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Saturday, July 19, 2014

AOP, IGP and Vin de France. New Labels on French Wines.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Last updated May 2017    


Vin de France

AOC has become AOP
                                 QVDS has disappeared.                                        
Vins de Pays has mostly become IGPs.
Vins de Table has become Vins de France.
Wines bottled before 2012 may keep their old labels.
The AOP  has replaced the AOC.

 AOP in French stands for Appellation d'Origine Protégée; for French wines, this indicates specific grapes and wines made in distinct growing areas. These French wine growing areas are called appellations. There are over 300 distinct appellations.
What does the AOP mean for the consumer?
All the wines that previously carried the AOC label were grandfathered in and have become AOP wines. For the consumer who bought a specific vintage AOC wine from a particular producer before and now buys the same wine with an AOP label, he or she will find that nothing in the production system has changed.  The AOP labels, as the AOC label before, covers the grapes that may be used, the way the grapes are grown, the way the wines are blended, and their method as well the place of production. All the old regulations remain. Unfortunately, no retesting was carried out. Nevertheless, the year of vintage continues to make a very important difference to a wines taste. Three years ago the wine may have been excellent, next year who knows?

Wine in carafe and glass.
Photograph courtesy of nyaa_birdies_perch.

The same grape can make wines that have very different tastes.

A wine made in different wine growing areas that use the same grapes cannot bear the same name, and from my limited experience, the two wines will have different tastes. 

As an example here are three famous Burgundy wines that use the Chardonnay grape but have very different tastes:

     Côte de Beaune includes the wines from Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-
     Montrachet and  Corton-Charlemagne.  

     Chablis comes from the four Appellations around the town of Chablis and is associated with the original grading of the vineyards. 

     The Mâconnais region produces the famous Pouilly-Fuissé and more. These different regions produce very different wines that are all made with the Chardonnay grape. 

 In the French world of food and wine grading, today the AOP is the big one; even for the locals, an AOP is the most impressive of all the many grades printed on the labels of French foods and wines. The fact that these wines' ratings may have been handed out over 80 years ago and not checked since unfortunately worries very few.


What can you tell from an AOC or AOP wine label?

Many AOC and now AOP wines do not show the AOP label on the bottle, but all AOP wines must show their Appellation.  Only AOP wines have wine growing areas called Appellations.

A  wine may have two or three labels. A wine’s vintage may be on a label on the bottle’s neck and lower down, maybe one or two more labels with the wine producer's name, its Appellation, the place where the wine was bottled, along with the alcohol content and the bottle's volume.


Where the wine was bottled will be shown on the labels.

Bottling the wine within the winery where the wine is produced is considered a sign of quality. However, not all small wineries can afford or produce enough wine to own their own bottling plant. The industry has a solution for that and in France, I have seen mobile bottling plants driven into a winery's property. Over a period of one to two days that year's vintage is bottled and labeled. The label will read Mis en bouteille au Domaine or Chateau, etc. Bottled on the producer's land.

A mobile bottling plant that fits inside a 20' container.
It arrives on the back of a truck.
The plant is made by ContenO, a Belgium company.

Finally, usually at the end of the label, comes the name of the producer or wholesaler followed by an address.


How many French wines may bear an AOC or AOP Label.

There are over four-hundred and fifty different French wines entitled to an AOP label and more than 20,000 wineries.  With numbers like these, how likely are you to know a particular wine, winery and more to the point; does its vintage comes from a good year?  A small wine list in a good restaurant may offer 30 or even more different AOP wines; that restaurant has chosen its 30 wines from among hundreds. The factors required to choose a wine include the year, the producer and the price. Even for the knowledgeable owner of a French restaurant and his or her very learned sommelier making up a wine list is not easy.


Have the wines changed in the last 100 years?

Yes, wines change,  and for the wines that have improved in a good restaurant, you do need a good sommelier. A sommelier is a professionally trained wine-waiter who apart from selling wine, tastes the wines, sees to their storage and careful aging, and then builds a wine list to cover a wide range of tastes and price levels. A wine that was graded in 1935 or before will not be the same today, and the sommelier is expected to know all the wines on his or her wine-list and how they taste.

Since 1935 when the original AOC grades became law the way the soil is treated and the way the grapes are treated and the way the wines are aged has become a science.  For the consumer, those changes are not easily understood.  A wine that received its AOC  rating in 1935 may then have been just good enough to pass.  The same wine from its 2005 vintage may now be superb or possibly disastrous; however, the consumer will not know that from the label. Equally a great wine in 1935 that lost its edge and has trouble selling its production will not have its AOC or AOP rating removed and the average consumer will be unlikely to know its reduced quality.   When you do go to France take an up to date book about French wine with you, an encyclopedia is not required!  At least try expensive wines in a wine bar before buying a bottle in a restaurant or a case in a wine shop.


What you need to know about AOC or AOP wines.

Champagne as an example.

There are some 100 Champagne houses. A Champagne House is a wine producer who sells Champagne under its own name and may also grow some of the grapes used; however, most Champagne Houses will be buying 80% or more of their grapes from independent growers.  There are also wholesalers, called négociant distributors, who buy and sell bottled Champagne wines and have them labeled and sold under their own names. Knowing a little about these wines can make a better choice. 

Champagne bottle and flute.
Photograph courtesy of Bergius.
Bordeaux wines as an example:

Bordeaux wines also require a great deal of knowledge as there are so many. Bordeaux produces 57 different AOP appellations! Producing wines from these 57 different appellations are over 9,000 wineries!   Then to confuse us more among these wines are 5 crus, grades for the older red wines that were allocated in 1855, and three crus for other reds; there are also three crus for Bordeaux white wines.  These wines have never had their grades checked or changed in over 150 years!  

Thankfully, restaurant wine-lists of Bordeaux wines are not divided into 57 different sections. Most restaurants who offer many Bordeaux wines divide Bordeaux into just seven groups. In any case, no restaurant could offer every good Bordeaux wine, that would cost millions.  Apart from Bordeaux wines, France has nearly 400 other non-Bordeaux AOP wines competing for space on the wine list. None of this makes the Bordeaux wineries happy;  the 9,000 plus wineries will all be fighting to get their name on a wine-list when there may only be space for 10 Bordeaux wines.
From the examples of Champagne and Bordeaux above, you will quickly learn, as I have done that choosing a wine, despite the new AOP label, is not easy and for the true connoisseur requires a lifetime of learning and deep pockets and I have neither the time nor the bank balance. Use your "up-to-date" book on French wines when considering a Bordeaux.

A 1964 Bordeaux wine label.
Photograph courtesy of roger4336.

The English website for all Bordeaux wines is:

French wines include the greatest wines in the world. However, the change from AOC to AOP has not made the life of the consumer any easier.  That being said a well-educated sommelier who knows the diner’s budget can make all the difference. The sommelier can guide the diner away from a famous and expensive wine that comes from a bad year and offer a good wine from a good year from a lesser known producer at one tenth of the price.

 For more about AOP and its use in French foods and more see the post: AOC and AOP on France's Foods and Wine labels?

VQDS. This label is no longer used.
VQDS.  These wines whose logo meant Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure were originally wines that were considered candidates for upgrading to an AOC.  The wines that carried that VDQS label has now either been upgraded to the full AOP status or given the lower IGP status.


IGP  has replaced, or at least been added to, 
the previous Vin de Pays label.

IGP means Indication Géographique Protégée. The equivalent English language label reads PDO and means Protected Designation of Origin. This label gives the consumer assurance that the wine was made in a particular part of France. 
The Vins de Pays label that preceded the new IGP was for fifty years a grade that offered wines from a particular region and the IGP continues that tradition. Like the AOC wines, all the Vins de Pays were grandfathered into the new IGP label. Whatever you enjoyed and relished as a Vin de Pays may continue to be enjoyed and valued as an IGP.

IGP wines may show the grapes used and always show the area of France where the wine was made.

When a visitor to France sees an IGP wine made with one of the popular grapes often seen on the bottles of New World wines such as  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay, etc. that visitor has a good idea of the taste.  When in France compare a local IGP wine made with a grape that you know from home, the taste may be different and often better. As an example, when you buy a Chardonnay IGP Pays d'Oc you will know the name of the producer, the place where the grapes were grown and the wine produced, and the year the grapes were picked. You can order that Chardonnay wine again and again. Pay’s d’Oc wines are from France’s southern Languedoc-Roussillon (now the new super region of Occitanie).

Label of Chardonnay Vin de Pays d'Oc;
 that will now be replaced by an IGP
Photograph courtesy of Fenners 1984.
IGP wines are also allowed to add a subtle amount of pure water made with boiled oak chips to aging wines; that provides more of that natural oak taste!  Do not be surprised about the use of oak chips, those were always part of the wines make-up. Knowing how the wines are made does not change their taste. Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados also permit the use of oak chips just as Champagne and other wines have their permitted additions. 

Overproduction in an IGP vineyard

If an IGP producer’s vineyard produces too many grapes per vine that will lower the quality of the  wine. Then the powers that check the IGP wines will push that year's wine into the Vin de France category. IGP regulations also have taste tests, but I know little about this and I have never seen the results of a taste test, nor heard anything about the people who do the tasting.

IGP wines on top restaurant wine lists. 
Over the last years, some excellent  IGP wines are being added to the wine lists of a few of France’s top restaurants, including those with Michelin stars. The sommeliers, the trained wine-waiters, along with the chef will have tasted IGP wines that are offered. Then a few of the best IGP wines will make it to the restaurant’s wine list, and replace less well considered  AOP wines.  There are now more than more than 150 IGP  Vin de Pays wines in reds, whites, and roses, and knowing which one is best in a particular year requires a degree of knowledge far above mine; you need that wine book.


Vins de France

Vins de France replaced the Vins de Table (table wines) and they are the considered France’s lowest ranking wines, though they are often far from being bad wines.

Vin de France are  sold without their area of origin on the label.  The regulations that previously applied to Vins de Table remain, more or less, the same. Vins de France are typically sold under the producer's name or use a  brand name that will make it easier for the consumer to recognize.  For a single grape wine,  the name of the grape used is permitted and other wines are blends,  Most Vins de France are relatively young wines that are meant to be drunk with little aging.

On the table in the home of French consumer over 75% if the wines are IGP or Vin de France. For drinking wine at home the French consumer tests a few bottles of different Vins de France and then buys a case or two of the best.  French consumers know their wines. While French consumption of wine has dropped steadily over the last 30 years; however, the French still hold the title for the highest per capita consumption of wine.  According to figures from  the BBC in  2011 the average Frenchman or woman drinks just over one bottle a week.

I noted above that Vins de France wine are often far from being bad wines.  If a vineyard is outside the areas of the AOP or IGP wines, the producer will have no choice but  to be graded as a Vin de France. The wine produced may be an excellent wine, but the vineyard is outside the specifically  graded wine growing areas.

There are also cases where an AOP vineyard used plastic sheeting to prevent too much water reaching the grapes during a period of heavy rain and for that the wine was downgraded to a Vin de France, the producer broke the rules.  Adding a different grape to a blend will also lose the producer the right to hold the higher grade. With these otherwise fine wines do not meet the legal format of VOP or even IGP, some producers have begun selling their wines with brands which the consumers and wine critics will remember. Small restaurants and bistro owners taste these wines and when the find good quality Vins de France they become their house wines. Their low prices and good quality will bring the local diners coming back again and again.  Other producers of Vins de France have chosen the path of low-priced marketing with boxed wines and/or adding fruit flavors that attract the younger crowd. The success of the New World Wines has shown that you do not need an AOC, AOP or IGP to sell good inexpensive wines.

A very short history of the grading of French wines.
Many French wines have been graded under one system or another for some 500 years. These grades are known to oenophiles, wine connoisseurs, but that information has little value for most of us. Today;s grading began in 1885  when the wine merchants demanded a  way to grade Bordeaux wines. Crus, grades, were allocated to wines by using the accepted public thinking of the time along with the current selling price. In the 150 years since then, less than three wines have changed their ratings despite the changes in the art of growing grapes and making wines. Starting in the early 1900’s France’s official grading’s began, and in 1935, the government created the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO). The Institute of INAO now oversees labels used for all of France’s foods and wines including the  Label Rouge and the AB label for organic produce and wines.  An appellation legalizes and limits the wines that may be grown in a specific area. The regulations have changed a little over the years. Included in the regulations are the crus  and the names of the chateaus, villages and other forms of grading within the approved grade of  AOP, IGP or Vins de France. The untrained visitor to France needs that book on French wines today.

Are you are considering buying an old wine at a  bargain price?

If you see a famous or impressively named French AOC wine five  or ten years old, or even older at an enticing low price, do not buy it!  If the wine was good the French wine mavens would have been there long before you. Caveat Emptor, just as there is no free lunch, there are no famous and good old French wines at bargain prices.


Historically France's different grapes were nearly always blended to produce the best tastes. The buyers, who mostly came from England, were those who drove the vintners to produce better wines. France’s most important wine market was the Port de Bercy, a tax free village on the Seine River  just outside Paris’s original walls. In the 1820’s Bercy was the largest wine market in the world. Bercy wine wholesalers produced in their cellars the first blends of quite a number of  wines and sent their recipes  back to their growers. Some of these blends remain today and many other wines are versions of blends that began in Bercy.
Despite all the science behind the modern wine industry, the wine experts will tell you and show you that the grapes grown on different soils do produce wines that taste differently.  To that, add the weather in a particular year and that unique French expression terroir. Terroir, in wine, is the unique difference in taste that comes again and again from a specific part odf a vineyard. A vineyard in the same appellation, but 100 yards away, may not have that unique difference in taste. Year by year a part of a one-acre vineyard may produce a markedly better wine than the neighboring vines and that is its terroir. That terroir comes from the soil, the slope on a hill, the shade, or lack of it and so far no algorithm has solved the difference.

Wine is the perfect accompaniment for most French cuisine and French diners know very well that a good wine can add to their enjoyment of their meal. The French diner also knows what damage an expensive wine can do to his or her pocketbook or wallet!  Even as I love wines I will not pay more for a wine than I pay for a meal.  When someone else is paying I may enjoy a wine that I usually would not consider.
Organic wines

To all of the three-wine grades noted above, you may see additional labels indicating wines produced from organically grown grapes.  The French government AB label, which is the most trusted of all organic labels, will be seen on wines of all three grades.

AB Label.

Agriculture Biologique, Organic Agriculture

The AOC label in English, Italian and German

The English label reads:
Protected designation of origin PDO.

The Italian language label reads:  
Denominazione di Origine Protetta.
The German language label reads:  
Geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung

The IGP labels in English,  Italian and German,

       English                                                        French



 German                                                                      Italian

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Bryan G, Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010,2014, 2017

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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