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French Wine Label Information

France has a complex and well-established array of wine laws. Most of these apply nationally, but some are region-specific. Understanding French wine labels requires a basic knowledge of France's wine terminology and laws. Below is an example label, and below that an explanation of French wine classifications. For comprehensive information about France and its wines, see France.

The three official tiers of French wine quality classification:

  • AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) indicates the geographical origin, quality and (generally) the style of a wine. For example, Burgundy's regional AOC Bourgogne Blanc covers more than 300 parishes, and denotes dry white wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris. By contrast, AOC Romanee-Conti Grand Cru covers just four acres of top-quality vineyard and denotes dry red wines made exclusively from Pinot Noir. The Europe-wide equivalent of AOC is AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée). All Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines fall into the AOC category.
    • Grand Cru is the very highest classification of French wine. The term can refer to a wine in one of two ways, either a) the plot of land where the grapes are grown or b) the chateau at which the wine is made. The former applies most famously in Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne (but is also used in Languedoc and the Loire Valley). The latter is exclusive to Bordeaux.
    • Premier Cru denotes either 1) a vineyard plot (most often in Burgundy) of superior quality, or 2) the very highest tier within a Grand Cru classification (such as the 'Premier Grand Cru Classé' chateaux of Bordeaux).
  • Vin de Pays means 'wine of the land', although it is often translated as 'country wine'. Its Europe-wide equivalent is IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée). This category focuses on geographical origin rather than style and tradition, and gives winemakers greater stylistic freedom than AOC. Vin de Pays was introduced in the 1970s, and by the year 2000 there were more than 150 individual VDP titles, covering about a quarter of French wine production. For comprehensive information about these, see Vin de Pays - IGP.
  • Vin de France replaced the outdated Vin de Table category in 2010, but remains the most basic quality tier for French wine. This is the least regulated (and least used) of the three categories; Vin de France wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in France, but their labels do not mention a specific region of origin. Vintage and grape variety statements are optional. See Vin de France.

French Wine Label Terms
BlancWhite
BrutDry
CaveWine cellar
ChâteauEstate - literally 'castle', but mostly refers to large country houses
CoopérativeA co-operative or, more likely, a syndicate of wine growers
Côte/CoteauxSlope of a hill/hillsides
CrémantA style of sparkling wine other than Champagne
CruLiterally, 'growth' - denotes status of a winery or vineyard
Cru ClasséClassified vineyard
Demi-secMedium-dry
DomaineEstate
DouxSweet
Grand cruLiterally, 'great growth' - highest-quality wines
Méthode TraditionnelleTraditional method of sparkling winemaking, same as used for Champagne
MillésimeVintage
Mis en bouteille au château/domaineBottled at the chateau/domaine
NégociantA merchant who buys grapes, juice or wine from growers and sells the wines under his own label
Premier CruFirst growth
PropriétaireEstate or vineyard owner
RécoltantA grape grower - literally 'harvester'
RougeRed
Sélection de Grains NoblesSweet wine made from botrytized grapes
SupérieurWine with higher (superior) alcohol content as a result of being made from riper grapes
VDQSVin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure, a mid-level classification used between 1949 and 2012.
VendangeHarvest
Vendange TardiveLate harvest (sweet wines)
Vieilles VignesOld vines
Vigneron/ViticulteurVine grower/grape grower
VignobleVineyard
VinWine

See also wine label information for the European Union, Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, Australia and the USA.

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