What is AOC Wine?

If you’ve dabbled in wine classification, you might have encountered the acronym “AOC.” 

This mysterious label separates the best from the rest regarding French wines.

With so many ways to craft wine, specific rules and standards ensure that a wine's style, quality, and tradition are maintained. 

That’s just scratching the surface. Let’s dive into the meaning and history behind AOC wine.

What is AOC wine?

What Does AOC Stand For?

AOC or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée refers to a wine produced under strict laws and regulations to ensure the quality of grape varietals, terroir, and how the wine is produced.

It is so strict, not all grape varietals qualify for use in AOC wines, like in the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC. With this particular wine, only thirteen grapes are permitted.  The AOC label also takes the place of wine varietals on the bottle, so you may not actually know what kind of red wine you’re drinking (though these are usually blends).

Wine Tip: Jura wine, from the Arbois AOC, is a fabulous Pinot Noir blend.

Now let’s glance at a brief history of French wine classification. 

Grapes Permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

As mentioned above, there are only thirteen grape varietals allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the main one being Grenache noir. 

Here are the other varietals associated with this famous French AOC wine:

  • Grenache
  • Syrah
  • Cinsault
  • Clairette
  • Mourvedre
  • Vaccarese
  • Bourboulenc
  • Rousanne
  • Counoise
  • Muscardin
  • Picpoul
  • Picardan
  • Terret Noir

    Now that we have better insight into AOC wine labels, let’s glance at a brief history of French wine classification.

    History of French Wine Classifications

    AOC French wine dates back to 1411 when appellation standards classified the first agricultural product. If you guessed a type of wine, you’d be a little close, as wine could be an excellent pairing for this product. 

    The first item regulated by the parliamentary decree was Roquefort cheese, a type of blue cheese made from sheep milk. 

    By 1905, more laws determining viticulture origins were passed, and by 1919 the official law protecting the place of origin was passed. But it wasn’t until 1935 when winemaker Baron Pierre Le Roy aided in forming the Comité National des Appellations d'Origine (CNAO), the official committee for designating AOC. 

    But there is still more to AOC than meets the eye, as the classification has four levels to strive for.

    1. Grande Cru

    The highest possible classification of French wine, requirements for this level are typically determined by region. It often correlates with a single vintage, vineyard, or estate. The term can also refer to a plot of land or terroir where the grapes were grown.

    2. Premier Cru

    The next level of AOC classification is Premier Cru, which is just as ambitious of a title to strive for. This title typically denotes a vineyard to be of superior quality. Depending on the region, like in the case of Bordeaux, Premier Cru is possible within a Grande Cru classification.

    While Grande Cru is the top dog, Premier Cru is notably just as equal in quality.

    3. Vin de Pays

    This AOC meaning “wine of the land,” is the pre-European Union equivalent to Indication Géographique Protégée, which refers to “protected geographical indications.” A few notches below Grande Cru and Premier Cru, this classification only concerns the region where the wine was manufactured. Since it doesn’t consider style and tradition, this title gives winemakers substantial freedom when it comes to their blends.

    4. Vin de France

    A replacement for the more outdated term, “Vin de Table,” there are no specific restrictions on quality, style, or grape variety when it comes to this classification. Wines under this label can be made from any grape variety as long as they are native to France. 

    This classification is the most basic in French wine, but don’t be remiss, as wines labeled “Vin de France” are still quality.

    Wine Fact: Did you know Blanc de Blanc is a sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay and considered equal quality to Champagne?

    Other French Wine Label Terms

    We now know that a French wine label will always include the appellation details, and although the grape varietal won’t be mentioned, there are still a few terms to clue you in on what type of wine you’re sipping. 

    • Blanc de noir: white sparkling wine made with black grapes
    • Brut: dry sparkling wine
    • Coteaux: wines that come from a group of hillsides
    • Demi-sec: lightly sweet wine
    • Doux: sweet wine
    • Sec: dry wine

        Here are some of the best places to find French AOC wine. 

        Main French Wine Regions

        Curious about where to find the best AOC wine? The main French wine regions include Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, Languedoc, Corsica, Lore Valley, Provence, and Rhone. Within these regions are dozens of wine communes, the most famous of which are Medoc, Graves, and St. Emilion. 

        With so many options, you’ll be able to get a huge sample of different wines just by visiting one of these locations.

        When You Drink AOC, You’re Sipping Quality

        If you’re in France and have the chance to sip an AOC wine under one of the top classifications, know that you’re tasting one of the best wines in the world. 

        If you’re not in France, not to worry, Wine Insiders offers select French wines you can purchase today!

        Check out our customer-favorite red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, dessert wine, and Rosé at great prices. 

        See the Wine Insiders Blog for more on French wines and other varietals from around the world!

        Let Wine Insiders be your introduction to quality French wines without the high price!