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Classification Laws

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French wine laws are a bit complicated. In 1935 the Institute National des Appellations d’Origine INAO was created with the mission of setting up the French Appellation d’Origine Controlee AOC System. Today the AOC system is still administered and periodically revised by the INAO. The system sets standards for specific categories of wine as well as various foods. The system has become a model for wine producing countries around the world.

Here is what you need to know under the AOC system, the three main categories of wine are in descending order to quality.

Vins d’Appelation d’Origine Controlee – AOC
The category Vins d’Appellation d’Origine Controlee-AOC-includes the finest wines of France. Each wine must abide by a strict set of regulations. These cover:

Area of Production: Each area is precisely defined. Only wines made from vines growing within the borders of the appellation have the right to use that appellation.

Variety of Grape: Each area has permissible grape varieties, which may be used only in given proportions. If a producer makes wine from grapes other than those permitted, he must forfeit the appellation.

Yield per Hectare: The basic yield allowed is set, though in some years it may be increased. In Bordeaux, for example. The yield permitted for red wine is 55 hectoliters per hectare, or 1,452 gallons of wine for every 2.47acres. The legal yield for white wine is slightly higher.

Vineyard Practices: How and when the vines can be pruned, the type of trellising system, and whether the use of irrigation is permitted are regulated.

Degree of Alcohol: All AOC wines have a minimum level of alcohol content and some have a maximum level.

Winemaking Practices: Winemaking practices, such as chaptalization are regulated, as are in some cases aging requirements. chaptalization is the act of adding sugar to a low-alcohol wine before and/or during fermentation so the yeasts will have more sugar to convert and the alcohol level will be increased. You cannot taste the sugar in the chaptalized wine, the process does not increase the wines sweetness, it increases its alcohol.

Tasting and Analysis: All AOC wines must go through a chemical analysis and pass a test for typicity-that is, they must taste true to their kind. Those wines that fail must be declassified.

Varietal Labeling: The laws governing varietal labeling are beginning to change, but in general, putting the name of the grape variety on the label is forbidden unless the producer has been given special permission. This law does not apply in areas, such as Alsace, where varietal labeling is traditional. In some areas if producers choose to use the name of the grape variety, they must forfeit the right to use any appellation except the most basic one.

Vins Delimites de Qualite Superiure - VDQS
The group of wines in the category Vins Delimites de Qualite Superieure – VDQS - falls slightly below those of the AOC in quality. Yields may be higher and alcohol levels may be lower.

Vind de Pays
Frances so-called country wines - Vins de Pays - are defined by region. Like AOC wines, they must meet certain rules, though these rules are usually far less strict than for AOC wines. Permissible yields are higher, and the rules concerning grape varieties are more flexible. You can nonetheless find vins de pays that are very drinkable.


Italian wine regulations are roughly similar to the French Appellation de’Origine Controlee laws. The Italian Ministry of Agriculture and forestry oversees the regulations. There are three main categories, DOC, DOCG, and IGT.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata – DOC - and Denomizione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – DOCG
There are more than three hundred areas where wine is produced that have been given DOC status and twenty-one have DOCG status. In these regions the DOC and DOCG laws govern the area of production, the permissible grape varieties, the maximum yield of grapes per hectare, the minimum degree of alcohol the wines must possess, such vineyards practices as pruning and trellising systems, winemaking practices, and the requirements for aging. In addition all wines must pass chemical analysis and taste tests for typicity. The rules for DOCG wines are some what stricter than those for DOC wines.

Indicazione Geografica Tipica – IGT
Roughly equal to the French designation vin de pays, IGT wines must also meet certain rules regarding the area of production, the permissible grape varieties, the maximum yield of grapes per hectare, and so forth, but these rules are generally much less stringent than for DOC or DOCG wines. There are more than 120 IGTs.


Greek wine laws are governed by a set of national laws implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1971. The laws define the boundaries of wine regions, stipulate which grape varieties can be planted, designate allowable winemaking and viticultural processes, and govern how wines are permitted to be labeled. The Greek laws define three categories of wine. These categories are not necessarily a hierarchy. Very good wines can be found in any of them.

Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality – OPAP - and Controlled Appelation of Origin - OPE
The designations Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality – OPAP and the controlled Appellation of Origin OPE, indicate dry and sweet wines that come from defined areas and are made in prescribed ways similar to French AOC wines. These are a total of twenty-eight wines with appellation status in Greece. Within this category are two levels beyond standard wine, reserve and grand reserve. White wine in the reserve category must be aged two years, with minimum of six months in barrel. A reserve red must be aged three years, with a minimum of six months in barrel. Grand reserve whites must be aged three years, with a minimum of twelve months in barrel, while reds must be aged four years, with a minimum of two years in barrel.

Topikos Oenos, Greece’s rough equivalent of French vin de pays, or country wines, topikos oenos wines do not possess appellations of origin but, instead, may be made in a large number of specified areas from a large number off grape varieties both indigenous and international. The labels of topikos oenos wines sometimes also include one of the following terms, Ktima, meaning estate, monastiri, meaning monastery or archondiko, meaning chateau.

Eitrapezios Oenos, Roughly equivalent to France’s vin de table, or table wine, many epitrapezios oenos wines, while very popular, do not possess appellations of origin, and in fact they may be blends of grapes from different regions. The top wines in this category are labeled cava and are aged longer than the regular wines. Cave whites must be aged two years, with a minimum of six months in barrel. Cava reds must be aged three years, with a minimum of six months in new oak barrels or one year in old oak barrels.


Denominacion de Origen –DO - and Denominacion de Origen Calificada - DOC
The Spanish Denomination de Origen DO laws, first enacted in 1932 are similar to France’s Appellation d’Origine Controlee laws, which define and protect wines from specific geographic areas.
There are fifty four Dos, or officially recognized and geographically defined wine regions, in Spain. In addition, Rioja is the only Denominacion de Origen Calificada DOC, or Qualified Denomination of Origin. To qualify for DO or DOC status a wine region must meet rigid requirements. These are set forth by the National Institute of Dominations of Origin. However, each DO and DOC also has its own Consejo Regulador, a governing control board that enforces specific viticultural and winemaking standards and regulates the total acreage that may be planted, the types of grapes planted, the maximum yield, the minimum length the time wines must be aged, plus the information that may be given on the label.
In addition, each Consejo Regulador maintains a laboratory and tasting panel. Every wine awarded DO or DOC status must be tasted, evaluated, and found to be true to type.


Australia does not have a strict system of laws regulating grape growing and winemaking. There are no rules similar to French Appellation d’origine Controlee laws, which govern the varieties of grapes that can be planted in specific areas, the yield produced from those grapes, how the grapes are vinified, how long the wines are aged, etc. However, there are regulations that define Viticultural regions and govern labeling. The regulations are set forth by Australian wine and Brandy Corporation. They stipulate the following.
- If a grape variety is named on the label, 85 percent of the wine must be composed of the grape named.
- If two wines are used in blend and neither represents 85 percent of the total, both grapes must be listed on the label in order of importance. Thus, a wine labeled Cabernet-Shiraz has more Cabernet than Shiraz, a wine labeled Shiraz-Cabernet, just the opposite.
- Blended wines must also state the percentage of each grape used in the blend.
- If an area, district, or region is named on the label, 85 percent of the wine must come from that place

South Africa

In 1972 South Africa’s Wine of Origin legislation was enacted, this establishment designated areas as having distinctive Viticultural qualities. Further legislation in the mid-1990s defined the term estate. An estate wine may come from one or more parcels of land that share the same ‘ecological conditions’ within the same district of origin. The parcels do not need to be contiguous.

Most wines in South Africa are labeled by grape type. A varietally labeled wine must contain 75 percent of those grapes, in other words, a Saxenburg sauvignon blanc must be at least 75 percent sauvignon blanc.
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