What is AOC Wine?

Wines are not only white and red, still and sparkling, dry and liqueur. The twentieth century gave them a classification. AOC, vintage and table wines, cru and land wines appeared. Therefore, very often, looking at the bottle, you can find a mysterious abbreviation on it, and what this combination of letters means, you just have to memorise it. Moreover, these categories are actually quite few.

If originally appellations appeared to counteract counterfeiting, today they protect the local ‘typicality’ of wine. Within appellations, each stage of production is clearly regulated. They closely monitor what varieties and how much to grow, what the sugar and alcohol content of the wine will be, and how long and how it should be aged. If the winery follows all the rules and the wine conforms to the accepted style, the three cherished letters appear on the label: AOC.

This is convenient for consumers. If the label says, for example, Chablis AOC - inside it will be 100% Chardonnay from the unique soils of Chablis with a rich content of chalk and sea shells: mineral, complex, with elements of luxury. Chardonnay from other regions does not have these qualities. By the way, the name ‘Chablis’ was most often counterfeited in the 20th century, but the AOC system has brought order to this market.

The appellation guarantees the predictability of the experience, as it is the place of origin that most determines the style of the wine. The same vintage in different appellations can produce different results: for example, a Chardonnay from Chablis AOC and a Chardonnay from Macon AOC are literally two different wines.

The flip side of the coin is the sluggishness of this system. It does not have time to react to changes, so some producers consciously leave the AOC to create more modern and sought-after wines using ‘non-traditional’ grape varieties and winemaking techniques.

The French system is the most elaborate. Appellations are at the top of the general classification of wines, are linked to geographical units - regions, towns, communes-villages - and can be ‘invested’ in each other like matryoshka dolls:

The largest is the regional appellation. For example, Bordeaux (Bordeaux AOC) - it covers the entire area of Bordeaux vineyards. It's a wine from somewhere in Bordeaux in a recognisable regional style. The next smaller one is a sub-regional appellation. For example, Medoc (Medoc AOC) is a geographical area within Bordeaux. This is a wine with a more pronounced personality. The smallest is a communal appellation. For example, Margaux (Margaux AOC) or Pauillac (Pauillac AOC) are among the many communes within the Medoc. These are wines with a clearly recognisable and often unique style that is unique to a particular commune. The general rule is: the smaller the matryoshka doll, the more interesting the wine.

Appellations in other countries Similar systems linking wine to its place of origin exist in other countries with a developed wine industry, both in Europe and abroad. Russia also has its own classification.

In Italy, DOС (Denominazione d'Origine Controllata) is an analogue of the French AOC. The wine is made where the grapes grew, in compliance with the established rules. DOC does not always guarantee fantastic quality, rather it sets its lower limit. In total, there are about 330 DOCs in the country.

DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is the highest level of quality in the Italian system, the ‘best version of DOC’. The wines in this category are subject to the most stringent requirements. There are 77 such appellations in Italy. Both abbreviations are indicated on the labels of Italian wines.

In Spain, DO (Denominación de Origen) is AOC in Spanish. There are 67 DOs in the country, the category guarantees the origin of the wine but not its quality (similar to the Italian DOC, here they set its lower limit).

DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) is the highest category of Spanish wine. Only two regions have DOCa status: Rioja and Priorat.