French Wine Labels

I thought it might be a good idea for those of you who aren’t familiar with some of France’s wine laws to go over some basic rules and information regarding reading a French wine label. Every wine label is done by region not be varietal. I have below a breakdown of how to read a French label. I hope you find the information helpful. I am sure for some of you, it is redundant, but I want to make sure everyone is comfortable while we are tasting French wines.

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. Here is an example label to follow:

French Wine Label Terms:

Blanc White

Brut Dry

Cave Wine cellar

Château Estate – literally ‘castle’, but mostly refers to large country houses

Coopérative A co-operative or, more likely, a syndicate of wine growers

Côte/Coteaux Slope of a hill/hillsides

Crémant A style of sparkling wine other than Champagne

Cru Literally, ‘growth’ – denotes status of a winery or vineyard

Cru Classé Classified vineyard

Demi-sec Medium-dry

Domaine Estate

Doux Sweet

Grand cru Literally, ‘great growth’ – highest-quality wines

Méthode Traditionnelle Traditional method of sparkling winemaking, same as used for Champagne

Millésime Vintage

Mis en bouteille au château/domaine Bottled at the chateau/domaine

Négociant A merchant who buys grapes, juice or wine from growers and sells the wines under his own label

Premier Cru First growth

Propriétaire Estate or vineyard owner

Récoltant A grape grower – literally ‘harvester’

Rouge Red

Sélection de Grains Nobles Sweet wine made from botrytized grapes

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

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

Vendange Harvest

Vendange Tardive Late harvest (sweet wines)

Vieilles Vignes Old vines

Vigneron/Viticulteur Vine grower/grape grower

Vignoble Vineyard

Vin Wine