If you are reading this article, that means you must have enjoyed the first parts to Wine Labels 101. If you are interested in learning more about wine, without taking courses, the best way to do it is just by doing a little research and checking back with us for more informational articles like our Wine Labels 101 series.

Our last article touched on some basics of wine labels originating from Germany and Austria. Now that we've have gotten to that level, it might be safe to step things up a bit and go into French wine labels. From the viewpoint of a sommelier, this might be one of the labeling systems that keeps some of us in business the most. It might be one of the more confusing, but once you learn about why French wines are labeled the way they are, you can grasp the concept gradually.

For any of you who have approached the French wine section in your local wine shop, it may seem quite mind boggling. If any of you have yet to do so, I encourage you to give it a try, especially after reading this article. Unlike the California and US wine labels, there is not a lot of easily understandable information a French wine label. Sure, you can probably make out the name of the winery, the vintage year and alcohol percentage, but the remainder might as well be written in Latin. To help you understand why the labels are this way, here are some pointers:

France was one of the first countries in Europe to make wine for distribution to the royalty and nobility classes in England. Most wines were mainly distributed from the Bordeaux region thanks to its river systems leading to the sea, making for easy shipping to England. During the 12th century, it was the marriage of King Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine that started the wine trading, because of their demands for Bordeaux. The wine became very popular among the nobility, the only class allowed to consume wine at the time, and oftentimes, they would ask where it was from rather than what type of grape it was made from. What mattered for them the most was to get the wine from the region that made their favorite wines, hence the reason you will see the region or subregion written on the label instead of the grape varietal. i.e. St. Emilion, Pauillac, Margaux, Pessac-Leognan, etc.

By EU wine laws, there are only specific grapes that are permitted to be grown in each region. Other grapes are permitted to be grown, but these wines can never hope to reach any status in France for their wine classification system.

French Regions & Varietals

The main wine regions of France are: Bordeaux, Borgogna (Burgundy), Alsace, Jura, Champagne, Loire Valley, Rhone Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Beaujolais, Bergerac/Cahors and Savoie

The more common grapes grown traditionally and by EU law in each region are:


Red Grapes

White Grapes


Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot

Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc


Pinot Noir



Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier


Rhone Valley

Syrah, Grenache

Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne

Loire Valley

Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir

Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscadet


Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Picpoul


Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre

Rolle (Vermentino), Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne


Pinot Noir

Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer


Pinot Noir

Savagnin, Chardonnay








Now that you are a bit familiarized with the common grapes varietals of each region, you will be able to recognize the type of French wine you might be buying and its style. However, it should be noted that most or any wines of similar grapes from France and those from the US will be considerably different. Most wines from France are noted for more earthy nuances with fresh fruits rather than the big and bold fruity wines of most regions in the United States. But in saying that, trying wines from different parts of the world is a great way to discover each country’s tradition and unique winemaking culture.

French Wine Labels

Let’s have a closer look at wine labels from France.

Starting from "Corton-Charlemagne" ...

"Corton-Charlemagne" is the estate from where the wine was made. Skipping to "Beaune-France", it is one of the subregions of Burgundy. The subregions, just as they are in the US, are referred to as appellations. For reference, below is a map of the Burgundy wine region.

For this label alone, this map is only showing the top half of the Burgundy region. Beaune, while it is in the northern half, in general is mainly a production of Pinot Noir, however, Chardonnay is produced here. Obviously, by looking at the contents in the bottle, you could tell whether it is a white or red wine, but on the label above in the bottom right corner, you can see that it states ‘White Table Wine’.

Also on the label you will see ‘GRAND CRU - Appellation Controlee’. What does this mean?

All of the wines and wine regions of France fall under a certain hierarchy. A lot of their classification systems date back as far as Napoleon, with most of them instated by the man himself.

‘Grand Cru’ are wines that fall under a certain classification system in the highest ranking wine of France. So starting from the basics, for all of France you have this:

To break down the Cru classification system, you have this:

This is not to confuse you more, but to mainly give you an idea how it breaks down. Basically, "cru" wine is top wine, of quality, made of traditional and local standards and from specific grape varieties. A "cru" wine also refers to specific vineyards and very exact locations. It would be akin to finding a single vineyard wine from California of great quality and reputation. In saying this, it is not to offend any way, just a simple example of how the French rank their wines.

Back to the label above, you may see something in small print saying "Recolte, vinifie, lleve et mis en bouteilles par Louis Jadot.". This is stating who collected the grapes, made them into wine, aged and bottled the wine. It was done by Louis Jadot, who is the owner of the estate.

The region of Bordeaux is fairly familiar as is Champagne and other regions. Alsace is the most simple, but they have their cru hierarchy system as well.

That covers French wine labels. The best way to familiarize yourself with any of the labels of France of course, is to go out and purchase a bottle every once in a while. Immerse yourself for a few moments, find a map and remember the regional grapes of each region. From there you can really enjoy, appreciate and understand what is in the bottle.