IF you have ever stood in front of a row of wine bottles and wondered how to read the different labels, then today's podcast is for you.
Listen to Jean-Marc's hints and tips on what to look out for and please feel free to leave any comments at the end of this article.
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Below is a translation of the show:
Understanding a wine label
Dear wine lovers,
A lot of people have asked me to explain to them how to read a French wine 'étiquette'.
Well...it is not that easy and maybe one of the reasons French wines have this image of being too complicated to understand.
The truth is that our Controlled Origin Appellation (AOC) relies on terroir more and excludes mentionning grape varieties. Besides all the different AOC which have their own grape varieties that you will hopefully understand better reading french wine a day, what you really want to care about is the difference between two important things :
1 : The quality of the wines in an area supposedly given by AOC for the best, VDP ("Vin de Pays") for wines that don't fit with AOC requirements and VDT (Vin de Table) for the ones that don't fit with AOC and VDP.
Not to complicate things, but there are a few exceptions that confirm the rule with some VDP that are much better than some AOC in the same area. Most of the time, these wines are VDP just because they did not want to conform to the local standards with grape varieties.
2 : The wine owner. When the label says 'Château' or 'Domaine', it is most of the time a private Estate which means that the vines are owned and that the wine is coming from these vines. Then you have the 'Coopérative' or 'Cellier' which is a gathering of many small vine owners that have a common place for the wine making.
Most of the time, that means lots of volume and an average quality but once again there are exceptions... For both Châteaux and Coops, the wine is mostly bottled at the Estate, which is a quality factor. At last, there are negociants that buy wine in bulk and sell it with a brand name like 'Fortant de France'. This usually means no volume limit and no way to know where the wine is coming from.
These two steps will permit you to select wines from a qualitative perspective. Also, don't forget to read the back label where lots of information is given. Reading in between lines, you will be able to distinguish authentic messages form the pure marketing which might also help you in your decision.
And a last but easy tip : To improve your knowledge in understanding labels, do the same as for when you drink a wine and try to associate flavors to a region. Reading carefully a wine label is a kind of mental gymnastic which eventually will permit you to be more at ease when you have to select a French wine in a store.
Jean-Marc Espinasse is involved in the wine making of Domaine du Banneret and distributes a portfolio of French wines in the US and provides wine education courses.
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