Glossary of terms for French wines:

Le vignoble – a wine-growing area: this vague term defines the geographical area where vines are grown and wines produced. It is used to designate the major French wine growing areas: Alsace, Anjou, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Corsica, the Rhone Valley, the Jura, Languedoc, Provence, Roussillon, Savoie, the South-West, Touraine, the Loire Valley and also smaller wine-growing areas such as Bugey, Nantais and Valais.

Le terroir – the geographical location and its geological characterisitics. This term refers to the natural characteristics (exposure, climate and soil) that give a wine its particularity. These include type of land and soil, climate and landscape.         

Le cru – ‘growth’. It is a vineyard for which the wine has a certain renown due to its exceptional location and soil type. Its meaning varies from one region to another. Originally it referred to a classification of wines according to their quality : grands crus (great growths), premiers crus (first growths), cru classé (classified growths).

Les cépages – grape varieties. These are the different types of grape that are grown and which have evolved from the original wild vines of ancient times due to cross pollination undertaken by wine growers. A variety can only be reproduced through the use of cuttings or by transplantation. Grape varieties are distinguished by whether they are for wine-growing or to be eaten as fruit, and black and green grapes.  The most well-known varieties are the cabernets, merlot, grenache, syrah, pinot noir and gamay for red wines. The major varieties for white wines are gewustraminer, chardonnay, riesling and muscat. 

Les châteaux: this is a term used for a wine-making establishment even if there is no building of that nature on the property. Properties usually adopt the name of an estate in the Burgundy area and of a château in the Bordeaux region. In the south of France the name is often that of large country house. Other producers use the name of a field or a village.

Le millésime: the vintage. This is the year in which the wine was harvested. This information is particularly important because from one year to another because of the weather, the same wines can be of a very different quality. Prices are determined by area and by vintage.

Les denominations et les labels: wine categories and labels. French wines are organised into categories defined by geographic names through which it is hoped that both the quality of the wines and consumer protection will be improved.