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What is "Appellation d’origine contrôlée"?
‘Appellation d’origine contrôlée’, which is shortened to ‘AOC’, is the French system for defining wines by the region they come from. This means that wines, for example from Bordeaux, Alsace, Champagne and so on can only use that appellation (name) if they are from that region. Other European countries have similar rules in place (see below), and in the USA, the naming rights for wines from specific regions are determined by the A.V.A (American Viticultural Society). International treaties keep everyone toeing the line.
This system respects the fact that the nuances of wine are more complex than just the grapes and the process used. The geographical region where the grapes are grown, the ‘terroir’ , has an unmistakable influence on the wine. The AOC designation is in place to assure the customer that this particular wine is verifiably from this region, and has been made according to strict regulations which ensure the quality and consistency of the product.
The labels on AOC wines identify the wine-growing area, and may even specify the vineyard where the grapes for a particular wine have been grown. AOC rules extend beyond geographical limits, and specify such details the varieties of grapes which may be used, the yield of grapes per hectare, cultivation and wine-making methods, and so on, as well as minimum alcoholic strength.
The literal translation is ‘controlled (contrôlée) name (appellation) of origin (d’origine)’. Note that ‘AOC’ refers only to wine, while Appellation d’origine refers to other products such as cheese, lentils, poultry, and so on.
French wines are ranked by the ‘Institut National des Appellations d’Origine’ (INAO) which means the ‘national institute for naming (of wines) by origin. According to their system, French wines are ranked as follows: