The European Union and French Wine Classification Systems

The European Union

The French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system, governed by the Institut national des appellations d’origine (INAO), dates back to 1935. It has inspired or influenced many other national systems and, ultimately, the European Union (EU) wine laws.

The EU wine laws require that wines produced within the EU be divided into two quality categories, Table Wines (TW) and Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions (QWpsr), each with different rules for winemaking practices and labelling. The TW and QWpsr categories are adapted into different national classification systems across the EU member states. Some member states have more than two levels of classification, but each level fits into either TW or QWpsr.

Many winemaking practices depend on the classification of the wine as either TW or QWpsr, but some, such as deacidification and chaptalization, depend on where the grapes are grown. Thus, every EU wine growing region belongs to one of six wine growing zones, with Zone A the coolest and Zone C III b the warmest.

As of 2011, the TW and QWpsr quality categories have been replaced with, respectively, Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

France

French law divides wine into four categories:

• Vin de Table

– The label only specifies the producer and the fact that the wine is from France.

• Vin de Pays

– The label specifies a particular French region, département, or delimited area, for example, Vin de Pays d’Oc or Vin de Pays de Vaucluse. The wine has to be made from certain grape varieties or blends and the producer has to submit the wine for analysis and tasting. Maximum or minimum limits are placed on yields, alcohol, pH, and sulphur dioxide. In particular, the designation enables French producers to make non-traditional blends and varietal wines to compete with those from the New World.

• Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS)

– Abolished in 2011, the VDQS category was mostly interpreted as a stepping-stone to AOC status.

• Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)

– Specifies a delimited terroir together with a number of rules and restrictions governing such factors as grape varieties, blends, training systems, yields, and winemaking methods. There are currently over 300 AOC wines. Some, such as Romanée-Conti in Burgundy, are the size of a vineyard; others, such as Alsace AOC, are rather more expansive (and therefore also less restrictive).

In recent years, a new system has been introduced with three rather than four categories. The three categories are:

• Vin de France

– Essentially replaces Vin de Table but enables grape variety or grape varieties and vintage to be indicated on the label. This gives French producers greater flexibility in production, blending, and branding to compete with wines from other countries.

• Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP)

– Essentially replaces Vin de Pays.

• Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP)

– Essentially replaces AOC.

Vin de France and IGP fit into the EU’s PGI category, and AOP into the PDO category.

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About Neel Burton

Neel Burton is a psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and wine-lover who lives and teaches in Oxford, England. He is the author of several books, including The Meaning of Madness and The Art of Failure: The Anti Self-Help Guide. You can find Neel on Twitter and Facebook, and at www.neelburton.com
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One Response to The European Union and French Wine Classification Systems

  1. Nicely written, the French do sure produce some amazing wine 🙂

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