Appelllation Contrôlée is a protection given to French produce from a specified region. It normally requires guarantees that the produce comes from that region, has been produced according to specified standards, and meets certain (relatively low) quality levels. Unlike common perception, it applies as easily to cheese and chickens as to Chablis and Chambolle; indeed, the first product protected by parliamentary decree was Roquefort cheese, in 1411.
In 1935, the French Government created the Institut National des Appellation d’Origine (INAO), which regulates not only where a wine may come from, but also the type soil the vines may be grown on, the permitted grape varieties, and how those grapes must be cultivated. The desire for the AOC system grew up in response to a vast increase in wine fraud and adulteration following the phylloxera epidemic and the devastation of land and communities following WWI. However, this was not an imposition from on high by some faceless bureaucrat against the wishes of the producers – far from it in fact. It was they, and specifically the former French WWI flying ace turned lawyer turned Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié, who led the creation of the INAO and the AOC system.
Key AOCs and when they were introduced
- All of Alsace
- Alsace Grand Cru
- St Julien
- Clos de la Roche
- Clos Saint-Denis
- La Grande Rue
- La Romanée
- La Tâche
- Ruchottes Chambertin
- Volnay Santenots
- Chablis (incl. Grand Cru & Premier Cru)
- Clos de Tart
- Clos des Lambrays
- Côteaux du Layon
- Quarts de Chaume
No other country has an AOC system (so if you see Appellation Controlée on another country’s wines, it’s by definition wrong), and it’s a fact that the vast majority of investment grade wine comes from France, but there are a number of other systems worth noting, simply for reference.
Italy created its DOC and DOCG system in 1963, modelled on the French AOC system. As with France, it delimits a region, specifies a production method, and sets a floor (often quite a low one) on quality. One important note is that DOC and DOCG wines may not be sold in bottles holding more than five litres.
Spain also has a similar format to France and Italy, with DO (Denominacion de Origen) and DOC (Denominacion de Origen Calificada) setting out the regional qualifications. Only Rioja and Priorat have DOCa status, gained in 1991 and 2003 respectively. Ribera del Duero is a DO, granted in 1982. Within each DO / DOC, there may be quality levels stipulated such as joven, crianza, reserva and gran reserve.
Why you should know about it
In the Rudy Kurniawan trial, one of the key proofs that certain wines were fake was that they were labelled “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (also known as Appellation Contrôlée or AOC) before such a system existed. Laurent Ponsot testified, for example, that not only was a Ponsot Clos de la Roche AOC 1927 impossible because there were no Domaine Ponsot wines until 1932, but also there were no AOCs at the time either.