Understanding French Wine: Part 2
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 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
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
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.