Friday, January 17, 2020

Deciphering French Wine Labels #Winophiles


This month, our first of 2020, Jeff of Food Wine Click! asked the French Winophiles to write pieces that would fall into the categories of French Wine 101 or Introducing a Friend to French Wine. You can read his invitation here.

If you're reading this early enough, feel free to jump online for our live Twitter chat. We start at 8am, Saturday, January 18th. Follow the hashtag #Winophiles and be sure to include that if you chime in so we can see your tweet. In the meantime, check out the articles from the group. These will go live from Friday, January 17th through Saturday morning before the chat.


Deciphering French Wine Labels

I'll be honest: one of the biggest things holding me back from buying more French wine - at least in the beginning - was my confusion at the labels. Since I've learned more about the terms, it's much less daunting. So, I figured that I would give you a quick rundown on French wine labels for this first event of 2020. First, you might see: Vin. That one is easy; it just means 'wine.' Second, Produit de France is also an easy one; it is a literal translation of 'product of France.'

Now I'll jump into definitions for the majority of terms you are going to find when you read French wine labels. These will help you understand the 'when' (year), 'where' (AOC), 'who' (Château or Domaine), and 'what' (varietal).

When

 Année. This means 'year' in French and refers, as with the same information on other wines, to the year in which the grapes were grown and harvested. For the bottle above - Domaine Illaria Irouleguy - you can clearly see the '2016.'

Where

Appellation or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This is the area in which the grapes were grown. The bottle above - Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay - is from the Mâcon-Villages, an appellation for dry white wines produced in selected communes of the Mâconnais wine area of southern Burgundy.

Who

Château. This means 'house' or 'manor' in French and refers to the estate where the wine was produced. For the bottle above, it was produced by Château Lamothe de Haux.


Domaine. Similar to Château, also refers to the place where the wine was made. You can see this one was from Domaine de Verquière.

What

The label might give you the varietal so you know what kind of grapes were used to make the wine. You can see that the Domaine Poli Niellucciu Rosé is 100% Niellucciu grapes.


It might give you the breakdown of the blend. So you can see the Domaine de Verquière AOP Rasteau 2015 and 2017 were both 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah.


The label might also have a color designation, including: Blanc – White wine; Blanc Sec – Dry White wine; Brut – Dry wine; Demi Sec – Medium/half Dry; Rosé – Pink wine; Rouge – Red wine, etc. The two bottles on the left in the photograph above - a Crémant de Bourgogne and a Crémant de Loire - are both Brut Rosé, so both dry pink wines.

More Information

You can discern other things from the label, but the terms above, in my mind, give you enough information to know what is in the bottle. These just give you more information!


Côte. Which you can see on the bottle above – Côte de Brouilly - means 'slopes' or 'hillsides' in French. Confusingly enough, Cote or Côte is a French word that has many meanings and variations depending on the context in which it is used. Without the accent, it simply means 'side' while with the accent, it can mean 'coast' in addition to the hillside or slope.

Mis en Bouteille. This indicates that the wine was bottled at the estate itself, but it literally means 'placed in the bottle.' In the photograph of the Domaine Illaria Irouleguy, you can read 'mis en bouteille au domaine' which means it was 'bottled at the estate.'


Vieilles Vignes. Just means 'Old Vines' in French and you can clearly see that on the bottle above - La  Lôyane 2016.

You might also see Centenaire (produced from grapes grown on vines more than a century old); Millésime (vintage in which the grapes were harvested and is synonymous with 'Année' or year);

'Cooperative' indicates that a group or syndicate of growers pooled or mixed their grapes; 'vendage' means harvest; 'vigneron' is the owner or grape grower; 'vignoble' is the vineyard; and then there are all of the terms surrounding the crus. More on that later.

I hope that this brief rundown of terms has bolstered your confidence in how to read a French wine label. It's not that tough when you get the hang of it. I hope you'll give it a go and drink some French wine soon. Cheers! Next month I will be hosting the group as we turn our focus on indigenous or godforsaken grapes of France. Stay tuned for more information on that.

5 comments:

  1. This is a useful glossary to often confusing French terms. The photos are helpful, too.

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  2. Great information Cam. Those labels certainly can be intimidating when you are new to French wines.

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  3. Great way to peel the onion of French wine labels!

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  4. Thanks for this overview of French wine labels. So confusing if you don't know French but what you explained above makes it easier!

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  5. Useful run down on French terms to help deciphering those French labels.

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