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Vital vocabulary for French wine tasting

The Local France
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Vital vocabulary for French wine tasting
A wine-tasting in south-west France. AFP PHOTO (Photo by AFP)

Words and phrases to learn to impress your friends with your wine knowledge on a tour of France’s many and glorious wineries - and during the all-important tasting session.


If you spend any length of time in France, a vineyard tour and wine-tasting is almost obligatory, not to mention choosing wine in restaurants and savouring a good bottle with family and friends.

But this can bring with it a certain amount of stress around the specialist and technical French vocab particular to wine.

This is because the world of wine, really rather unfairly it has to be said, has a reputation as a world of high-minded connoisseurs, with lingering notes of pretentiousness and an aroma of self-superiority.

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In truth, it mostly isn’t like that, especially away from the grand cru set - and going on a vineyard tour, or a wine-tasting is one of the joys of being in France.

Although many of the bigger vineyards offer English-speaking tours, it’s still a good idea to know at least some French terms - this is France, and knowing a few words always helps break the ice - when you head to the winery. 

READ ALSO 9 tips for enjoying a French vineyard tour (and wine tasting)

Let's start with the basics; a red wine is a vin rouge, a white is a vin blanc. Rosé is the same in both languages and you might also come across a vin jaune (yellow wine) - this is a particular style of white wine.

A grape is, confusingly, called un raisin in French (what's a raisin in French? It's un raisin sec - a dried grape. Logical).

In terms of where the wine is made, the French term for vineyard is un vignoble while a wine cellar is une cave. (pronounced oon-cav). This is also the term used for a specialist wine shop. 

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When describing the flavour or taste of a wine you might hear your sommelier (the person serving you, be nice to them) mention certain wines being sucré (sugary); or talk about l'acidité (acidity); l'amer (bitter) and salé (salty). They may also mention sec (dry), doux (sweet), or corsé (full-bodied).


You'll also hear many mentions of the terroir (te-woaaah) - this technically translates as soil or earth, but in wine terms it means how the growing environment (the soil, the weather, the altitude, the farming practices etc) affects the grape and thus the taste of the wine. For some producers terroir has an almost mystical importance.

Here are some other useful terms and phrases:

Dégustation (day-gus-tass-yon) - A tasting. You may see the word on a sign outside a vineyard. You can wish someone a 'nice tasting' by saying 'Bonne dégustation'. 

Je vais prendre un verre de blanc (jhe vay prond-rr un verr de blan) - I’ll take a glass of white [wine]

La couleur/ la robe (la cool-err / la robb)  – The colour of the wine. It’s important to mention this, and try to use synonyms for the classic colours. 


Faire tourner (fair turn-ay) - swirl. As in swirl the wine in your glass to release the…

Bouquet (boo - kay) - the aroma of the wine when you taste it. Try to remember fruit and flowers and use those terms. If you can, sneak a look at the bottle. That usually tells you what the vintner / marketing people think it smells of.

Je préfère les vins fruités. (jhe preh-fir lay ven freetay) - I prefer fruity wines. Feel free to substitute the adjective according to your wine preferences. Options include: frais (fray) - fresh; pétillants (pett-e-lon) - sparkling; liquoreux (lick-or-err) - sweet; boisés (bwa-say) - oaky.

Sentir les arômes (sonteer lez a-romm) - Smell the aromas. Another way of saying bouquet.

Prendre une gorgée (prend-rr oone gorjay) – To take a sip


C’est un vin doux / sec / corsé / épicé (set un van doo / sec / cor-say / eh-pee-say) - it’s a sweet / dry / full-bodied / spicy wine

Ce vin est bon (se ven ey bon) - you like the wine, you intend to buy half-a-dozen bottles. Say this. 

Ce vin est de la piquette (se ven ey de la pick-ett). DO NOT SAY THIS - EVEN IN JEST. It means the wine tastes ‘cheap’ and references a drink made out of the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of grapes and water. Better to simply leave the wine, or - if there’s a bucket for the purpose (and there may be) - politely tip it into there before moving on to, hopefully better, wines.

Une région viticole (oona rej-eon vit-e-col)  a wine-growing region

Vendange (ven-danj) - the French for “grape harvest”. If you are in wine country at the end of the summer, you may be able to help out at one. It’s genuinely hard work, though.

Le cépage (le seh-parj) - the grape variety. Honestly, there are so many varieties of grape, and some of them are pretty rare… Braucol, anyone, or Duras, which are used to make Gaillac wines in southwest France…

un amateur / une amatrice de vin (un amateur / amatreece de ven)  – a wine lover

Oh, and already we’ve covered what to say if you’ve enjoyed a little too much vineyard hospitality.

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