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Wine Appellations and the Meaning Behind Them

Appellation designations, such as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée), play a significant role in classifying and labelling wines worldwide. These designations are part of a system that ensures the authenticity and quality of wines based on their origin.

Vineyards in a wine region

Some of the elements regulated by appellation laws include:

  • Terroir.

  • Grape variety.

  • Production style.

  • The geographical location of the vineyard.

  • The allowable grapes.

  • The maximum yield of grapes.

  • The required time a wine should age in the barrel and or bottle before being sold.

Minimum alcohol levels may also be regulated, depending on the country and region.

In short, an appellation designation system helps ensure the quality and uniqueness of a wine, a true benefit to the consumer as it tells a story about the wine on the shelf.

Appellation Systems Around the World


The European Union introduced the PDO and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) designations in 1992 to provide a uniform labeling protocol for wine producers and consumers. Wines with PDO and PGI status must meet strict rules and regulations regarding their geographical origin and production methods. While the AOC and DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) systems are still in place, wines can also be classified under the overarching EU system as AOP (or PDO) and DOC.

Though general European standards exist, looking at France, Italy and Spain, the leading wine producers in Europe, and the specificity of designations you could find on a wine label from these countries is essential.


In France, the AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) system was created in the 1935 by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, now called Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité). It is by far the most well-known example of legal classifications and appellation designations.

With France's AOC system, wines must adhere to specific production standards to benefit from using a designation on the label. Moreover, the AOC system has a hierarchical structure, with particular appellations having more stringent requirements than others. For example, the Grand Cru and Premier Cru appellations have stricter regulations within the Burgundy region than the regional AOCs.


In Italian wine, DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) are important quality classifications that guarantee the origin and quality of the wines. Here's a brief overview of the differences between the two:

  • DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata): This designation ensures that the wine is produced in a specific, well-defined region using approved methods. It also guarantees a certain level of quality. However, DOC wines do not undergo a mandatory tasting test. With that said, some sub-appellations have taken it upon themselves to do producer led tastings of even DOC wines to preserve the quality and reputation of the area.

  • DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita): This is the highest designation for Italian wines. DOCG wines not only adhere to strict production regulations within a defined area, but they also undergo a mandatory quality tasting test. Only wines that pass this test are granted the DOCG status, providing additional assurance to consumers.

In addition to the above, DOC wines do not have to abide by the same aging, yield, and alcohol regulations as seen with wines with DOCG status.


In Spain, the appellation designations for wines are known as Denominación de Origen (DO), Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP), and the highest designation in Spain, DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada). As of today, the DOCa designation is currently held by only two regions in Spain, Rioja and Priorat.

The mainstream quality wine regions in Spain are referred to as Denominaciónes de Origen Protegidas (DOP), similar to the French appellations. However. Spanish wine law became slightly more complex in 2003 when the hierarchical structure of wine classifications grew with the introduction of VP and VC wine indicators.

VP stands for Vin de Pago. This term is assigned to high-quality estate wine, and the wine label houses the DO status and VP indication in these cases.

VC stands for Vino de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica (quality wine from an indicted geographic area). These wines don't quite make it to DO standards but are of a quality greater than the wines in the IGP (protected geographical area) level.

Fun fact: Spain is said to have launched their legal regulations for wine before France and Italy with Rioja in 1925.

United States

The American appellation designation system for wine is known as AVA (American Viticultural Area). An AVA is a grape-growing region with specific geographic and cultural features. The AVA system, which began in 1980, has since expanded to include 242 AVAs across the United States.

To carry an AVA label, at least 85% of the grapes used in the wine must come from the listed AVA. Unlike other systems, such as the French AOC, the AVA system does not have a regional or quality-based hierarchy, and some AVAs are encompassed within others. For example, Oakville AVA is a sub-appellation of Napa Valley AVA.

The Appellation System is a Consumer's Best Friend

The appellation system helps to educate consumers about the origin and quality of the wine they are purchasing. By understanding the geographical and climatic conditions of a specific region, consumers can develop preferences for certain styles of wine and make more informed choices when selecting a bottle.

For winemakers, appellations can be a powerful tool for marketing and differentiating wines in a crowded marketplace. Wines from prestigious or well-known appellations often command higher prices due to their quality and uniqueness.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, appellations are legally protected, and unauthorized use of a designation can result in legal action. This protection helps prevent misleading labelling and ensures that consumers receive the product they expect when purchasing a wine from a specific area.

There is indeed much behind the appellation system and its designations and classifications. It really is the consumers best friend.

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