Words You Find on French Wine Labels

By Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Part of French Wine For Dummies Cheat Sheet

A French wine label contains a lot of information, but you can crack the code and understand French wine once you know how to read the label. Here are some words you may find and what they mean:

Appellation . . . Contrôlée (AOC): The
word(s) appearing between these two words on the label indicate the
official place-name of the wine, the location where the grapes
grew.
grand cru: A region’s highest quality vineyard or
vineyard area
blanc de blancs (“white from whites”): A white
wine made from white grapes only. In particular, a Champagne made
exclusively with Chardonnay grapes.
grand vin: A winery’s best wine
blanc: White millésime: Vintage (year of the harvest)
brut: A dry sparkling wine mis en bouteille au château: Estate-bottled
château: A wine estate premier cru: A top vineyard area or wine estate, but
less prestigious than a grand cru
crémant: An AOC sparkling French wine from some
region other than Champagne
réserve: Suggests a better-quality wine, but
it’s an unregulated term that anyone can use for any
wine
cru: A vineyard, a village, or sometimes a wine
estate
rouge: Red
cuvée: A blend of wines, or a particular batch of
a wine
sec: Dry
domaine: Wine estate, usually a smaller property than a
château
vieilles vignes: Old vines, suggests better quality, but
it’s an unregulated term
extra dry: A sparkling wine that’s slightly
sweeter than brut
Vins Délimités de Qualité
Supérieure (VDQS):
A place-name wine that’s less
prestigious than an Appellation . . . Contrôlée
wine
grand cru classé: A wine estate that has
officially been classified as a top property
Vin de Pays: A French country wine; the words following
this phrase on the label indicate the zone where the grapes
grew.