How To Read A French Wine Label


Wine labels can often be confusing when buying or drinking wine. However by learning just a few keywords and numbers, you’ll be able to understand the essential information that tells you what’s in the bottle, where it comes from and who made it. Our goal at ELICITE is to remove the confusion surrounding fine wine, focusing on the key fact and the incredible stories of people that make it so fascinating. We sent our three explorers Diego, Cheba and Stephanie to France, the home of fine wine, to visit the regions of Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, to learn exactly how to understand wine labels. So I’m here in Bordeaux, and I’ve got to say I am full of questions. I’m here to meet as many experts as I can here in Burgundy. Let’s taste some Champagne and let’s meet the winemakers. All great wines have three key pieces of information written on their labels: Firstly the producer or simply put, who made the bottle of wine. It could be a brand Someone’s family name or the name of their estates or vineyards. Second, the year or vintage of the wine A vintage means that the wine is made from grapes only harvested within a single year So, if you see a specific year on the label, it means that all the grapes were picked in that year. The third key fact is the place from which the grapes have come from which might well differ from where the wine was actually made. All wines were state on the label the country in which they were produced, as well as the region within that country that the grapes have come from. Some countries such as France and Italy use a strict system of appellations to define where the grapes have come from. An appellation is simply a legally defined geographical area that is used to specify where wine grapes are grown. Appellations vary greatly in size though and may define a whole region such as Champagne, a small area of commune such as Pomerol near Bordeaux, or even a single vineyard like Romanée-Conti in Burgundy. We cover appellations in depth in The Essentials – ‘Understanding Appellations’ video Diego with very little knowledge about sparkling wine visited a number of Champagne houses to understand more about the specific terms on Champagne labels Diego caught up with Jean-Emmanuel Bonnaire who runs his family own labels Paul Clouet and Bonnaire with his brother, to understand why the vast majority of champagne produced doesn’t state a year or vintage on the label and is referred to as “NV” instead. NV means non-vintage You could also call it multiple vintage, because non-vintage means the wine is not coming from one single vintage, but it’s a blend of different vintages. Many champagne houses particularly the larger brands like Charles Heidsieck Create non-vintage champagne that is made to be consistent year after year and defines their house style. But, producers may also make non-vintage champagnes in years that don’t have good growing conditions. Some years my grapes have diseases. Or receive hail, some of my vineyards are not in a good spot. This is a backup There are some grapes I prefer to sell I have the cash to buy grapes in good spots in the village here It’s better in my blender than in someone else Diego also asked about the word Brut which is often written on Champagne labels This is a reference to the dosage of the wine It’s an addition of wine and sugar that you put at the end before to put the definitive cork which is the most common ones It means you have less than 12 grams of sugar per litre But you can also find extra brut which will be between zero and six and demi sec is very sweet champagne Champagne labels are relatively easy to understand because the whole of the Champagne region is actually a single appellation Some regions may have many different appellations which may all vary in size ranking and quality We sent Cheba to Burgundy which has over 80 appellations to discover other key information that may be on a wines label such as what type of producer made the wine Cheba went to visit Remoissenet to speak to their president and former right hand to famous wine critic Robert Parker – Pierre Rovani What is the word domain on a label signifying? So you’ll see a number of things on a label if it says domaine it means that the the wine is produced from vineyards that are owned and farmed by that estate. If you see the word chateau it has to do with There being an edifice that that is viewed as being a chateau Negociants are wineries that purchase either wine, must Which is unfermented grape juice or they purchase grapes. An increasing number of wine producers are proudly putting the word or symbol organic on their labels Stephanie found out from Nicolas Poumeyreau the vineyard manager Smith Haut Lafitte what it means to go organic? Nothing chemical nothing chemical right for me. That’s um, that’s a definition of it Organic nothing chemical, everything is natural. Once you’ve mastered the art of finding producer, appellation, and vintage on French wine labels Try deciphering the labels of wines from other countries, even the more complex ones will have these three vital pieces of information At the end of the day don’t be afraid of wine labels because they generally aren’t as complicated as you might think

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