Appellation Types | appellation d'origine contrôlée

Champagne region landscape shot

‘controlled designation of origin’

Primarily used to identify where a wine’s grapes were grown, an appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical area. Cheeses of France are also highly regulated by appellation rulings. Each appellation may also have requirements of which grapes can be grown, yields, alcohol percentages, and various other elements that must be adhered to in order to have it on the bottle’s label.

The Appellation d'origine contrôlée is the French based certification for all wine created across France. It is a certification granted to wine and cheeses to denote their place of origin, quality, and style.


The idea of classifying and controlling the quality of wine originated not from wine but from a blue cheese in 1411. This cheese from Roquefort became so well known, it’s lesser quality replicas were tainting its reputation and potentially harmful if not prepared correctly, therefore it became regulated by parliament decree to ensure constant high quality creation.

It was in 1905 when regulations arrived in the wine industry, with a tirade of low quality wines trying to spread across the country and put the high quality producers out of business. So in 1935 they finally set up the Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), a group that develops and enforces rules regarding how a wine is to be made and labelled. This includes the types of grapes that can be grown, yields, alcohol percentages, and other elements. This raised the quality levels of French wine and kept consumers well informed on what they were drinking.

Other countries quickly followed suit, with a larger European standard overarching the whole continent. The AOC now sits under the European appellation d’origine protégée (protected designation of origin).


1411- Roquefort Cheese became the first agricultural product to have government regulations put on it.

1905 - Regulations started to control the quality of wines

1905-1935 - Champagne was the only wine region to have appellation control with legal protection stating that only sparkling wine made in Champagne can be labelled Champagne. This was stated in the Treaty of Madrid, then later reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles following World War I.

1935 - The Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) was founded.

1937 - Baron Pierre Le Roy Boiseaumarié from Châteauneuf-du-Pape obtained legal recognition of the Côtes du Rhône appellation of origin.

1950s onwards - The AOC seal (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) was created and mandated by French laws.

How AOC appellations are determined

  1. Regional Analysis: The Committee visits the region to ensure that the wine is made in certain areas that meet the requirements to be granted AOC status. Their decisions are based on a list of factors including; production style, aging method, location and variety of the grapes, the terroir, and yield.
  2. Committee Decision: If a wine satisfies these standards, the committees will grant AOC status for that calendar year.
  3. Quality Check: A wine can lose AOC status if their production is subpar for a vintage. Each year the wines are checked to ensure constant quality.

Wine regions with wines with the AOC classification include: Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Rhône, Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Bordeaux. 

The Appellation Classifications

Each wine can gain a ranking from the AOC if produced in a specific region, and exhibits the required level of quality and style. Each appellation has its own outlines with regard to grape variety, growing conditions, and permitted blends.

Grand Cru: Highest possible classification - Requirements to meet it vary per region but is most often tied to a specific vintage from a single vineyard or estate.

Line up of Grand Cru wines

Premier Cru: Second to Grand Cru wines, they sit within larger appellations. With the possibility of Premier Crus sitting within Grand Cru classifications, primarily in Bordeaux. It can also denote a particular vineyard or estate within a region.

Line up of Premier Cru wines

Vin de Pays: First introduced in the 1970s, it is the broader classification as the pre-European Union equivalent of IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée, or protected geographical indications). They are only classified based on the geographical region of where the wines were made with a larger area that the main AOCs. This allows for wider boundaries with respect to individual styles of winemaking.

Vin de France: The most basic classification with now rules around where and how the grapes are grown or vinified. It was previously known as Vin de Table.

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