This week is part one of a series on How to Read Wine Labels. We will start out with how to read an Old World wine label. There are some items that are “must haves” on each wine bottle label: Items such as type of wine, i.e. Cabernet, Burgundy, Merlot, etc. You will also find the alcohol level (ABV), the region the wine was produced in, the winery or producer of the wine and some wineries are now listing the blend of grape varieties. That is something I try and do on our labels, or at least list where the grapes came from.
Let us take a look at French wine labels first. The French have very strict laws on what information can be put on a wine label. These strict laws are generally known as AOC Laws. AOC is the acronym for Appellation d’Origine Controlee, which simply means “controlled designation of origin.”
All French wines fall into one of four categories or classifications. The levels run from the highest quality to the lowest. The levels are:
Appellation d’Origine Controlee
The Controlled Designation of Origin is the highest level of quality of French winemaking. The designation (AOC) is given to wines that are produced in certain certified AOC regions in France.
Vin De Limite de Qualite Superieure
Delimited Wine of Superior Quality (VDQS) regions are the second level of wines produced in France.
Vin de Pays
Vin de Pays (VDP) are known as country wine. This is France’s third level of wine and is generally purchased in the domestic market. This wine is not generally used for exporting.
Vin De Table
Vin de Table (VDT) wines are the lowest quality wine produced in France.
Wine labels have a lot of information on them and may not always tell you all of the information that you might want. For example, like how does the wine taste? However, if you understand the meanings of the various categories on the label you will have a good understanding of what you are buying and how it might taste.
Basic Parts to a Wine Label:
Let us start at the top of the label and work our way down by the various items listed. I am using a French wine label as an example. The labels tend to change from region to region. I am using a Bordeaux label in this example:
- Bottling location: At the very top of most Bordeaux labels you will find the location of bottling.
- Estate: what winery produced the wine, for example, it might be Chateau Margaux, or Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
- Type of Wine: such as Grand Cru or Grand Vin, etc.:
- Grand Cru is the very highest and normally the best wine classification of all wines in Burgundy and Champagne.
- Premier Cru can represent several different meanings, such as a specific vineyard (which you generally find on Burgundy labels of great quality) or it can also represent the highest level of quality within the Grand Cru classification.
- Grand Vin is a classification used in Bordeaux to indicate the best wine the Chateau produces. They also may have a second and third label at varying price levels
- Vintage or the year of production
- Classification is which wine classification does the wine fall into such as the ones listed in item 3 above
- Alcoholic Content
- Region the wine was produced from (such as Margaux, etc.)
- Bottle size (such as 750ml)
- Appellation or Controlee
- Producer or winery that produces the wine
Let’s now discuss the various French wine regions and the wines and grapes used in each.
Bordeaux wines are some of the finest and most expensive wines produced in France.
The primary red grapes are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. What is referred to as a Right Bank Bordeaux wine is produced using Merlot as its dominant grape. While the Left Bank Bordeaux wine is produced using Cabernet Sauvignon as its dominant grape in the red Bordeaux. If you would like to know more about Bordeaux wines, read this article from a previous blog.
Burgundy is one of France’s wine making regions. Similar to Bordeaux, Burgundy has a reputation for producing some of France’s highest quality wine. As in Bordeaux, the wines can be very pricey. The primary grapes used are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay. If you would like to know more about Burgundy wines, read this article from a previous blog.
The Alsace wine region is influenced by German winemaking practices. The primary grapes are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Muscat.
The Rhone Valley is located in southern France and is one of France’s warmest wine making regions. The primary grapes grown are Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier.
The Lorie Valley wine region is situated along the Lorie River and produces a variety of red and white wines. The primary grapes produced are Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne.
Unfortunately, not all Old World wine labels are laid out the same or have all of the same information listed on them. However, if you understand some of the words used on a wine label (French in this case), you will be better able to understand what the label means. According to Winefolly.com and Wine-searcher.com these are some of the common words and their meanings:
- Château – a winery or estate
- Côtes – wine from a slope or hillside
- Cru – translates to “growth” and indicates a vineyard or group of vineyards that are recognized for quality
- Cuvée – a specific wine/blend
- Grand Cru – translates to great growth and is used in Burgundy and Champagne to distinguish the region’s best vineyards
- Premiere Cru – translates to “First Growth” and is used in Burgundy and Champagne to distinguish the region’s second best vineyards
- Vieille Vignes – old vines
I hope the next time you intend to purchase a French wine or any Old World wine this information will help you make the best decision you can on what wine to purchase.
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Look Forward to These Happy Things: Upcoming LEX 530 Events!
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Friday, November 20, 2020
Important Wine Holidays
November 7 – International Merlot Day
November 12 – International Tempranillo Day
November 18 – International Zinfandel Day
December 4 – Cabernet Franc Day
December 20 – National Sangria Day
December 31 – National Champagne Day