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Appellations - The development of Appellation Laws

Wine and the Market

In theory the idea of a national body applying rules and regulations to the making of wine means that the consumer will be better protected. The rules of Appellation across Europe and elsewhere are designed to ensure that when the consumer sees 'appellation controlee' or its equivalent, certain things are guaranteed.

In theory the idea of a national body applying rules and regulations to the making of wine means that the consumer will be better protected. The rules of Appellation across Europe and elsewhere are designed to ensure that when the consumer sees 'appellation controlee' or its equivalent, certain things are guaranteed.

The primary guarantee is that the wine in the bottle will come from specifically the region that is delimited by the appellation. In France and in other countries, it also guarantees that specific grape varieties will have been used, that they will be pruned in a certain way, that the wine will be of a minimum stipulated strength and that there is a maximum permitted quantity of production per hectare. The system has been in continual development over the last thirty years and has been refined with the aim of further protecting the consumer. For the most part, it has done exactly that.

The French system has been used as a basic model by other countries. In France the system is four-tiered; there is the 'Appellation Controlee' or AC, then the 'Vins Delimites de Qualite Superieure' or VDQS - wines of a superior quality - then the 'Vins de Pays' which are country wines that are deemed to have a recognisable character, and finally 'Vins de Table' which don't guarantee very much, although they are tested by a tasting panel.

When the system came into being it was adopted by almost everyone in the business of producing wines. In a business where there is huge scope for fraud, honest brokers were pleased to find a government-backed system that re-assured consumers about what they were drinking. More importantly, this confidence in the product meant that higher prices were sustainable. This was a lesson not lost on the producers in other countries. Italy established its 'DOC', delimitazione di origine controllata, and shortly afterwards the 'DOCG' which appended the magic word 'garantita', which means 'guaranteed'. The Spanish have their 'denominacion di origen' and the Portuguese have their 'denominacao de origem'. The German system is different, their labelling laws concentrating more on the sugar content of the wine, however words to look out for on their comprehensive labelling are 'gebiet', which is a wine-growing region, and 'bereich' which is a sub-division of that.

The occasional scandals which surface from time to time make it clear that the system can still be defrauded, but it is heavily policed - since it's in everyone's interest to keep prices up - and for the most part it works well. But like any large system it has problems when dealing with exceptions. Because the rules are becoming ever more strict anyone who wants to experiment with their wines can do so only if they don't mind losing their appellation. Only big producers with large advertising funds can do this. An example is the emergence of Tuscan wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Disallowed under DOC legislation, this grape can only be used for 'table wines', the lowest appellation. The expensive Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Sammarco and Tignanello are 'vino da tavola'.

Recommended wine

Lagavina 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cecchi

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