Sacrebleu, A French Wine Label!

How To Read A French Wine Label

My friend, Gerard, is French. He’s been in the U.S. for over thirty years now. But his accent is as thick as it was when he moved here, to the point that when I don’t see him for some time I can’t understand him. One thing I can understand is his love for a good Bourgogne, being that he is from Dijon. In case that is all French to you, Bourgogne is the same as Burgundy, which is famous for both its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Gerard doesn’t say sacrebleu, though. He merely looks at me like I’m an idiot when I say it.

Reading a Bourgogne label or any French wine label can be difficult and confusing what with the varying regulations and restrictions per wine region. I’m going to go through each major wine region of France and show you what information you can gleam from a French wine label.

Here’s the link discussing Old World Wine Labels if you missed it.

And here’s a nice vid on the subject:

And here’s the link to How To Read A New World Wine Label.

From our discussion on Old World wine labels you learned that wines fall into two main categories: table and quality, and that within those two categories are two subcategories: wine without a specified region and wine with a loosely specified region for table wines and lower ad higher status wines for quality wines.

For French wines, the system looks like this:

    Table Wine
  • No Specific Geography: called Vin de Table pronounced van-duh-TAHBL-uh meaning ‘table wine’.
  • Loosely Specified Geography: called Vin de Pays pronounced van-duh-payEE or ‘country wine’.
    QWpsr (Quality Wines produced in specific regions)
  • Lower Status: Vin Délimité de Qualité Supériere (VDQS) pronounced van-duh-LIM-E–tay-duh KA-ley-TAY sue-PEE-ree-or or ‘delimited wine of superior quality’.
  • Higher Status: Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) pronounced ah-pell-ah-see-ON-cohn-troll-LAY meaning ‘controlled name of origin’. Has four subcategories of its own.
Learn how to read a Vin de Table wine label! Vin de Table

With Vin de Table wines, the grapes used in production can come from anywhere in France. There is no need for a vintage date or varietal designation. Vin de Table is printed on the label.

Vin de Pays

Vin de Pays are glamorized Vin de Tables and account for about 25% of French wine production. You’ll see Vin de Pays clearly on the label, either on the front or back, and the varietal may be listed. There are about 6 Vin de Pays regions in France, the largest being Vin de Pays d’Oc in Languedoc-Roussillon; the second coming out of the Loire Valley as in Vin de Pays du Jardin du France.

Learn how to read a Vin de Pays wine label!

Vin Délimité de Qualité Supériere (VDQS)

There aren’t many VDQS in production, maybe 1% and few if any make it outside of France as this designation usually means the wine is in transition of becoming an AOC wine. Though the winemaking methods of VDQS wines are controlled and monitored, the varietal cannot be listed on the label.

Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)
AOC wines account for half the wines produced in France and are strictly regulated. These regulations vary from appellation to appellation but the similarities are that they each have delimited areas of production, meaning they have clearly marked boundaries of production, they have prescribed grape varieties, minimum alcohol levels and maximum yields per acre. Except in Alsace, grape variety is not identified on the label.

AOC regulation has been the guideline for most European appellation labeling laws, especially those laws developed by the European Union.

AOC regulations define wines by Regions, Districts, Villages and Vineyards or Crus.
Learn about AOC wine regions!

Here are the more recognized wine appellations of France and accompanying wine labels:


Learn how to read a Bordeaux wine lable!

For Bordeaux wines the name of the chateau indicates its quality, as does the appellation. Vintage year is of particular importance as well. In the above wine label, 2002 marks the vintage, a decent year for left bank Bordeaux production. Left and right bank Bordeaux is another topic.


Where the name of the chateau is a factor of quality in Bordeaux, the vineyard is the quality indicator in Burgundy and is the most prominent name on the label. Savigny les Beaune then would be the vineyard on the Burgundy below. The red Burgundy wine in the bottle would be Pinot Noir.

Learn how to read a Burgundy wine label!


AOC wines from Alsace are the only AOC wine allowed to list the grape varietal on the label. Lesser Vin de Pays do this as mentioned before, so don’t confuse the two.

Learn how to read an Alsace wine label!

In the next post, I’ll go over Italian wine labels. Italy has as extensive regulations as France and Italian wine labels can be just as confusing to understand. But with the ease that you learned how to read a French wine label, so shall you with Italian wine labels.

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