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A Note on the Legal Categories of Wine in France

With an exciting academic experience in France just around the corner, I thought an entry discussing the legal categories of wine in France to be appropriate. France’s policing of wine is interesting, as the country is one of the most stringent regulators with respect to the names of wines and the regions of production. The production of wine is managed by two institutions: The Instituit National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) and Service de Repression des Fraudes. (See French Wine Laws.) France also has one of the oldest systems for protecting the name and origin of wine and, accordingly, serves as the prototype for many other European countries, including the wine laws of the European Union.

French law divides wine into four legal categories:

  1. Vin de Table: Vin de Table is the least restrictive of the four legal categories of wine in France. Wine in this category can be produced throughout France without restrictions as to grape variety, “although the wine may not be chaptalised.” (Id.) Wines of this type carry only the name of the producer and the designation that the wine is from France; Vin de Table wines do not carry designations such as region or specific grape varietal.
  2. Vin de Pays: The second to the least restrictive category is Vin de Pays. To be considered part of this category, a wine must meet four qualifications: area of production, grape varietals, yields, and analytical standards. (For more detailed information, see French Wine Laws.) Wine of this category, unlike wine of Vin de Table, carries the specific region name but is subject to less restrictive regulations.
  3. Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure (VDQS) or, sometimes called, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure (AOCVDQS): VDQS is the second highest category in which a wine can be placed. It was created in 1949 and is considered a “stepping stone” category to the highest level, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. (Id.) Over time, some of the wines classified under VDQS are now considered to be part of the AOC classification such that the amount of wines classified as VDQS amounts to less than 1% of wines produced in France. The laws of VDQS wines cover the same factors that are considered for AOC wines, such as areas of production, grape varieties permitted, and vinification methods, but are notably less stringent. (Id.)
  4. Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC): AOC is the most prestigious category in which a wine can be placed. Requirements to attain AOC level depend on the region in which the wine is produced, but generally include factors such as areas of production, grape varieties permitted, viticultural practices, vinification methods, and specific hierarchies of appellations. AOC accounts for approximately 50% of wines produced in France.

VDQS and AOC fall under the EU category of Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) and Vin de Table and Vin de Pays fall under the EU category of Table Wine. (For more information, see French Wine Laws, Wine Grades in France, and BBC French Wine Laws.)

Lindsey A. Zahn

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Lindsey is the founder and author of On Reserve: A Wine Law Blog. She is an alcohol beverage and food attorney and is admitted to the New York State Bar.

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