A. The Lowest Level – Table Wines
B. Country Wines – After the Table Wines and the Country Wines (Vin de Pays, IGT, Vino de la Tierra etc).
C. Appellation Wines – Appellations are a guarantee of minimum wine quality and are therefore the next level up. Initiated in France in 1935, “Appellation of Controlled Origin,” is sometimes called Appellation Contrôlée and abbreviated as either AOC or AC. They are similiar to the American Viticultural Area or AVA, ‘Coonawarra’ of Australia, DOC of Italy and DO of Spain. The appellation system safeguarding the quality-conscious winemakers, vineyards, and areas in that unethical producers may not use the better-known names for wines that do not meet the appellation standards.
Note that AVA, DOC, DO and AOC wine regions represent the minimum guarantee but can be a double-edged sword. In some cases, it is thought to be so strict that it limits experimentation. Many critics feel that the task of policing the AOC standards is so onerous that some less than good wines still carry the AOC classification.
Multiple ACs can exist within the geographic area of a larger AC
When you look at a French wine you may be surprised to find other appellations other than the regional ones. The confusion can be easily explained. Wine sub-regions have taken to using their own appellations for example –
The MARGAUX AC, is within the HAUT-MÉDOC AC, which is within the BORDEAUX AC. Generally, the smaller ACs produce the highest-quality wines.
D. French Crus are appellation wines as well as Classified Growths; Wines made from single vineyards (label carries the vineyard name of the label) & Top Brands in Europe and in the New World are considered of similar status – At the top of the tree, there are the Crus which mean ‘high quality wine available in small quantities’. Grand Cru represents the best wines from a vineyard of superb quality.
Whether in Europe or in the New World, there will be wines made from grapes from a specific vineyard and those top wines of Estates and Chateaux. They could be cult wines or very highly regarded wines from single vineyards and they rank alongside and sometimes above the Crus (contentious).
Bordeaux Cru – In Bordeaux there are various Grand Crus (Medoc which ranks the best wines (and most expensive) into 1st to 5th growths; St. Emilion that ranks the best wines into A, B and other categories and more.
If you see Cru Bourgeois of Bordeaux on the label, note that the wines that represent exceptional value. They are the ones that are superior to AOC but just did not make it into the Grand Cru league.
Burgundy Cru – The focus is on the vineyards where certain vineyards producing the best wines, (even if a number of producers make wines from that vineyard and label them differently). The wines are known as Grand Crus. The Premier Crus are the next best wines.
- More on Classifications; The Classification Tables (French Grand and 1er Crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Super Tuscans
- Regional and Country Wines of France
- The Top Level Wines of Italy
- Super Tuscans
- French Classification Tables