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 Filed as : Wine TipsWine ToolsTech

Pardon My French

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  • Publish Date: Jan 7, 2010

Pardon my French monsieur, but this wine is an Appellation Grand Cru Bordeaux Contrôllée Saint-Emilion.


Perhaps the most confusing thing about French wines is the naming protocol. Whereas new world wines are typically named by variety, the French classification system is based on place.

The I.N.A.O. (National Institute of Appellations of Origin) was created in 1936 following a scandal involving inferior wines fraudulently labeled as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and passed off as genuine to meet demand the region couldn’t satisfy. Based on the notion of “terroir,” a convergence of specific soil, exposure and climate conditions, the institute defined geographic areas, vine varieties, maximum yield and cultivation methods (though not ultimate quality) required for a wine to be labeled under a given place-name.

Although regional classifications differ somewhat, the system recognized that certain vineyard sites, due to their natural conditions, yielded consistently superior wines than others. It thus established a ranking within each appellation comparable to a target with three bands and a bull’s eye: the best sites, defined as “grand cru,” occupy the center, with “premier cru,” “village,” and regional wines radiating outward. The pedigree always appears on the label as, for example, “Appellation Grand Cru Bourgogne Contrôllée,” the top of the heap in Burgundy.

For more on French wine classification visit

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Design For Wine

Jan 8, 2010
Yep, French wine labels can be hard to work out. Is it because of bureaucracy? I believe that something like 1 in 5 people works for one branch of the government, or another. Is it because the French are, understandably, attached to their proud wine making traditions whereas New World wines are ready to make or re-make the rules according to what the market wants? Or is it just a good, but complicated, system that you have to study a little? Champagne labels too can be obscure. To grab a few clues this may help

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What is the only grape named after a god meaning "blood of Jove"?