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Understanding French Wine: Part 2

French corks

Question from Pippa: I want to get into French wine but I’m overwhelmed by the wine label and have no idea what it all means. Do you have any helpful tips to understanding French wine?

 In nut shell: In my last post (Part 1), I looked at the Appellation d’Original Contrôlée system (if you have no idea what I’m walking about you need to read this blog post first). This week I’ll look at everything else you need to know when understanding French wine and a French wine label. This week will be much more straight forward than last week I promise but I can’t summarise it in a nut shell. You’re going to have to read the clam shell, sorry.

In a clam shell: So now we understand what Appellation d’Original Contrôlée means we can look at everything else that will confuse you when trying to pick a French wine.

Appellation XXX Contrôlée (AOC): The words that appear between Appellation and Contrôlée indicate where the wine comes from. To be awarded an AOC classification strict rules must be followed e.g. the place the grapes are grown, the grape varieties used, the methods used for growing and making the wine and more. Click here for a little more on Appellation d’Original Contrôlée.

Beaujolais: Red wine made from the Gamay grape in Beaujolais, France

Biologique: Organic wine

Blanc: White

Blanc de Blancs: A Champagne or sparking wine made from 100% Chardonnay grapes

Blanc de Noirs: A Champagne or sparking wine made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes.

Bordeaux (red): Red wine made from either the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc grapes in the Bordeaux region of France

Bordeaux (white): White wine made from either the Sauvignon Blanc and/or Sémillon grapes in the Bordeaux region of France

Burgundy (red): Red wine made from the Pinot Noir grape in the Burgundy region of France

Burgundy (white): White wine made from the Chardonnay grape in the Burgundy region of France

Brut: A dry sparkling with 0-12 grams of sugar

Château: A large vineyard. This term is used mostly in Bordeaux

Chablis: Chardonnay from the town of Chablis, France

Côtes du Rhône:Red wine made from either the Grenache, Syrah and/or Mourvèdre grapes in the Rhône Valley, France

Cuvée: A blend of different grape varieties or grapes from different regions

Cuvée de prestige: The very best wine a vineyard produces

Crémant: What the French call sparkling wine. Bubbles from anywhere in France, other than Champagne

Cru: A vineyard, a village or a wine estate

Demi-Sec: A slightly sweet sparkling with 32-50 grams of sugar

Domaine: A wine estate, usually smaller than a Château

Doux: A super sweet sparkling with 50+ grams of sugar

Grand Cru Classé: The best vineyard in the region

Grand vin: The wineries best wine

Millésime: Vintage date

Mise en bouteille au château/domaine: Estate bottled

Non-Vintage (NV): A blend of several different years of wine done to create consistency year after year. You’ll see this often on a bottle of Champagne.

Petit Chablis: An unoaked zesty Chardonnay from grapes grown in villages surrounding Chablis. The cheapest Chablis you can buy

Pouilly-Fuissé: Chardonnay from Pouilly-Fuissé in France

Pouilly-Fumé: Sauvignon Blanc from Pouilly-Fumé in France

Premier Cru Classé: The second best vineyard in the region. Pretty bloomin’ great but not as good as Grand Cru Classé

Regional wines: These wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in the region. Not as good as Grand Cru Classé, Premier Cru Classé or Village wines. The cheapest of the bunch.

Réserve: Indicates a better quality wine but the term is unregulated and can be used on any bottle

Rouge: Red

Rosé: A pink wine made from black grapes. The grape juice stays in contact with the skin (which is where the colour comes from) for a much shorter time than it does for red wine, which creates a lighter wine.

Supérieur: Indicates a higher degree of alcohol

Sec: Dry

Sancerre: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, France

Sur lie: Wine aged on dead yeast cells left behind after fermentation which adds creamy texture and savoury flavours

Vieilles vignes: Old vines (which produce less fruit of higher quality)

Village wines: Wine named after a town near where they grapes came from. For Village wines the rules aren’t as strict as Grand Cru Classé or Premier Cru Classé. Think third best wines from the region.

Vin de paille: Wine made from dried grapes

Vin de Pays: Wine produced in a particular area that does not abide by the rules of the Appellation d’Original Contrôlée system and therefore cannot be awarded appellation credentials

Vin de Table: Cheap table wine made from grapes sourced from anywhere in France.

Vintage: The year the grapes were picked.




2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lauren #

    Yay!!!! Thanks Jo! Glad it’s helped! Now drink up.

    September 6, 2014
  2. Jo #

    Lauren, this is fantastic! I have this and the previous post stored in my phone for the next time I’m wandering aimlessly around the international wine section with no idea what to buy. This blog rocks!

    September 5, 2014

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