Thousands of people all over the world collect French wine, and the Bordeaux region tends to be the most sought-after region in France. If you are interested in collecting or drinking fine wine, it is essential that you learn how to read a Bordeaux wine label.
Unfortunately, a Bordeaux wine label might bear little resemblance to the labels you see from wines in the United States and other areas of the world. France has its own set of rules and regulations for bottling wine, and to an unpracticed eye it is often difficult to discern exactly what the wine label means.
The first thing you will likely see on a Bordeaux wine label is the vintage, which means the year in which most of the wine (at least 85 percent) was derived. The vintage of French wine is usually give in large letters either above or below the logo or name of the château.
The next thing you will usually see is the logo for the château on which the grapes were grown. In France, a château is a country estate and is usually the name of the vineyard as well. French wine connoisseurs can often tell which varietals are used in a particular bottle of wine just by looking at the name of the château.
Below the name or logo of the château will be the name of the appellation in which the grapes were grown. An appellation is a region of France, and there are dozens of these in wine country. For example, if the château is located in Haut-Médoc, you will see that in writing on Bordeaux wine label.
You might also see Appellation d’Origine Controlée on a Bordeaux wine label, or another French wine classification. This will tell the drinker about the level or grade of wine in the bottle, with the AOC being the highest level.
Sometimes on a Bordeaux wine label you will see the name of another estate or château. This second reference will usually be in smaller type, and often refers to the location at which the wine was bottled, which can be different from the château on which the grapes were grown.
The final thing you will see on a Bordeaux wine label is a description of the bottle’s contents. This usually includes the alcohol percentage by volume (e.g. 12.5%, 13%, etc.) and the volume of the bottle (e.g. 750 mL). This tells you how much liquid is in the bottle of French wine and the percentage of alcohol.
In the case of varietal French wines, you will often see the name of the varietal on the bottle (e.g. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon). However, you will usually not see this on a Bordeaux wine label if the wine is a blend of different varieties. In this case, you might have to conduct further research to determine which varieties are included.
It is, at first, difficult to read a Bordeaux wine label, but you will get better and faster as you familiarize yourself with the different châteaus and vintages. Before you know it, you will be able to spout copious information about a particular bottle of French wine after merely glancing at the label.
DavidStuff.com, Wine Labels
Stacey Metulynsky, How to Read a Wine Label, FoodTV.ca