Lifestyle & Culture

Alice Verberne in France: How to read a French wine label like a connoisseur, Pt. 2

Editor’s note: This is Pt. 2 in a two-part tutorial meant to help you read a French wine label like a connoisseur. You can see Pt. 1 here with more details about the mysteries of French wine.)

Remember those milk cartons that printed photos of missing children on the packaging?

Well, sometimes, it seems like the French wine industry has a similar problem, except that their missing information is about what’s inside their wine bottle.

This photo of Crozes Hermitage label (which shows the location and the name of the producer, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (or in this case Appellation d’origine protégée) that sets standards, and that the wine was made and bottled by the producer. What it does not say is that the producer is a wine cooperative and not an estate. It is a very nice wine for the price, nonetheless.

The back label gives the purchaser (in French and English) all of the pertinent information needed in order to make a well informed selection: their website, that the region is Crozes-Hermitage in the Rhône and made with syrah grapes which would be ready to drink relatively soon but respects the terroir.  Additional information shows that the winmakers engage in a quality chart that develops durability in their growing practices.

By law the wine must list its alcohol content. In this case it is 14-percent alcohol (that could be cellared for some time).

Pro tip: The length of the cork indicates the wine could be cellared longer. It was long and made of solid, not composite cork.

Cheat sheet

If you like (choose your varietal) then shop for (the region listed below):

WHITES

If you like:

Sauvignon Blanc (grape variety), look for Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé

Note: the Loire Valley is the classic French region for Sauvignon Blanc

If you like:

Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc  (grape variety), look for Bordeaux Blanc

Key appellations are Entre-Deux-Mers, Graves, Pessac-Léognan

If you like:

Chardonnay (grape variety), look for Borgogne Blanc

Key appellations are Mâcon, Pouilly-Fuissé, Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Chablis

Note: Known for the finest chardonnay in the world, expensive high quality ones will be listed Premier Cru or Grand Cru

If you like:

Riesling  (grape variety), look for Alsace

Note: grape variety is typically listed on Alsace wines

REDS

If you like:

Syrah (grape variety), look for Northern Rhone

Note: key appellations are Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph

If you like:

Cabernet Sauvignon (grape variety), look for Bordeaux

Key appellations are Bordeaux, Médoc, Haute-Médoc, Graves, Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Emilion, Pomerol

Note: Bordeaux typically offers a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and to a lesser degree Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec (also known as Cot) in their blend.

If you like:

Pinot Noir (grape variety), look for Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy)

Key appellations are Côte de Beaune-Villages, Côte de Nuits-Villages, Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saints-Georges

Note: Driving through Burgundy is like reading a wine list. The appellations are so prolific. If it is red and from Burgundy, then rest assured, it is Pinot Noir.

If you like:

Gamay, look for Beaujolais

Shop by wine region in a French wine shop or grocery store.

The chart below lists each region’s most famous grape varieties:

Region: Alsace

Cepage: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewüztraminer (white)

Pinot Noir (red)

Region: Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Cepage: Pinot Noir (red), Chardonnay (white)

Region: Beaujolais

Cepage: Gamay

Region: Rhône

Cepage: Syrah, Grenache (red)

Region: Corsica (Corse)

Cepage: Red and Rosé blends

Region: Provence

Cepage: Rosé blends

Region: Languedoc-Roussillon

Cepage: Grenache, syrah and Carignan blends (red)

Region: Southwest

Cepage: Rosé blends, Malbec (red)

Region: Bordeaux

Cepage: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet franc and Merlot (red)

Region: Loire

Cepage: Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Chenin Blanc (white)

About the author:

Alice Verberne is a freelance artist and writer who purchased the École des Vatelottes in 1999. The historic building is located three hours southeast of Paris in the rural hilltop village of Bourmont, France. Her mission is to create an atelier as a meeting point to connect visitors to local artisans. She works as a consultant for GB Marketing Research Solutions writing feasibility studies for entrepreneurs.

See all of Alice’s posts here.

See more about France on Dispatches here.

See more posts about wine here.

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