Decoding French Wine Labels: Identifying Grape Varieties Based on Place and AOC

French wine labels often focus on the region of origin and Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) rather than the grape variety used. This can make it challenging for those unfamiliar with French wine to identify the grape variety in a particular bottle. This article will help you decipher grape varieties in French wines based on their AOC and region, providing examples to guide you through the process.


Bordeaux is famous for its blended red wines, predominantly made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Some other grape varieties, such as Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carménère, are also used in smaller proportions. White wines from Bordeaux are primarily made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, often blended together.

Example: A bottle labeled “Saint-Émilion AOC” is likely to be a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with Merlot being the dominant grape.


Burgundy red wines are almost exclusively made from Pinot Noir, while white wines are made from Chardonnay. The region is divided into sub-regions and appellations, with each producing wines showcasing unique characteristics.

Example: A bottle labeled “Meursault AOC” will be a white wine made from Chardonnay grapes.

Rhône Valley

The Rhône Valley is divided into the Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône primarily produces red wines from Syrah and white wines from Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The Southern Rhône is known for its blended wines, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which can include a mix of up to 13 grape varieties, with Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre being the most common.

Example: A bottle labeled “Côte-Rôtie AOC” will be a red wine made predominantly from Syrah, often blended with a small percentage of Viognier.


Alsace primarily produces white wines and is unique in France because it typically labels wines by grape variety. The most common grape varieties include Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc.

Example: A bottle labeled “Alsace AOC Riesling” will be a white wine made from Riesling grapes.

Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is home to a diverse range of wines, both red and white. Sauvignon Blanc is the primary grape for whites in regions like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, while Chenin Blanc is dominant in Vouvray and Savennières. For red wines, Cabernet Franc is the key grape variety in regions such as Chinon and Bourgueil.

Example: A bottle labeled “Sancerre AOC” will most likely be a white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. However, red Sancerre made from Pinot Noir also exists, so it’s essential to check the label for additional information.

While French wine labels may not always explicitly mention the grape variety, understanding the connection between the region, AOC, and grape varieties can help you identify the grapes used in a particular wine. Familiarizing yourself with these relationships will enhance your appreciation of French wines and make selecting a bottle an enjoyable experience.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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