In each country wines are organized by geographical indication, appellation, and most common by region. Each country has their own governing body, so it is helpful to be aware of the many different acronyms and appellation names. Below is a summary, created by Madeline Puckette-WineFolly, of how the top 4 wine producing countries qualify their wines.
AVA: American Viticultural Areas
An American Viticulture Area (AVA) is a grape-growing area with distinguishing features in terms of taste and/or quality unique to its geographic origin. The AVA system first started in 1980 and today there are 230 AVA’s in the United States. Some AVA’s, like the Mississippi River AVA, span millions of acres of land and others have only a couple hundred acres. In order for a wine to be labeled with an AVA, the wine must have 85% of the grapes come from that AVA. AVA’s are a little confusing because there is no hierarchy and some larger AVA’s contain smaller ones. For example, Calistoga AVA is a sub-appellation of Napa Valley AVA and the Napa Valley AVA is a sub-appellation within the much larger North Coast AVA.
TIP: An interesting observation is regions that are divided into sub-appellations tend to make higher quality wines.
AOP: Appellation d’Origine Protégée
France organizes wine with the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée/Protégée (AOC/AOP) system which first started in 1937. There are over 360 AOC’s in France and most are within 11 primary growing regions (e.g. Rhône, Loire, Alsace, Bordeaux etc). The French AOP system has rules for all aspects of wine production including grape varieties used, minimum alcohol level, aging requirements and even vineyard planting density. As much as this seems incredibly rigorous in terms of regulation, the country labels their wines by region, so the regulations help define the style.
DOC: Denominazione di Origine Controllata
The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) system first started in 1963 and today there are 329 different DOC’s and 73 DOCG’s. The Italian system was originally designed to champion the indigenous grapes of Italy and wines with higher-tiered DOCG status contain unique-to-Italy grapes. Still, producers make very high quality wines with French grapes as well, such as the Super Tuscan blend with Merlot and Cabernet. However, since the grapes are not of Italian origin, the wines are typically demoted to IGT status. Here are some common Italian wine terms that are useful to know:
Classico: Between the 1960’s and 1970’s many DOC boundaries were revised to include a larger area. The ‘Classico’ denomination thus refers to the original smaller boundaries of the wine-making area.
Superiore: Superiore is often used as a production quality standard usually indicating a higher minimum quality of wine grapes and often minimum aging required before the wine is released
Riserva: This term is typically used as a production quality standard most often referring to extended aging of a wine prior to release. Many producers only make Riserva wines on exceptional vintages.
DOP: Denominación de Origen Protegida
The Spanish qualify their wines with the Denominación de Origen (DO) or Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) system. The Spanish system has 79 DOP’s, 2 DOC’s, 15 Vino de Pagos (VT) and 46 Vino de la Tierra (VdlT/IGP). The newest addition to the system was a single-vineyard category called Vino de Pago and many Spanish wine enthusiasts will agree that this category has some very intriguing wines. Aging is a very important aspect of Spanish wines–especially Tempranillo,– so the country has an aging classification system as well. Each region has slightly different rules attached to the following terms:
- Tinto/Roble: “Roble” may mean “oak” but this style is characterized by having little-to-no oak aging.
- Crianza: This style has some oak and bottle aging, typically 9–12 months. For example, Rioja requires 12 months of aging
- Reserva: This style is required to have oak and bottle aging. Typically a whole year in oak, with sometimes an additional 2 years in bottle.
- Gran Reserva: This style is required to have extended oak and bottle aging. Up to 2 years in oak, with up to 4 years in bottle,