Reading a French wine label can be a challenge for those used to New World wines such as those from California, where the grape variety and vintage is usually clearly indicated. Here is some key information on French wine labels to help you better understand what is inside the bottle.
In France, the grape variety is usually not included on the wine label. Instead, the label will usually indicate the name of the wine bottler, the region or vineyard where the wine was produced, and the French quality classification.
A French wine label might include some of the following information:
Each region in France has strict guidelines on the types of wine grapes that can be grown, so the wine appelation listed gives an indication of the wine variety. For example, in the Burgundy region of France only the Pinot Noir grape is grown, so if the wine label indicates Burgundy and it is a red wine, you know it is Pinot Noir.
For more information on French wine types and wine regions, check out this overview of French wine.
All French wines are classified by a quality system that was put in place early last century. These are the four categories, from most basic to highest quality:
In addition to these national classifications, each of the ten wine regions in France has its own classifications. For example, in Bordeaux and Burgundy wines are classified as cru bourgeois, cru classé, premier cru, grand cru, grand cru classé and premier grand cru classé. Generally, looking for a premier cru or grand cru wine can be a good indicator of quality, but there is plenty of excellent, more value-priced wines to be had at the lower classifications also.
For more information on French wine, take a look at this article on French wine and wine regions.