- Posted by The CorkGuru
If you are a Sommelier or wine expert, you can easily decipher the abbreviations used on wine labels, but to the everyday wino, these designations might as well be hieroglyphics. Actually, in some instances, hieroglyphics might make more sense. The basic explanation: these abbreviations, aka “appellations”, provide general methods for categorizing wines in different countries by region and quality standards. Now let’s demystify what the wine abbreviations really mean.
American Wines: AVA
Besides being what you might want to name your daughter one day, this abbreviation stands for American Viticultural Area in the wine world. What does that mean? It means that the grapes used to make these wines were grown in federally-recognized growing regions in the United States.
According to wine frog, “AVAs are delimited by geography; sections of wine growing regions with the same climate, soil, elevation and physical features are assigned an official AVA designation.” Furthermore, “The AVA is used on wine labels to indicate region of origin. To be eligible to use a specific AVA designation, 85% of the grapes used in the wine must be grown in the AVA itself. Wines can possess several different designations, ranging from general (North Coast AVA) to specific (Napa Valley AVA).”
European Wines: AOP
Now let’s take a ride across the pond to Europe, where there are a whole different set of appellation definitions. Historically, each European country has developed and maintained a unique appellation system for the classification of wine. Recently, however, there has been a shift in Europe that changed the regulations of wine and other consumable products. As a result, the European Union developed an overarching system in an attempt to standardize the classification of all wines in Europe. Hopefully one day this will make it easier for the rest of us to understand!
The International Wine Guild lists European wine quality tiers as the following:
- Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP)
- Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS)
- Indication Geographique Protegée (IGP)
- Vin de Table (VDT)
Wine regions, standards of growing and winemaking all come into consideration for classification as an official AOP wine. Read more on the European Commision website.
French Wines: AOC/AOP
Although the European Union has provided a start to the simplification of wine standards, European countries still have their own classification systems. In France alone there are more than 792,000 hectares of vines planted with the purpose of growing grapes for wine. So it seems reasonable for them to have their own appellation system.
In 1935, the INAO, Institut National des Appellations d’Origine defined strict, specific, appellation characteristics to help guide the consumer, promote minimum levels of quality and energize growers to produce better wines. This is called the AOC system (Appellation d’Origine Controlee). The idea of the AOC system, which is used for food and other European agricultural products as well, is that the specific place where the product is produced is what gives the wine or product its unique character and style. The INAO wrote a series of French Laws and gave birth to the original four main categories, or classes of French wine. (information via The Wine Cellar Insider)
Original French Wine Classifications (1935):
- Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)
- Vin Delimité de Qualite Superieure (VDQS)
- Vin de Pays (VDP)
- Vin de Table (VDT) or Vins Sans Indication Geographique (VSIG)
In 2012, a new French wine classification system was introduced in an attempt to simplify and provide more details to the consumer on wine labels.
New French Wine Classifications (2012):
- Appellation d’Origine Protegee (AOP)
- Indication Geographique Protegee (IGP)
- Vin de France (VDF)
These basic wine classifications apply to French wine at the national level but, you should also know that some of the larger wine producing regions within France have their own systems.
Regions within France that have their own classification systems:
- Bordeaux – The Bordeaux Appellation System has 60 unique appellations. Learn more here.
- Burgundy – Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village Wines, Regional Wines
Within the Burgundy Region, there are additional classifications for:
- Chablis – Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village Chablis, Petit Chablis
- Beaujolais – Beaujolais AOC/AOP, Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais Cru
- Champagne – Grand Cru Champagne, Premier Cru Champagne
- Alsace – Grand Cru, Alsace AOC/AOP
Italian Wines: DOC/DOCG
These letters on an Italian wine label mean Denominazione di Origine Controllata and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. If you don’t speak Italian, then you still have no idea what this means. The terms refer to government guarantees of the wines’ origins. According to livornonow.com, “About 300 wine growing regions in Italy have the DOC designation, while only 21 have a DOCG label. The DOCG wines conform to DOC laws and in addition are quality tested by government-appointed inspectors.”
You may think, “Wow, I am now always going to buy DOCG Italian wines, because these are obviously the best.” The fact is, DOC(G) wines are made from 100% Italian grape varieties so if you are looking for a strictly Italian wine, with a consistent level of quality, absolutely stick to those.
But keep in mind, there are hundreds of high quality wines, including “Super Tuscans”, that have either been made with (or blended with) grape varieties that are not Italian varieties. Super Tuscans, in particular, are often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot grapes. So, while all of the grapes that are used to make a Super Tuscan have been grown in Italy, they are not all Italian varieties. VinePair has an in depth article on Super Tuscans if you want to learn more.
In 1992, the IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica system was created, since the standards for DOC(G) were too restrictive for many growers and winemakers; especially those using foreign grape varieties. Super Tuscans fell into this new designation, and as the designation’s popularity increased, so did several other wines. This helped Italian wines to flourish and increased exports to places like the US! Keep in mind, though, that because IGT is not as stringent of a system, wines on all ends of the spectrum can be listed under this label. Therefore, IGT doesn’t always signify great wine.
Italian Wine Classifications:
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
- Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
- Vino da Tavola (Table Wine)
Spanish Wines: DO/DOP
Spain also has country specific wine appellations. Starting to see the pattern here? Theirs are known as “DO’s” or Denominaciones de Origen which indicate both the strict geographical origin and the style of a wine.
Spain has 2 qualified DO’s or regions whose quality standards are higher than all others, known as DOC Rioja and DOQ Priorat. DOC stands for Denominación de Origen Calificada or Qualified Appellation of Origin. DOQ is the same, but comes from the Catalan dialect of Spanish, and uses Qualificada instead. (spanishwine.com)
In 2003, Spain developed a slightly newer classification system that mimics the French wine system.
Spanish Wine Classifications:
- Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC, DOCa, or DOQ)
- Denominación de Origen (DO)
- Vino de Pago (VP) indicates wines of high quality and a single estate but outside of a DO.
- Vinos de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica (VCIG or VC) indicates wines of quality from a region but not a specific DO.
- Vino de la Tierra (VT or VdlT) Vino de Mesa are table wines.
You may have also heard the terms Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. This refers to Spanish wine designations in the Rioja region based on quality and how long the wine has been aged with or without oak. Winderlisting.com outlines this in more detail.
So what do all of these wine designations really mean to the everyday wine drinker? A wine with an appellation on the label specifies that it meets certain standards approved by its country of origin. This is a great start to selecting a good wine, but you can’t really know what you like until you take a sip.
Have a question about a wine abbreviation? Comment below or tweet us @CorkGuru!