You’re strolling through your favorite French shop a.k.a., CarefulPeach Boutique, when, you turn the corner and our new wine rack presents itself. Intrigued, you venture closer to take a peek at our expansive wine inventory, when a bottle catches your eye. Frustrated by the foreign language and deterred by no mention of anything you easily recognize (Cabernet? Merlot? Hello?) your insecurity quickly leads you to either a.) ask a a friendly and knowledgable Peach employee for assistance or b.) walk away empty handed or c.) choose a bottle based on how charming the label is.
Does this situation sound familiar? If so, here are some tips on how to decipher a French wine label and purchase French wine confidently.
First off, the key to decoding the French wine label is in understanding that these labels are based upon place, not varietal. For example, you can bet that red wine from Bordeaux is almost always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. This is because France has a long history of winemaking, and French vignerons (i.e., a person who cultivates grapes for winemaking) have spent centuries perfecting their vineyards—and there are stringent laws stipulating what grapes can be grown where. Yet there is no need to worry about this in order to start enjoying Bordeaux or other wine from different regions in France. Each region will have its own distinct character that you can become familiar with and enjoy over time.
How might you become familiar? Well, besides reading our blog on French wine, we host a monthly Noble Grapes event. You really don’t want to miss this fun and educational gathering! Guests have an opportunity to sample and learn about different grape varietals from one of our resident wine experts! We also provide delicious food pairings at each event carefully matched to the evening’s grape. In fact, our Pinot Noir event is on Wednesday, September 27th at 7:00. For more information, check out our Facebook page or call the shop!
Anyway, for now, we’ll break down the basics the of the French wine label:
The vintage indicates the year the grapes have been harvested. In the example bottle (see above), the vintage year is 2000. Most Old World (FYI: Old World wine refers primarily to wine made in Europe) wines include the vintage, the exception to this rule is Champagne, where non-vintage (NV) wines are the norm.
Most often, the name of the producer or winery is prominently displayed on the label. In France, the word Château or Domaine often precedes the name of the actual winery. In the example above, the producer is Joseph Drouhin, a prominent Burgundian producer.
French wines and wine labels are controlled by a wine classification system called Appellation d’Origine Protégée or AOP. AOP is essentially a hierarchical system of rules and regulations that determine where the wines are produced, what they are made of and their level of quality. Generally speaking, the more specific the region is, the higher the rank.
4. Quality Designations
In our example bottle, the grapes were harvested from a Grand Cru vineyard. The term Grand Cru refers to the classification of a vineyard known for maintaining a consistent reputation year after year for producing quality wines.
The standard abbreviation for Alcohol by Volume, and is an indicator of how light or heavy a wine might be in terms of concentration. In France, expect the ABV to be well under 14%.
6. Mis en Bouteille au Château
This is a useful term indicating that the wine has been bottled at the Château (i.e., a winery). If this term is not on the label, one can assume that it’s a blend (not a single grape varietal) that has been assembled by a négociant (FYI: A négociant is the French term for a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under their own name).
Now that you have a better understanding of the French wine label, stop in the shop, and check out our tremendous assortment of French wines. Also, mention this blog post, and get 15% off your wine purchase!