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European Wine Guide: France

Have you ever looked at labels on European wine bottles and wondered about the meaning of AOC, DOGC, or QmP? Look no further. 


Enjoy hors 'Oeuvres with your wine tasting

In my European Wine Guide series (organized by country), I will take you through a crash course in wine classifications, helpful terms and varietals found in major wine-producing regions throughout Europe. Let’s continue our “wine tour” in France.

French wine is controlled by two organizations:


Wine Tasting in France

Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (IANO)– This organization controls the classification of quality French wines.

Service de Repression des Fraudes– This is the legal body that verifies if French wine laws are being followed. France’s stringent wine laws are now under the umbrella of the European Union- in fact, the European Union looked to France while determining their own wine production criteria.

French Fine Wines

Appellation Contrôlée (AC) or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)

This is the top level of French wine. Requirements for producing AC or AOC wines vary by region, and strict criteria are set regarding areas of production, varietals, planting distance and pruning methods, maximum allowed yield per hectare, wine production methods, and alcohol content.

Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDSQ)

The laws for producing VDSQ wines are similar to those for AC or AOC wines, though slightly less stringent. This category has become smaller as most vineyards have adapted their viniculture (grape growing) methods to adhere to AC or AOC standards.

French Table Wine

Vin de Pays

Vin de pays makes up approximately 20% of French wine production. Of course, the production standards are much more flexible than with finer French wines. However there are still restrictions on the regions in which the wines can be grown and on varietals. Many vin de pays come from the Pays d’Oc or Pays d’Aude regions.

Vin de Table

Vin de table represents approximately 30% of French wine production. These wines can be produced anywhere in France and there are no restrictions on varietals.

Useful terms for understanding French wine labels:

Grand cru wine

Read the wine label

Blanc- white
Brut- dry
Cave- cellar or winemaking area
Cépage- varietal
Côte – hillside
Cuvée- blend
Demi-sec- medium dry
Domaine- estate
Mis en bouteille- bottled
Raisin- grape
Rouge- red
Sec- dry
Vignoble- vineyard
Vigne- vine
Vin- wine

French Varietals

It is important to note that in France, wines are typically named for the vineyard or growing region in which they were produced, not for the grape varietal that was used to make them.

France is the birthplace of nearly all classic grape varietals found around the world.  Throughout the centuries, French vines have been exported to thousands of wine producing regions in Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany), North America (Washington, Oregon, California), Central and South America (Mexico, Brazil, Chile), South Africa, and Australia- among others.

Common French white grape varietals include Chardonnay , Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscadet, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and White Burgundy.

Some popular French red grape varietals are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for

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