Failings of the AOC system

You don't need to be an expert taster to see that the current system is not working.

Go into any supermarket and you can buy AOC wines from respected appellations all over France. Take them home and they will taste of the same few flavours.

Go to a natural wine shop and, for the same price, you will find wines with personality and charm. Many of them will be vin de pays and vin de table.

AOC labeling is simply not a reliable guide to wine quality.


Current French wine law does not adequately recognise the importance of the winemaker in the determining the quality of his wine.

You can make a very bad wine on a great piece of land. You can seriously damage the quality of your land by drowning it with chemical sprays.

But if you work in a prestigious AOC, you don't need to worry. It's the label that sells the wine.


In many parts of France, the boundaries of the appellations do not adequately reflect the realities of the terroir.

In 50 km of the Cote d'Or in Burgundy there are about five hundred appellations. In the whole of Champagne there is only one.

It is not the case that Champagne has a single consistent terroir, or that Champagnes taste the same where ever they are from.

There are many good vineyard sites which do not fall within the boundaries of any AOC.

A single great wine-maker working in such an area has little chance of getting the map redrawn in his lifetime, and often little interest.



Rules governing both viticulture and vinification are too strict on style and not strict enough on quality.

If a winemaker wants to experiment with different grape varieties or blends, he cannot label his wine as AOC. Even if it is a pure expression of the local terroir.

If he simply makes a bad wine, he can.

The biggest obstacle to improved quality is yields. The allowed limits are simply too high.

Lack of implementation

If INAO were only more effective in enforcing the rules it does have, an AOC label would mean more.

Maximum yields and restrictions on vinification (particularly on chaptalisation) are routinely ignored.

But the biggest problem is agrement, tastings. All AOC wines must be tasted and approved before they can be sold with AOC label.

Either the wine being tasted is not the same as the wine which is later sold, or it is practically impossible to fail a tasting.

Much of what gets through is an embarrassment.


French wine labels are confusing to the uninitiated and give little information relevant to the quality of the wine.

There is nothing as to grape variety, wine-making techniques or additives, viticultural approach or yields.

A vin de table is not even allowed to display the place or year it was made.

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