Since the earliest days, winemakers realised that factors such as soil, climate and aspect influenced wine quality and the best variety to grow. Terrior, a French word with no direct English equivalent sums up these factors and is an integral part of the French Wine Classification system. French wine laws are complex and regionally specific but all comply to the three overriding categories.
Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée is the strictest category. It relates to where the wine is made and often with what grapes and method. It is not in itself, a guarantee of quality, although some may dispute this, it varies with the AOC. AOCs can vary in size from a few acres to an entire region. To ensure wines of high quality, look for these;
Grand Cru, this is the highest French Wine Classification, it indicates where it is made and/or by which chateau. There are several tiers within the class, of which Premier Cru is the highest.
Vin de Pays or VDP
Standing for Country Wine or more accurately Wine of the Land. It is less controlled than AOC, giving winemakers more freedom to use different grapes and methods. It is primarily a geographical indication. Unlike AOC wines, it shows the grape varieties on the bottle. The freedom VDP producers have has allowed them to react to competition from New World producers, they are the driving force in increasing export sales.
It is wrong to assume them as inferior to AOC, this is the exciting area in French winemaking, the wines need judging in their own right.
Vin de France or Vin de Table
Although widely used, the term Vin de Table has been superseded by Vin de France in the French Wine Classification system. Not to be confused with Vin de Pays, all the classification tells you is that the grapes were grown and made into wine in France. Quality varies widely, some very enjoyable, if you find one, let us know!