Anybody who tried to sell French or other European wines know how difficult it is. There are many reasons for this situation: difficult labels, weird names impossible to pronounce and a system of geographical origins rather difficult to understand for a foreigner.
The European Union is working on a new system with France leading the way. Let’s be frank: France has one of the most complex appellation system. France has several levels of quality of wine: the “vin de pays” (coming from a certain area but with no real control on the grapes used or the quality of wine) and the famous Controlled Appellation. France has now several hundreds of them: some of them cover a very small geographical area and it is very difficult to locate this place on a map. Even French people can’t master the system.
What is the purpose of the new system? Up to now, European wine producers didn’t have the right to put the grape name on the bottle in the Controlled Appellation system. If you like French Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, you have to memorize the geographical areas producing this grape: Bordeaux in a blend with Merlot or Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley, a little in the South. Do you prefer Pinot Noir or Syrah? For Pinot noir, Burgundy is your area; for Syrah, you have to look at Côtes du Rhône, for instance. What about the blends? That’s where things are getting really complex: you can find Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir or Syrah in many blends over several areas.
Writer and wine lover Tim York explained on the Wine Forum of the WineLoversPage.com Discussion Group how the French system will be reformed:
“A three tier system of appellations will be put in place.
The third (bottom) tier will consist of “vins de table” (table wines). With effect from the 2009 vintage, “vins de table” will be allowed to put grape variety and vintage on their labels. Grapes may be blended from any part of France. There will no longer be any constraints on production methods, for example on yields and irrigation, other than those of international wine industry norms (e.g. the banning of flavouring additives, certain chemical stabilisers, etc.). It is hoped that this will permit the appearance of French commercial wine brands to compete with those of the New World. “Vins de Pays” will disappear progressively after 2009.
The second tier will consist of “vins de territoire” (territorial wines). Into this category will fall the more ambitious artisan produced wines which are “vins de pays” at present, existing regional appellations such as “Bordeaux” and “Bourgogne” and regroupings of existing lesser AOCs. An example of the last is the regrouping into “Côtes de Bordeaux” of the appellations Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac and Francs. 50 to 100 appellations are expected to disappear in the next few years. The creation of new appellations will not be allowed.
The first (top) tier will consist of “vins de terroir” (terroir wines) which will reinforce the AOC system at the top level. The intention is to guarantee quality as well as origin. New style tasting committees for accepting or refusing wines will replace local vignerons, too subject to complaisance with poor quality and jealousy of outstanding performers, with more independent persons such as journalists, oenologists, wine merchants, etc. The AOCs will draw up new specifications to replace existing INAO application decrees; it is intended that these should be in place for the 2008 vintage.” You can read the exchange – sometimes a little heated – on the Discussion Forum.
It is a fascinating topic when you consider that the so-called New World is now starting to protect their own terroirs and to create Controlled Appellations of their own. The US created the “Center for Wine Origins” because, as it stated, “when it comes to wine, there is no ingredient more important than location”. As my friend Robert McIntosh wrote on the OpenWine Consortium blog, the old dichotomy between Old and New World is now fading. Welcome to the Wine 2.0 world!