Lisbon Walk & Taste

Lisbon Walk & Taste

Walk and Taste in Lisbon and discover the unique flavour of the westernmost Capital in Europe>>

Text..

More...
Algarve Wine Trip

Algarve Wine Trip

Be seduced by a sunny and tasty inland exploring some fine wineries after a day in the beach >>

Text...

More...
Flavours of Porto

Flavours of Porto

Enjoy Porto with a cruise on the Douro River, a port wine tasting and a Fado show >>

More...
Trip To Alentejo

Trip To Alentejo

Enjoy landscapes of endless vineyards and discover fascinating historical sights>>

Text about slide...

More...
Frontpage Slideshow | Copyright © 2006-2010 JoomlaWorks, a business unit of Nuevvo Webware Ltd.
Culinary Tours Friends
Banner
Culinary Tours
photo photo photo  photo
photo 
Culinary Tours
Banner
Home > Guides > French Wine Classification

French Wine Classification

Friday, 08 October 2010 14:55
French vintners and wine makers have a long history of building a culture around their terroir. Although this simple word is French for “land,” it means a lot more in French culture. Philip Whalen cites a good explanation by John Wilson:

“In addition to the ‘physical elements of the vineyard habitat, the vine, subsoil, site, drainage and microclimate,’ Wilson includes a spiritual component: ‘beyond the measurable ecosystem, there is an additional dimension – the spiritual aspect that recognises the joys, the heartbreaks, the pride, the sweat and the frustrations of its history.’”

Terroir might be a foreign concept to an urban dweller, but it might make sense to someone who grew up on a farm or vineyard. If you love French wine, it doesn’t matter whether you understand a spiritual attachment to land. You can still wonder how your favorite French wines got their name. The following article begins to answer this question and is based in part on the book, Wine for Dummies, by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan (1995).

Thank Heaven for the Greeks!

Grapes for making wine were introduced to Gaul, which later became known as France, by the Greeks long before the Roman conquest. Centuries later, French wines rose to world prominence. It wasn’t until 1935 that the French national government passed a law from which the modern classification of wine originated. Today, France is a member of the European Union (EU), and the union has incorporated French wine law into modern wine classification in EU countries.

French Wine Laws

In 1935, the government of France established the Appellation Controlée (abbreviated AOC), a legal system for naming French wines after places of origin. In the French wine classification hierarchy, there are four levels, or ranks, of wines:

1. Appellation Controlée – the place name of a French wine, such as Appellation Burgundy Controlée; abbreviated AOC or AC.

2. Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure – French for “demarcated wine of superior quality” (VDQS).

3. Vins de pays – a wine from the country; a region much bigger than a place named in AOC or VDQS.

4. Vins de table – a table wine with no regional information; French law specifies that the wine label will not include the variety of grapes or the vintage.

Finest French Wines

Many of today’s elite French wines are still produced by AOC vineyards. But how would a wine novice know which part of wine country to visit in France or what region to look for on a fine dining establishment’s wine list? Under the traditional classification system, a wine might come from one of five types of geographical categories according to McCarthy et al:

“In increasing order of specificity, an AOC can be the name of: a region (Bordeaux, Burgundy), a district (Haut-Médoc, Cȏte de Beaune), a subdistrict (Cȏte de Beaune Villages), a village or commune (Pauillac, Meursault), a specific vineyard (Le Montrachet).”

Because there are many wine regions in France and many vintners within each of the geographical classifications in the AOC, you would be hard-pressed to know where to begin your French wine tour or wine list selection. For example, in the Burgundy region, the best wines might come from an AOC-designated vineyard. However, some wine makers will sell a wine with a blend of grapes from a single vineyard, and others will blend grapes from multiple sites (McCarthy et al).

In Burgundy, the best wines have a top designation – premier cru, or first growth, and grand cru, or great growth. The best choice is a grand cru. You can tell if you are getting the wine from a specific Burgundy vineyard because only the name of the vineyard is printed on the label (McCarthy et al).

A great way to learn more about French wine variations is to sample wines from different labels within the same region. Wine connoisseurs might even keep a journal of their likes and dislikes. As you expand your knowledge of French wines, you will develop an affinity for your favorites. Then you can plan a trip to specific vineyards within an AOC region, i.e. Alsace, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cȏtes du Rhȏne, Languedoc Rousillon, Loire, Provence, and Corsica.

At a French vineyard, explore the culture of terroir firsthand. To read more on the evolution of Burgundy wine and the history of AOC designations, begin with Stephen Whalen’s article, “‘Insofar as the Ruby Wine Seduces Them’: Cultural Strategies for Selling Wine in Inter-war Burgundy.”


Terroir and the History of French Wine Classification
By Angela Baca