Some wines (particularly from the less traditional wine producing countries, are named after the grape variety (or varieties). These are called varietal wines. These wines have become more popular recently as customers prefer a wine they immediately know.

The other more sophisticated way of naming wine, that embraced by France and many other European countries, is to name it geographically, after the region where it was produced (such as Chablis, Bordeaux etc.).

Look out for the marks of distinction (2 types); 1 – Medals from competitions, and 2 – from guides; Guide Hachette, Parker.

bronze medal – Medals from competitions.

guide hachette – Guide Hachette.

robert parker wine – Robert Parker.

robert parker wine – Gilbert Gaillard, a French wine guide.

Useful Outside links

Wine Labels website, interesting wine labels.

Winebase, the Ultimate Cellar Management and Wine Reference Software.

wine travel guides France – Wine Travel Guides, comprehensive site.

wine cellar tracker – Cellartracker.

snooth wines – Snooth, American wine site.

vinogusto wines – Vinogusto, good source of information on French wines.

wine searcher – Wine Searcher. Find a wine, for both the United Kingdom and France.

London Wine Academy – London Wine Academy. Gift vouchers for courses and tasting events. Tel: 0845 555 1100.

Wine links

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