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What's in the Bottle?
How to read a French wine label
Most place-named European wines like Bordeaux or Burgundy leave people who are new to wine guessing at what grape is in the bottle. However, each of those regions have strict rules about what grapes can be used in wines that carry the place name. Here is a quick guide to what grapes can be used in some, just some, of the major regional appellations in France. And by comparison, France is easy... Italy and Spain are so complicated that they will have to wait for another day.
Alsace: The region of France where reason prevails. Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir are all labeled varietally. Perhaps because it was once part of Germany where they have always named their wines for the grape in the bottle.
Bordeaux: Red Bordeaux is generally made from a blend of grapes. Permitted grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and rarely Carménère. White Bordeaux most commonly of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Other permitted grape varieties are Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondenc and Mauzac.
Burgundy: The red wines of Burgundy are exclusively made from Pinot Noir grapes and the white wines from Chardonnay grapes. Beaujolais: Beaujolais is formally part of the Burgundy wine region, but wines from those subregions are usually referred to by their own names and are made primarily from the Gamay grape.
Cahors: The dominant grape variety in AOC Cahors wines is Malbec, which must make up a minimum of 70% of the wine. It is supplemented by up to 30% Merlot and Tannat.
Champagne: Champagne including Rosé wines, can be made from a blend of three grapes, although Blanc de Blanc ("white from white") is made from 100% Chardonnay and Blanc de Noir ("white from black") is made solely from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a mix of the two.
Côtes du Rhône: Red and Rosé wines are made from Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, Counoise and Mourvèdre grapes varieties. A maximum of 20% white varieties may be used in the rosés. All reds grown south of Montélimar must contain a minimum of 40% Grenache, and may contain up to 5% white grapes.
Châteauneuf du Pape: Winemakers here have a very wide variety of grapes to choose from but, truth be known, the reds are still primarily Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Red varieties allowed are Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne.
Hermitage & St. Joseph: The only red wine grape allowed by AOC law to be planted in Hermitage and St. Joseph is Syrah. Marsanne and Roussanne are the only two white wine grapes allowed to be planted in the appellation as well.
Madiran: The main grape variety in Madiran AOC is Tannat, which must make up 40-60% of the vineyard, and it is supplemented by Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Fer (locally also called Pinenc) Some of the appellation's top wines are in fact made from 100% Tannat; this is within AOC regulations.
Sancerre: According to AOC regulations, only Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are permitted as AOC classified Sancerre wine. While Sauvignon Blanc represents the vast majority of the area's production, Pinot Noir can account for anywhere from 1/5 to 1/6 of annual production depending on the vintage.
Vouvray: The Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is dedicated almost exclusively to Chenin Blanc though the obscure and minor grape Arbois is permitted but rarely used.
August 17, 2016