How to read an old world wine label

Cabernet sauvignon’s home is Bordeaux, where it is often blended with merlot, malbec and other red grapes to make full-bodied, tannic wines. White wines here are dominated by sauvignon blanc (usually less intense and tropical than those from the New World) and sémillon (peachy, floral, sometimes a bit waxy).

Sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc are the flagship whites from the Loire (Sancerre and Vouvray being their most famous respective appellations) while Loire reds are generally made from cabernet franc, malbec, pinot noir or gamay, which is also the only red grape allowed in the Beaujolais appellations.

Head to the Rhône for beefy reds from syrah, often made into a GSM (grenache, syrah and mourvèdre) blend, as well as opulent whites from the viognier grape, whereas delicate pinot noir is king of the reds in Burgundy, usually called Bourgogne on the bottle. The most revered crus are now beyond the means of most drinkers, although supermarket own-label wines can be reasonable value. Chardonnay is the queen of white burgundies, made into steely, un-oaked wines from Chablis and Mâcon, or those fleshy and oak-aged from the Côte de Beaune. Look for ‘élevé en fûts de chêne’ on the back label to indicate a wine has been aged in oak.

With more than 360 AOCs in France alone, it can all get very complicated. Google can be your friend deciphering a label but best seek advice from good wine shops to lead you to Old World bottles you’ll love.

Arbousset Tavel Rosé

A bottle of Arbousset Tavel Rosé

Ripe fruits, fairly high alcohol and a tannic crunch makes this a really versatile wine with so many different dishes. This Tavel, made by Domaine d’Arbousset, is a fine example at a great price, juicy but bone-dry with a savoury underbelly of gentle spice. Brilliant with this chicken shawarma.

Château Guiraud ‘G’

A bottle of Château Guiraud G

A classic Bordeaux blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon, grown in the Sauternes AOC. Voluptuous with ripe, aromatic fruit balanced with a grapfruit zest; complex but refreshing. Try it with these grilled vegetable skewers with pistachio pesto yogurt.

Domaine Ratron Saumur-Champigny Tradition Clos des Cordeliers 2019

A bottle of Domaine Ratron Saumur-Champigny Tradition Clos des Cordeliers 2019

A lovely wine, bright and breezy with floral, raspberry-scented fruit, stony minerality and a herbal freshness. Serve it slightly chilled and let it warm gradually in the glass to reveal its charms.

Check out our regional wine guides here:

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Best Jura wine
Best Sicilian wine
Best Greek wine
Best German wine
Best Hungarian wine
Best South African wine
Best Portuguese red wine
Best Italian red wine

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