France’s AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) system defines the grape varieties and wine making practices approved for classification in each of France’s several hundred geographically defined appellations. At the heart of the system is the belief that terroir, the grape’s growing environment (location, soil content, climate and slope of the land), is the most important factor in determining a wine’s character and quality.
Categories of Wine
Under the AOC system, there are three main categories of wine. In descending order of quality, they are AOC (Vins d’Appellation D’Origine Controlee), VDQS (Vins Delimites de Qualite Superieure) and Vins De Pays.
In the first category, everything is controlled: area of production, variety of grape, yield per hectare, vineyard practices, alcohol levels and winemaking practices. AOC wines must also go through a chemical analysis and pass a taste test to make sure each wine’s taste is typical of that type of wine. If a Pinot Noir doesn’t taste like a traditional Pinot Noir, for example, it must be declassified.
VDQS wines have slightly less stringent requirements than AOC wines. This designation was used largely for appellations that weren’t quite “ready” for an AOC designation – kind of a holding spot for an AOC wannabe. It appears that this designation might not be used in the future.
Vins De Pays wines have the least stringent requirements but can still be very good.
The AOC Designation
The AOC designation is reserved for the highest quality products. The requirements are very stringent. According to thewinecellarinsider.com, restrictions include “specific geological area where the fruit is grown and the wine was made; along with the type of allowable grape variety planted in the vineyard. There are also specific, agreed upon production methods, minimum levels of alcohol and maximum levels of yields, vine age and required minimum vineyard planting densities. There are also rules for harvesting and vinification techniques in place along with restrictions on where the cellars must be located.”
The big question is how well is this system working. That will be the topic of my next blog article.