Andrew Polmear

Wine Classifications

Have you noticed the changes occurring on European wine labels? European Council Regulation 479/2008 attempts to harmonise various European countries’ classifications of wine into three, in ascending order: table wine, Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) wine and Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) wine. It sounds like a good idea. The consumer will know, whichever European country the wine comes from, the standards that the wine has met to be placed in this category.

The title of table wine (Vin de Table, Vino da Tavola etc) guarantees that the wine is made from grapes from that country, has a minimum and maximum permitted alcohol content (5% to 15% in the UK), and not much else.

PGI wine (in France, Italy and Spain it’s IGP) must come from the named area and must meet more stringent regulations.

Then there’s wine that is PDO, or AOP in France (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) or DOP in Italy and Spain. To achieve this, the highest appellation, the wine must meet still more stringent regulations.

Dry White WineAll clear so far? I wish it were that simple. Winemakers are not rushing to adopt these new terms. In France, for instance, they are keeping their beloved AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée) instead of using AOP. However, they seem to have been much more ready to change the term Vin de Pays to IGP. In addition to the new terms, they are allowed to use their long established classifications. So you will have to continue to remember that Grand Vin de Bordeaux means nothing more than that it’s claret, while Premier Grand Cru Classé means that it’s from one of the top five chateaux in Bordeaux.

Do these labels guarantee the quality of the wine? Not entirely. It’s a rough guide but anyone who talks informally to European wine makers will find how easy it is to flout the rules. French winemaking seems to be highly regulated but the anarchic tendency of the French makes a sport out of getting round the rules. For instance, the AOC rules limit the volume of juice harvested per hectare. There’s good reason for this: over-cropping is associated with reduced quality. However, some winemakers show the permitted volume on their records but actually harvest more than that, using the extra to make unlabelled wine for themselves, their friends, the whole village… Everyone knows it happens, no-one reports it. Then again, AOC wines should be subjected to a tasting and only approved if the wine meets the quality, and has the character, of that appellation. Sounds good, but the tasting occurs when the wine is in the barrel and is often too young to show what standards it will meet when mature; and the tasting is done by another local winemaker who is unlikely to turn down the wine of a friend! Conversely, sometimes the regulations mean that the wine is better than you would expect. Some great wine is called Vin de Table because the winemaker has used grape varieties, or winemaking methods, not permitted under classification rules.

Frankly, price is probably a better guide to quality than classification. In wine, if not in global finance, the market usually gets it right.

Andrew Polmear

Categories: Andrew Polmear

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