Origin of Appellations

In a previous post (6/7/11 Appellations…by Any Other Name) I introduced the topic of appellations and provided some explanation of the American Viticultural Areas (AVA) system in place in the United States to classify the different growing areas that produce wine. The AVA system is actually modelled after the French AOC, or AC, and is really not as old as you might think. The Appellation d’Origine Controllee, or Appellation Controllee as it is often called was instituted in Paris in 1935 by the INAO, Institut National des Appellations d’Origine. Almost every other wine producing country in Europe and beyond has adopted some similar form of classifying grape growing areas and in some making laws regarding the types of grapes that can be grown and sometimes requirements for the making of the wines themselves. The French system is the most restrictive, with the Italian DOC/DOCG a close second. The INAO in Paris determines which grapes can be grown in each region, what the level of ripeness, alcohol , and vine yield. Due to French politics and competition amonst the chateaux this AOC system is constantly evolving. Just recently two new appellations were approved for Bordeaux and Cru Beaujolais. Just as with the AVA system in the United States, the more specific the appellation the more of that grape must come from the more specific are arepresented on the wine label. A label can read Appellation Bordeaux Controllee, and is then bound to souce their grapes from within that region, and in addition, only produce wines made from only the grapes allowable in that region. Appellation Entre Deux Mers Controllee is an appellation within the Bordeaux region.  Prior to the national recognition of the AOC system in France there was a great classification of the chateaux of the Bordeaux region in 1855. At the request of Emperor Napoleon III for a great Exposition in Paris the Chamber of Commerce for Bordeaux was asked to classify and rank all of the wines produced by quality and price. As you can imagine even at the beginning of your wine adventures this is a very subjective thing to do. There is no real best. Nevertheless a list was compiled, organizing the chateaux along the Gironde River by First Growth (Premier Cru), Second Growth (Sconds Cru), all the way down to Fifth Growth. The list was made official and has been disputed ever since. This was the first attempt (and it was successful) by the French to codify their terroir. Now just to complicate the picture a little further, many wines are produced that do not conform to the strict AOC requirements. Some people do not like to follow rules, and this does not mean that these wines cannot be wonderful to enjoy. they just don’t meet the guidelines for an AOC blessing on the label. The next category of classification is VDQS, Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure, Delimited Wines of Superior Quality. This level was added in 1949 and only represents 1% of all French wine. Most of these vineyards actually achieve AOC level relatively quickly. Below VDQS is the simple Vin de Pays, or Country Wine. There is a lot of this wine produced in France. It is the everyday wine the French most often drink.

I will go into detail about the systems in other countries in another post. I want to briefly point out that these systems are not perfect and in fact have many pros and cons. One pro being that it guarantees the geographical provenance and the requirements associated with an appellation are adhered to. Then a con is that they restrict experimentation and creativity of the winemaker. That’s a discussion all by itself when I get to Italian wines and Super Tuscans. In any case, noting the appellation of a wine you enjoy will help you in selecting another wine you may like from the same area because the same requirements and standards will apply. It’s Friday – go out and pop a cork! Salute!

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About WiningWays

Wine writing, appreciation, and education, including tasting, evaluation, and food pairings a specialty. Member, Society of Wine Educators.
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