For the Love of Wine!

French Wine Terms

french-labelAt the Wine Empire, we are dealing increasingly in Imported wine. So, to help you our valued customers learn and embrace the wonderful world of wine and all the terminology & language barriers that lie ahead, we have compiled this list of country specific wine terms to help explain just what is meant on each label. If you come across something not listed, please let us know so that we can add it in for everyone’s benefit.

French Wine Terms

Ever looked at a bottle of French wine and wondered what some, most or all of the terminology meant? Or maybe you were in a restaurant with friends or a date, and tried to give the impression that you had everything under control, when the truth was that you were making a selection using the “pin the tail on the donkey” method? At the Wine Empire, we are increasingly dealing, listing and working with imported wine, and French wine listings will start to increase as we increase the number of wines available to our customers. So, we thought that we’d compile this list of French wine terms to assist you in understanding just what is being stated on the label.

Click on the terms below for an explanation.

Appellation d’Origine Contr’e, a French term for a denominated, governed wine region such as Margaux or Nuits-St.-Georges.

French for barrel, generally with a capacity of 225 liters (equal to 300 bottles).

Stirring the lees with a stick to increase flavour extraction.


The name for Champagne made entirely from Chardonnay grapes.

The name for Champagne made entirely from red grapes, either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or both.

A French term (very dry) used to describe the driest champagnes, ciders, or sparkling wines with less than 15 grams of sugar content per litre.

Cellar door or wine making facility equivalent where the wine is made.

A single vineyard site.

Pronounced (cloh), this French word once applied only to vineyards or orchards surrounded by walls, but now can connote any wine brand, vintner, or estate as in Clos Pitois, Clos Saint Martin, etc.


A French term for ranking a wine’s inherent quality, i.e. cru bourgeois, cru class, premier cru and grand cru.

A specific vat of wine selected for its quality.

Although the literal translation is medium-dry, a sparkling wine with this description is actually fairly sweet, with 33 to 50 grams of sugar content per liter. Demi-sec wines were particularly popular during the 18th century.

The process by which final sediments are removed from traditionally made sparkling wines prior to the adding of the dosage. There are two methods of disgorging: the traditional way la vol’e, and the modern way la glace.

Wine Estate

A sweetened spirit added at the very end to Champagne and other traditionally made sparkling wines. It determines whether a wine is brut, extra dry, dry or semisweet. (fr. liqueur de tirage).


The very driest sparkling wine, with sugar content of 0-6 grams per liter.

A great barrel (grand tonneau). In wine making, a half-sized cask with capacity ranging from 114 liters in Ted’Or and Sa’ne-et-Loire, to 132-136 liters in Yonne.

Charming name used in the Val-de-Loire and Paris, describing a bottle with a 35-centiliter capacity.

A large oak or chestnut cask used for aging wine (mostly in Provence and Alsace), with a capacity between 150 and 350 hectoliters (3,960 to 9,240 gallons).

French for “great growth”, denotes the very best vineyards.

A French word meaning “high.” It applies to quality as well as altitude.

The traditional method of making Champagne, whereby the carbonation occurs naturally during a second fermentation, rather than by injection of CO2.

French for vintage or year.

Where a wine is bottled, generally indicated on the bottle’s label. Examples: Mise en bouteille au Ch√¢teau or Mise en bouteille au Domaine.

French for first growth; a high-quality vineyard but one not as good as grand cru.

Proprietor, owner, or manager overseeing the tending of a vineyard, grape harvest and winemaking.



Dry in still wines.

A French term meaning third growth, a Medoc category specified in the Classification of 1855.

A term for harvesting grapes



An official category of French wines above the level of vin de table (but lower than AOC), comprising about one quarter of the wine produced in France. Wines bearing this designation should demonstrate a certain degree of regional character.

French for table wine.