No other country in the world produces a larger volume of quality wine than France, and no other country produces it in such diversity. No other wine producing nation has such a long history of quality wine production that defines style as do the wine regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, Champagne, the Loire and Alsace.
France was the first country to legislate a system to codify viticultural and horticultural practices and protect geographical names of origin. Today, France has over 450 different appellations d’origine contrôlee (AOC). Though not a guarantee of top quality, the AOC designation is a considerable help to the consumer in determining the range and styles of taste. Of the more than 2 million acres of vineyard in France, half are dedicated to wine authorized as AOC. We have divided this section by major wine region: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire and Alsace. Each introduction will look at the particular region in depth and describe its climate, soils and grape varieties as well as other factors that combine to shape its differing styles of wine.
Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée
Wine laws have been established in nearly all of the world’s wine producing countries to help codify established traditions and practices and to provide the consumer with protection against fraudulent activity and greed. France was an early leader in establishing laws that govern winemaking and wine labeling practices.
In France, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée [ah-pehl-lah-SYAWN daw-ree-JEEN kawn-traw-LAY] laws were established in 1935. There are now four categories that are officially regulated by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO). AOC laws cover many aspects related to the production of French wine: geographical limits of regions and vineyards, the grape varieties that can be used in a region, the minimum amount of alcohol the wine must contain, the maximum yield permitted per hectare and aspects of viticulture and vinification that represent tradition and history for the region.
The highest rank is Appellation Contrôlée (AC), which includes practically all of the famous wines of France. The phrase is taken from the French term Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. This name, loosely translated, means “controlled place name” and is an excellent guide for the consumer to the authenticity of the wine that bears this designation. Examples of AC wines are Gevrey-Chambertin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Pauillac and Champagne. Just below AOC is VDQS, a rarely used designation.