De-Mystifying the label

From our many years selling wine in retail, we understand that customers can be confused by French wine labels. For example, they may have heard about Chablis or Sancerre being a good wine or even tried it and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, on many occasions, they don’t know anything about the wine or what it means on the label when it says, Chablis Premier Cru. They are in fact surprised when we tell them that Chablis is only made from Chardonnay.

We know that there are lots of wine buffs out there who are extremely knowledgeable, but if you want to learn a bit more then read on…

What is AOC/AOP?

In 1937, France introduced a system called Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée/Protégée (AOC/AOP). In short, this is a controlled appellation designed to structure geographically based names. This is not just limited to wines but also spirits like Calvados, Armagnac, and many foods such as cheese and butter. With wine production, controls are very stringent and producers have to adhere to certain regulations such as what grape varieties can be grown and utilised, minimum alcohol level, ageing requirements, alcoholic strength, and even vineyard planting density.

Reading a French wine label is like a puzzle. Once you’ve solved it, you can hopefully buy wine with a bit more confidence. We would suggest the website/books by Wine Folly that simplify the wine jargon with quirky diagrams and pictures. The French wine world is vast and can be quite bamboozling at first but breaking it down by region would be a start. We will also regularly blog about different wine regions, countries, varieties, and producers, so please check back into our blog when you can.

Here are a few terms we get asked most frequently about on a label:


AC or Appellation Controlee – e.g Appellation Chablis Premier Cru Controlee  – As I have explained above, this is France’s strictest classification. If the wine is produced in Sancerre, then the label will say, Appellation Sancerre Controlee.

  • The wine can only be produced in the village of Sancerre within its boundaries.
  • The only grape variety allowed is Sauvignon.
  • Reds or Roses are made with Pinot Noir.

Premier Cru or Grand Cru – is a specialist vineyard in the classification system that produces top-ranking wine. Burgundy is a good example here as it was widely known that there was a huge variation in quality between different vineyards plots, also known as climats. The best quality plots are called Grand Cru or Premier Cru within the appellation.

The name of the vineyard will always be on the label too, like Vaucoupin, Vaillons, or Vaudesir.

Vendange or Vendange Tardive – Vendange literally means harvest. Vendange Tardive, in France, is late harvest and this is restricted to Alsace where late harvesting certain grapes to produce sweet wines.

Vins de Pays (IGP) – Everyday French wine, where there are fewer restrictions on the wine produced and more grape varieties are allowed.

Although some wines have this designation, it does not indicate lower quality. Quite the opposite in many cases. Some producers experiment using grapes in a region where the classification does not allow them and discover that the wine produced is absolutely brilliant. Some of the Consolation wines from Andy Cook are Vin de Pays and we cannot recommend them more highly. To find out more, take a look here.

Cepage – Grape Variety

Vielles Vignes – French for ‘old vines’. The term is used on labels to encourage customers to associate vine age with wine quality. This may not always be the case but vine age can definitely make a difference in some wines.

Our French Summer White Wine Recommendations

Here are some classic white wines from different regions around France. Give them a try and see what you like.


Sancerre Domaine Henry Natter 2019

Matured in large, old oak barrels for 6 months, the wine has a lovely richness and extra body without any real oak flavour. It is loaded with citrus, stone fruit, blackcurrant leaf along with typical green fruit and fresh mineral notes. It’s defined by its texture, roundness in the palate and persistent length.

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Chablis Domaine Seguinot Bordet 2019

This Chablis is crisp, pure and mineral, with lovely texture and balance. Beautiful scented peach and apricots flavours sit behind the fresh apple and floral notes. The wine has fantastic vigour and is the perfect accompaniment to Scottish shellfish.

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Pouilly - Fume

Pouilly Fume Domaine Sebastien Treuillet 2019

Sebastien Treuillets Pouilly Fume is a wonderful example of the classic dry, flinty Sauvignon Blanc based wine. It has great depth and a tangy mineral complexity which is wrapped around the zippy green fruit. It’s the perfect wine to partner Scottish seafood.

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Vire-Clesse 'Harmonie' Domaine de la Verpaille

The 2019 Vire Clesse ‘Harmonie'is made from 100% Chardonnay grown on the south east hillsides of Vire-Clesse in southern Burgundy. It is a charming, rich and captivating wine that is packed full of ripe and candied fruits, dried apricots, peace and a touch of exoticism. This intense bouquet is complemented on the palate with fresh citrus, orange and hints of toffee. The finish is perfectly balanced with freshness and lasting richness. It is the ideal wine for Burgundy lovers to get their Burgundy fix at a decent price.

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Roussanne 'Juliette' Consolation 2018

Consolation ‘Juliette’ is a benchmark example of the excellent and overlooked Roussanne grape. The grapes are picked super ripe and handled reductively to retain varietal aromas and freshness, then barrel fermented in oak barrels. There is a honeyed note to the stone fruit aromas in this wine, with peach and nectarine, but overlaid by soft cashew and delicate herbs and spices. It is a full bodied, dry and textured wine that is delicious with roast chicken.

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Picpoul del Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet Domaine de Belle Mare

Domaine de Belle Mare is a lovely estate located between Meze and Marseillan, near Montpellier in southern France.This Picpoul is a brilliant example of this classic Languedoc white wine. Wonderfully dry and fresh in the mouth with citrus, lemon and grapefruit fruit flavours. There is a saline, mineral touch, zippy mouthfeel and a tangy finish. Wonderful wine as an aperitif, lazy summer afternoons or with shellfish.

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Saumur Blanc

Saumur Blanc Lieu Dits 2019

Saumur Blanc Lieu-dit 'Les Pouches' is a bargain 100% Chenin Blanc from the Saumur region of the Loire Valley. The Les Pouches vineyard is North-East of Montreuil-Bellay and has a lovely southerly exposure. The wine has an immediate, intense nose of peaches, lemon zest, and fresh grapefruit. It’s a delicious summer fruit salad that is perfect as an aperitif or with chicken

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Chateau La Verriere Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Chateau La Verriere Bordeaux Blanc is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and is a lovely expression of this ever popular grape variety. There is a lovely fresh maritime feel to the wine behind the exotic green fruit and fleshy peaches. In the glass, the wine has amazing aromatics which follow through on to the palate which is crisp, gentle and fruit dominated. This wine makes an excellent accompaniment to Scottish seafood.

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Meyer Fonne Gentil 2019

Meyer Fonne’s Gentil is a beautiful blend of aromatic white grapes dominated by the noble varieties of Riesling and Muscat along with Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer. It has a fresh and grapey nose with delightful aromatics and the citrus lime character of the Riesling in the background. It is a very versatile wine to pair with fish.

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