France as a wine country

Regions / Appellations:

France is divided into different regions and appellation. These regions/ appellation (AOC) are then divided into different areas where they can only grow particular grapes varieties.

This is formed by French law. These regions/ appellations and area’s have particular terroir that grow the best grapes in that particular region and area.

For example French sparkling wine from Champagne will be called Champagne but sparkling wine from a different region or country is called sparkling wine or Cremant, Cava, Prosecco and not Champagne.

Another example is a red wine from Bourgogne will always be a Pinot Noir and not an other variety red grape. This because it’s forbidden by French law to grow other types of grapes in that region/ appellation (AOC).

This is so that every region/ appellation (AOC) and area can harvest the best quality grape it has to offer. These areas are then divided into different domains, villages and classification and quality levels.

This because in a particular area’s in a appellation the terroir produce better grapes or it get more sun hours. Then a particular appellation, domain, village, area, can produce a Cru or a Grand Cru.

A Cru or Grand Cru can only be achieved if the government decide its good enough to be called a Cru or Grand Cru.


Cru is “a vineyard or group of vineyards, especially one of recognized quality.  It is a French wine term which is traditionally translated as “growth”, as it was originally the past participle of the verb “croître” (to grow).  

More specifically, Cru is often used to indicate a specifically named and legally defined vineyard or ensemble of vineyards and the vines “which grow on a reputed terroir: By extension of good quality.  

The term is also used to refer to the wine produced from such vines. The term Cru is often used within classifications of French wine. By implication, a wine that displays (or is allowed to display) the name of its Cru on its wine label is supposed to exhibit the typical characteristics of this Cru. The terms Premier Cru, Grand Cru are generally translated into English as First Growth, Great Growth.  They designate levels of presumed quality that are variously defined in different wine regions.

Premier cru

Premier cru is a French language wine term corresponding to “First Growth”, and which can be used to refer to classified vineyards, wineries and wines, with different meanings in different wine regions:

  • For Bordeaux wine, the term is applied to classified wineries:
    • In the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, Premier cru or Premier cru classé is the highest level of five within the “Grand cru classé” designation for red wines from the Médoc and Graves, and the second-highest of three in Sauternes where the highest is Premier Cru Supérieur (superior first growth). These wines are often referred to as First Growths.
    • In the Classification of Saint-Émilion wine, the highest level is Premier grand cru classé A and the second-highest Premier grand cru classé B. The term Saint-Émilion Grand cru refers to wineries or wines below the overall Grand cru classé level, and is integrated within the appellation rules.
  • For Burgundy wine, the term is applied to classified vineyards, with Premier cru being the second-highest classification level, below that of Grand cru and above the basic village AOCs. For Burgundy wines, the terms Premier Cru or 1er Cru are usually kept rather than being translated into English.

Grand cru

A French Grand Cru Champagne from the village of Ambonnay, a Bernard Brémont Millésime 2004

Grand cru (French for ‘great growth) is a regional wine classification that designates a vineyard known for its favorable reputation in producing wine. Although often used to describe grapes, wine or cognac, the term is not technically a classification of wine quality per se, but is intended to indicate the potential of the vineyard or terroir. It is the highest level of classification of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) wines from Burgundy or Alsace. The same term is applied to Châteaux in Saint-Émilion, although in that region it has a different meaning and does not represent the top tier of classification. In Burgundy the level immediately below Grand cru is known as Premier cru, sometimes written as 1er cru

The French government have divided the wine regions/ AOC into these regions:

Photo by

Quality levels and AOC system

In 1935, laws were passed to control the quality of French wine. The Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system was established, which is governed by a powerful oversight board (Institut national des appellations d’origine, INAO). France has one of the oldest systems for protected designation of origin for wine in the world and strict laws concerning winemaking and production and many European systems are modelled after it. 

The word “appellation” has been put to use by other countries, sometimes in a much looser meaning. As European Union wine laws have been modelled after those of the French, this trend is likely to continue with further EU expansion.

French law divides wine into four categories, two falling under the European Union Table Wine category and two the 

Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions (QWPSR) designation.

Table wine:

  • Vin de Table (11.7%) – Carries with it only the producer and the designation that it is from France.
  • Vin de Pays (33.9%) – Carries with it a specific region within France (for example Vin de Pays d’Oc from Languedoc-Roussillon or Vin de Pays de Côtes de Gascogne from Gascony), and subject to less restrictive regulations than AOC wines. For instance, it allows producers to distinguish wines that are made using grape varieties or procedures other than those required by the AOC rules, without having to use the simple and commercially non-viable table wine classification. In order to maintain a distinction from Vin de Table, the producers have to submit the wine for analysis and tasting, and the wines have to be made from certain varieties or blends.


  • Vin délimité de qualité supérieure (VDQS, 0.9%) – Less strict than AOC, usually used for smaller areas or as a “waiting room” for potential AOCs. This category was abolished at the end of 2011.
  • Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC, 53.4%) – Wine from a particular area with many other restrictions, including grape varieties and winemaking methods.


The wine classification system of France was revised from 2006, with a new system fully introduced by 2012. The new system consists of three categories rather than four, since there will be no category corresponding to VDQS from 2012.

The new categories are:

  • Vin de France, a table wine category basically replacing Vin de Table, but allowing grape variety and vintage to be indicated on the label.
  • Indication géographique protégée (IGP), an intermediate category basically replacing Vin de Pays.
  • Appellation d’origine protégée (AOP), the highest category basically replacing AOC wines.

The largest changes will be in the Vin de France category, and to VDQS wines, which either need to qualify as AOP wines or be downgraded to an IGP category. For the former AOC wines, the move to AOP will only mean minor changes to the terminology of the label, while the actual names of the appellations themselves will remain unchanged. While no new wines have been marketed under the old designations from 2012, bottles already in the distribution chain will not be relabelled.

Clos de Vougot

Grape variaties:

There are more then 100 different kind of grape variaties in French. Here are the top 100 grape variaties organized by most planted to less planted grapes variaties.

Common grape varieties in France (2007)
VarietyColorArea (%)Area (hectares)
1. Merlotred13.6%116 715
2. Grenachered11.3%97 171
3. Ugni blancwhite9.7%83 173
4. Syrahred8.1%69 891
5. Carignanred6.9%59 210
6. Cabernet Sauvignonred6.7%57 913
7. Chardonnaywhite5.1%43 887
8. Cabernet Francred4.4%37 508
9. Gamayred3.7%31 771
10. Pinot noirred3.4%29 576
11. Sauvignon blancwhite3.0%26 062
12. Cinsautred2.6%22 239
13. Melon de Bourgognewhite1.4%12 483
14. Sémillonwhite1.4%11 864
15. Pinot Meunierred1.3%11 335
16. Chenin blancwhite1.1%9 756
17. Mourvèdrered1.1%9 494
18. Colombardwhite0.9%7 710
19. Muscat Blanc à Petits Grainswhite0.9%7 634
20. Malbecred0.8%6 291
21. Alicante Bouschetred0.7%5 680
22. Grenache blancwhite0.6%5 097
23. Viognierwhite0.5%4 111
24. Muscat de Hambourgred0.4%3 605
25. Rieslingwhite0.4%3 480
26. Vermentinowhite0.4%3 453
27. Aramonred0.4%3 304
28. Gewurztraminerpink0.4%3 040
29. Tannatred0.3%3 001
30. Gros Mansengwhite0.3%2 877
31. Macabeuwhite0.3%2 778
32. Muscat d’Alexandriewhite0.3%2 679
33. Pinot grisgrey0.3%2 582
34. Clairettewhite0.3%2 505
35. Caladocred0.3%2 449
36. Grolleaured0.3%2 363
37. Auxerrois blancwhite0.3%2 330
38. Marselanred0.3%2 255
39. Mauzacwhite0.2%2 077
40. Aligotéwhite0.2%1 946
41. Folle blanchewhite0.2%1 848
42. Grenache grisgrey0.2%1 756
43. Chasselaswhite0.2%1 676
44. Niellucciored0.2%1 647
45. Ferred0.2%1 634
46. Muscadellewhite0.2%1 618
47. Terret blancwhite0.2%1 586
48. Sylvanerwhite0.2%1 447
49. Piquepoul blancwhite0.2%1 426
50. Villard noirred0.2%1 399
51. Marsannewhite0.2%1 326
52. Négrettered0.2%1 319
53. Roussannewhite0.2%1 307
54. Pinot blancwhite0.2%1 304
55. Plantetwhite0.1%1 170
56. Jacquèrewhite0.1%1 052
All white varieties30.1%259 130
All red, pink and grey varieties69.9%601 945
Grand total100.0%861 075

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