Although label laws have been relaxed in recent years, trying to figure out what’s inside many bottles of French wine can still be a daunting task.
That’s because most bottles are labeled by region (known as an appellation in France) rather than grape variety. You may be looking for a good bottle of Chardonnay, but it’s very possible that the word Chardonnay won’t appear on the bottle label. Instead, you need to know that the best French Chardonnay comes from the Burgundy appellation, and look for the word Burgundy on the label.
With geography in mind, there are some general guidelines one can follow to de-mystify the selection process. Keeping in mind that there can be stylistic differences from estate to estate, here’s a “cheat sheet” for identifying French wines you might like:
* Beaujolais — Gamay.
* Champagne — Champagne (sparkling wine).
* Languedoc-Roussillon — Carignan and Rhone-style blends.
* Provence — Mourvedre (a.k.a. Bandol) and rosé-style wines.
* Rhone Valley — Red blends (primarily Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre), Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.
More and more French wine labels are including the varietal makeup of the wine inside the bottle. But if you encounter a “traditional” label with only the appellation to guide you, use this “cheat sheet” as a guide.
Who knows? You just may discover a new favorite!