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Friday, August 5, 2011

Changes to the French wine appellations:

French wines have always been divided into three main categories or appellations.
These were:

1. The lowest grade - Vin de Table (Table wine);
2. The middle grade - Vin de Pays;
3. The top appellation of Appellation d'Origine Controlee AOC.

In August of 2009 these appellations ceased to exist as they have been replaced by the following designations:


The former  "Vin de Table" category has been replaced by the appellation "Vin de France".
The requirements for this appellation do not require the specific area of the grape harvest and grape variety name to be indicated but since August 2009, there is a possibility to mention the varietal names on the label.
Yields are limited and minimum and maximum alcohol content are specified.


The former "Vin de Pays" in now indicated as IGP or Indication Geographique Protegee.
The new terminolgy indicate better the definition of this category in that of "wine of the region", which is now at a more specific geographical level.
In this appellation a specific region of the grape harvest must be indicated.
Specified and permitted varietals..
Specified vineyard limited yields - 50 to 90 hectolitres per hectare.
Minimum and maximum alcohol control.
Final approval from the French authorities after analysis of the wine quality (includig a tasting test), must be obtained before the wine can be released under this appellation.
This category offer a range of wines that are of very good quality, easy drinking wines that also offer good value for money. This designation does not man that the wine is of a lesser quality thyan wines under the (AOC)  IGP designation. It may only mean that the winemaker has chosen not to abide by the rules of the higher appellation such as deciding to blend in a wine varietal produced from a grape that is not approved for the regional appellation.

The four regional IGP's (ex- Vin de Pays) are:

Val de Loire - covers the Loire Valley;
Comtes Rhodanians - covers the Rhone, Beaujolais, Savoie and Jura.
Comte Tolosan - covers the South West of France around Toulouse;
The Languedoc region which was formerly categorised as Vin de Pays d'Oc.

Each of these regional appellations have sub-appellations within them, thus continuing to complicate matters.


The highest appellation of AOC Appellation d'Origine Controlee is now the AOP or Appellation d'Origine Protegee.
This appellation comes with very strict criterias.
Areas of grape growing are restricted to specific "terroir";
Specified and permitted grapes and limited vineyard yields - not more than 50 hectolitres per hectare.;
Vineyards are monitored by the authorities;
Approved winemaking methods - pruning types, harvesting techniques and vinification methods.
Strict final approval of the wine and vintage prior to the award of this appellation.
This is the highest French appellation, reserved for the most prestigious wines which carries with it the  most demanding requirements. As such, quality and price are as expected to be somewhat high.
The legal responsibility for administering appellations in France falls under the jurisdiction of INAO short for Institut National des Appellations d'Origine'.

There are currently over 300 French wines that are entitled to use the designation AOP (formerly AOC) on their label, and they come from all the leading winemaking regions of France.

The VDQS - Vins Delimite' de Qualite' Superieure -  category which was introduced in 1949, for quality wines that used to fall between the "Vin de Pays" and the higher AOC category, shall cease to exist after December, 2011. The last wines that can be labelled VDQS are those of the 2010 vintage. Existing VDQS areas will have until the end of this year to either qualify for full AOP status, or to become IGP category wines.


French wine classification historically entered a new era in 1855 in Bordeaux, when Napolean III insisted that the best Bordeaux wine become classified to sort out the top wines from the mediocre. Thus the 1855 classification came into being and the Bordeaux wine making regions were divided into CRUS categorised with the top wines being given Premier Cru (First Growth status) with declining categories classified down to Cinquiemes Crus (Fifth Growth). There were 61 chateaux classified (from First Growth to Fifth Growth), under this classifiaction with hundreds of winemakers below fifth growth quality not being classified at all.

In the first Classification, only four Chateaux or vineyards from the communes of Pauillac, Margaux and Pessac, were clasified as Premier Crus.
These were:
Chateaux Lafite-Rothschild - Pauillac;
Chateaux Latour -                   Pauillac;
Chateaux Margaux -               Margaux;
Chateaux Haut-Brion -           Pessac, Graves.
In 1973, after years of wrangling with the INAO, Chateaux Moutin-Rothschild of Pauillac was elevated from Second Growth - Deuxiems Cru to Premier Cru, in the first and last re-classification of any chateau under this very strict classification.

Chateau D' Yquem was given the classification of Premier Cru Superieure in the original 1855 Classifications.

Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone, of St. Emilion, were elevated to, and classified as,  Premier Crand Cru Classe' in 1955 (re-classified in 1996).

POMEROL was never classified although Chateau Petrus ranks with the top Premier Crus for excellence in quality and its high prices.

In the BURGUNDY classification the Grand Crus reign supreme, with the top red wines coming from the Cote' de Nuits and the white Grand Crus from the Cote' de Beaune.

Wines classified under these categories must show their superior classifications over and above the (AOC) now AOP - Appellation d'Origine Protegee on the wine label - for example: Joseph Drouhin-Recolte du Domaine: MUSIGNY GRAND CRU - Appelation Controllee.

In all of the above, we have not touched on the actual wines that come under the above categories and classification appellations, such as Hermitage, Chateauneuf du Pape, Chablis, Sancerre, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the thousand and one other supreme French wines. The consumer, thus is at a loss on what grape variety or wine varietal he is drinking when faced with these labels as the grape variety is not normally listed on the label. To know what is in the bottle,the consumer must have a knowledge of each region as well as of each winemaker to know which grape varieties are permissible to produce these wines. With well over 230,000 winemakers and vineyards in France, this is no mean feat, and thus is not an easy task. The consumer deserves better, easy accessible information from the wine label, it is doubtful but lets hope that the new classification appellations will go some way to achieve this.

In a future feature, I shall endeavour to give you, the consumer, the grape varieties that are allowed in the production of some of the better known top French wines.