Appellation; What the hell is an AOP, DOC, DOP, PDO, GI???
If you know only one word in French, make sure it’s the word APPEL. It means Call. “Je m'appelle Champagne” literally translates to “I Call myself Champagne” / “My name is Champagne”. Thus... its a name. Champagne is arguably the most recognised appellation in the world, and France is the home of Appellation. But what do we know?!
Appellation systems exist all around the world in one form or another, most European countries utilise these laws to protect their sausages, charcuterie, wine, and many stinky kinds of cheese. Each appellation represents a climatic and stylistic change in wine, so to the laws that govern them change as well. Wine styles are stipulated by the governing body the INAO (Institut national de l'origine et de la Qualité), and are tested to ensure regional typicity, or terroir.
In 1935 the INAO established the standards of Appellation with the intent of both highlighting the environment and the collective know-how of any village or region, and assisting consumers looking to choose wine by style or provenance. Wines vary from town to town which is why there are over 300 different appellations in France alone. With that in mind, it does make sense that somewhere like Hermitage or Champagne would want to protect what centuries of tradition have given them.
Some winemakers often boast of varietals being perfect for their respective regions. This is often attributed to a combination of soils, climate, and weather and is seen as the basis of terroir. Slate mineral rich soils of Mosel Riesling imparting their elegance or the rich red clay of Coonawarra slowing ripening their Cabernet, making robust and concentrated reds.
Aside from functioning as an assurer of terroir. Each country’s respective administrator puts in place laws regarding the usage of additions, grape varietals, minimum alcohol, ripeness, total yield and even how far apart vines are planted. Appellations can be as small as a single site vineyard, and vary in size from La Romanée AOP with 0.85ha in Burgundy to the Languedoc AOP, the largest with over 200,000 ha.
Conversely, it is important to note that wine made outside the stylistic and geographic realms of appellations can still be high quality and often for a better price. Winemakers who fall into this category quite often turn their noses up at the notion of Appellation, and instead make wines that adhere to their own rules and choice of style. Most common are the French VdF (Vin de France) and Italian IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). Grape varietal and production method (Mèthode Traditionelle) may appear on the bottle but no mention of Appellation will be made.
Knowing a little about the AOP, DOC, and co., can be a great way to guide your wine selection, and add another layer of interest to your wine enjoyment. However, regardless of whether a wine has an appellation, cru level, or nothing on the label at all; fun, exciting and high-quality wine can be bought at all levels, irrespective of price.
For those (like me) who like the juicy details, see the administration for each wine producing country:
- France: AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) formerly known as AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee)
- Italy: DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)
- Spain: DO (Denominación de Origen) and DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada)
- Portugal: IPR (Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada) and DOC (Denominacão de Origem Controlada)
- Germany: QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) and Prädikatswein(ripeness levels)
- Austria: DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus), including Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein.
- United States: AVA (American Viticulture Area)
- South Africa: WO (Wine of Origin-Wyn van Oorsprong)
Australia and New Zealand: GI (Geographic Indications). An identifier of zone, region or sub-region.
(note: in recent years European Union legislators have changed the names and heirarchy of these classifications. Really they just put a P on the end of everything)
See the map below for a better idea of what we're talking about. These are the Appellations just for Burgundy!