How to Read a Bordeaux Wine Label

Focus on Bordeaux


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The Region

The region here is the Médoc, a name used to cover almost all of Bordeaux's left bank. There are smaller regions that fall within the Médoc, each with their own appellation.

Some of the most famous appellations of Bordeaux include Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, St. Estephe, Pomerol, St. Emilion, and the Graves region.

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  • Snooth User: Mark Will
    287809 36

    Very informative, thanks!

    Oct 05, 2010 at 1:07 PM

  • Snooth User: ParkerBoy
    168023 6

    Great stuff! Just came back from much wine and so little time! While there, I finished a wine classic - Kermit Lynch's book "Adventures on the Wine route" about French wine regions. Thanx again for the education!

    Oct 05, 2010 at 3:26 PM

  • Snooth User: slepree
    374969 1

    Thanks for the info!

    Oct 05, 2010 at 3:46 PM

  • Snooth User: KENTONRP
    456559 1

    Yes, great introduction to foreign labels.
    And this is where the new mobile apps are going to help. By taking a picture of the label you can get all this information stored on your phone.
    More importantly these apps will give you information about location, varietal content, even availability and pricing...VERY powerful!

    Oct 05, 2010 at 4:57 PM

  • Snooth User: jeljeljel
    347691 1

    Any specific app come to mind (other than the Snooth app)?

    Oct 05, 2010 at 5:15 PM

  • Snooth User: 1Finecab
    257366 41

    Nicely done - a lot of great information as well as definitions of labeling information which we could use in the USA to help us snobs better determine content. Although there is too much regulation and control of many aspects of production, we could use more information on the label of domestic production. Keep up the good work! Mike

    Oct 05, 2010 at 9:41 PM

  • Snooth User: casavan
    337195 1

    Thanks for the info. It should be noted however that the obstinate refusal of many French houses until a few years ago to make any mention of the grapes used, has caused a great number of new world consumers to turn away from French wines. Most of these houses have now realized their mistake and condescended to provide this basic information on the back label.

    Oct 05, 2010 at 10:47 PM

  • Labelling is one thing, but there are some tricks pulled by the French. "Grand Vin" has no legal meaning, "Grand Cru" does. Adding the word "Mouton" to something else does not add taste to the wine, but seems to add to its markup. There are also some very thin bordeaux out there that look right by their labels. In my experience if you get last years vintage served up its usually a cheaper quaffing wine, beacuse its not had long in the barrel. They can be good e.g. in French wine bars.

    Oct 06, 2010 at 5:01 AM

  • Casavan, maybe you should try thinking of French wines as brands. Would you need to know what type of grain was used in Jack Daniels? No, merely that you like it. For hundreds of years old world wines have been made from blends of grapes and were named after their geographical origin not their grape varieties. Naming a wine after it's grape variety is a relatively modern phenomenon introduced by New World producers to simplify wine and so sell more. And it has worked! The French have not 'condescended' to put the grape varieties on their labels, they have been forced to in order to sell to an American market that has been raised on varietal wines. The greatest wines will allways be named after their place and not the grape. Rant over, I'm off to have another glass of was that grenache or syrah I could taste?

    Oct 06, 2010 at 5:43 PM

  • in panel 5 you show a label with Cru Bourgeois and then you say "In addition there are the classifications of Graves, St. Emilion, the Crus Bourgeois, the Cru Artisans, and a new small group known as Les Exceptionnels."
    is there really a Cru Bourgeois AND a Crus Bourgeois or is this a typo? and is there any qualitative value to knowing what these 'classifications' mean. and what do they mean?
    Graves & St Emilion are pretty clear, but the others have no meaning that I know of.

    Oct 07, 2010 at 1:26 AM

  • Excellent article on a simple yet confusing subject, thanks Gregory!
    Chubbydigits: very good points, and well-ranted! I sell French and South African wines and find the labels "Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay" etc etc a little less challenging in comparison with "Sancerre, Chablis, Viré-Clessé" etc etc. The latter require more research, yet teach me more about the origins of these wines.

    Oct 07, 2010 at 9:24 AM

  • Great article! Probably the best I've read on deciphering French wine labels on my journey to discover French wines. With a much better understanding on reading the labels, still doesn't take away from the fact that I feel I need to carry a map with me (I don't, but I should).

    Oct 11, 2010 at 7:34 AM

  • Snooth User: suany
    467165 7

    Nicely done! Very informative!

    Oct 11, 2010 at 10:14 PM

  • Snooth User: Stan L
    628865 1


    Nov 02, 2010 at 4:48 PM

  • To Jimgarcia1:
    Note that the most honest classification system is the one in Saint Emilion. There, chateaus can win or loose a rank every year according to the quality of their production. In the Medoc region, the classification was fixed more than a century ago and never changed since. Know that the vintage year is as important as the name of the chateau. Prefer to buy a wine from an underestimated region such as the Fronsac from 2009, a really exceptional year, than a 2007 from an allegedly better chateau in the Medoc. Know also that the word chateau does not mean much in terms of quality. Know also that successful regions such as Pomerol have neighbours who also use the name (Lalande de Pomerol e.g.) without having the quality.
    Michael G., sommelier

    Nov 04, 2010 at 4:14 AM

  • Snooth User: Leah0413
    640497 21

    Very informative!

    Nov 16, 2010 at 12:44 AM

  • To Michael G., sommelier:

    I would like to add that no two bottles of the same vintage from the same year are the same. Clos de l'Oratoire des Papes came out with a good vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in 2003, for example, but I found the second bottle that I had of that vintage to be disappointing. It just goes to show that wine only improves with age up to a point.

    Mar 19, 2011 at 5:16 PM

  • Casavan, you should probably think of ALL wines as brands. Not all Merlots were created equal. The sames goes with Asti Spumante. There's "bubblegum" Beaujolais and then there's Beaujolais-Nouveau, etc. The best thing that the consumer can do is shop around. If you want, you can read the label and find out what grapes were used, but most people wouldn't know the difference between a wine made mostly from the Sangiovese grape and one made from the Grenache, except that they like it or not.

    Mar 19, 2011 at 5:23 PM

  • Snooth User: jsncruz
    1001336 68

    Great article! I keep my wine inventory using Microsoft Excel, and I've recently made a separate one for the French wine - simply because they have far more classification values. My hobby has been very academic as well as delicious, and I wouldn't mind learning even more as I go along! :)

    Feb 24, 2012 at 2:24 AM

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