How To Choose A First Class French Wine – For Beginners

4 November 2021

What do wine beginners need to know about How To Choose a First Class French Wine? Does it come down to luck, or is there much more to it? Well, expert wine producers do not rely on luck to safeguard their most precious asset. They have in place various standards so that anyone, including you, can best choose wine depending on your preference.

Introduction: How To Choose A First Class French Wine – For Beginners

You choose a first-class French wine by understanding the grading system that categorises the wine, and from that knowledge and the information on the label, you decide.

That way, you can differentiate between those wines designed to make your heart sing from those unimpressive mass-produced wines created to meet a specific price point.

This article forms part of our Wine Focus – First Glass Series.

Choosing a French wine is so straightforward using the following steps that you will need nothing other than common sense to follow along.

French Wine Emblem
Grunge rubber stamp or label with words French Wine

The first piece of information is that French laws control all aspects of winemaking and production in France.  These laws, passed in 1935, informs wine buyers and purveyors about the wine and protects their integrity from fraud.

None of this should surprise you. French wine is serious business for France, and it gets taken seriously. And, so there is a grading system in place.

Let’s take a look at the French Wine grading system.

French Wine Grading System – Quality levels and appellation system

Appellation Controllee (AC or AOC) is the highest grade of French Wine. This grading is a part of a system created to help purchasers ensure that the provenance of wine is as the label states.

Also, the wine got made from the stated grapes (as per the label). The system is all about guaranteeing the integrity of the wine and its producers so that consumers can safely and confidently enjoy the wine. 

So, we first assume that you are choosing an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controllee) wine, now renamed Appellation d’Origine Protegee (AOP).

You will probably have already decided between white wine, red wine, or Rose in your head. So apart from getting someone else to choose on your behalf, here is one approach.

01: Wine Quality – 1st Check

Using the First Quality Check, make sure the wine has sufficient alcohol content for its type; for example, 11% for a Gros Plant from the Loire, and for instance, at least 13% for a Bordeaux. Similarly, 12% to 13% for a Tavel Rose from the Rhone Valley and 12 % for Anjou Rose from the Loire. 

02: Wine Quality – 2nd Check

The Second Quality Check determines if the wine is chateau-bottled or bottled by the proprietor. The chateau should have bottled it.

If the proprietor bottled the wine, it could be a blend from different producers, so not ideal.

03: Wine Quality – 3rd Check

The Third Quality check determines if the wine has ever won any awards. In ideal circumstances, gold medals should be on the label. It may seem trivial to non-French people, but professional wine-makers seek awards.

If the wine producer thinks highly of his wine creation, he will be keen to compete for this award and proud to have the relevant medal on his label.

04: Wine Quality – 4th Check

The Fourth quality check determines if the wine producers have sequenced-numbered their bottles. As before, wine producers, confident of their creations, will take the extra care to assign a serial number on their label as a mark of confidence.

Perhaps using the serial number, you could trace the provenance of the wine.

05: Wine Quality – 5th Check

The fifth quality check determines if the cork is appropriately long for the wine. The cork length is relevant for wines you intend to keep for a period before drinking.

Long corks preserve wine more securely. Short corks, used inappropriately, count against the wine producer.

One downside is that it is not always possible to see the cork’s length. The cork sometimes gets obscured by the bottle’s wrapper.

French Wine - Languedoc-Roussillon wine
Stamp with words French Wine, Languedoc-Roussillon wine

Before we leave this topic, let’s briefly discuss what information you can expect to find on the wine labels that adorn each bottle.

Wine Labels Decoded

You will undoubtedly recall the adage that says ‘you should not judge a book by its cover’.

Some obvious questions follow: Is the same true about a bottle of wine? Is it wise to judge a wine by what’s written on its label?

What do the Labels Mean?

If you aren’t a wine connoisseur, the amount of information on a label can seem a little overwhelming. Wine labels are pretty similar in what they display. 

They include info such as:

    1. The wine’s origin.
    2. The country/region where the grapes used to create the wine were grown – the appellation.
    3. The grape variety.
    4. The vintage (the year the grapes got harvested
    5. The wine’s alcohol content.
    6. Optional: Consumer warnings
    7. Optional: the bottler’s name and details
    8. Optional: the ripeness of the grapes and information about the winery that produced the wine.

Here is an example of a wine label, front


Here’s what it looks like at the back for your examination.


Now that you know how to identify a quality French Wine and can read the label well enough to understand what you’re buying, why not consider making someone’s life temporarily better by treating them with some quality wine?

Finally – How To Choose A First-Class French Wine

We’ve covered a lot in this short article, the point of which was to expose you to some aspects of French wine sufficient for you to tell how to know when you come across a great wine. 

As per our intention, here’s hoping that it was quick to read and that you learned a little.

The following article in the series: Practical Wine Tips For Beginners

Any comments or thoughts, be sure to leave them in the comments section below.

Don McDonald

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