French Wine Laws Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

French Wine Laws

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In France, wine production and naming is regulated and controlled by government bodies such as the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine des Vins et Eaux-de-vie (INAO) (National Institute of Labels of Origin). These regulations exist to protect the names of fine wines. The first laws were passed in 1905, but were poorly enforced. In 1935, laws were passed which set up the INAO.

The INAO studies the vineyard and wine before they grant a quality designation.

Quality Wines


Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC or AC) ('Verified Place of Origin') accounts for 20% of French wine production. The laws governing AC cover:

  • Area of production and composition of soil
  • The grape varieties permitted
  • Viticultural (grape growing) methods
  • The maximum yield permitted
  • Vinification (making the wine from the grapes) methods
  • Minimum alcohol content

The purpose of the laws is to protect quality at the expense of quantity and to indicate the origins of a wine. A wine producer risks their wine being classified Vin de Table ('table wine') if they do not satisfy the INAO that they have met the regulations for the region in which they produce.

AC laws are also used to control the production of fine spirits in France.


Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS)('Higher Quality Wine') is the second level of control for quality wines in France. It went into force in 1953. About 1% of French wine production falls into this category. Wines applying for VDQS status have to be tasted before the classification is granted and once granted the classification is valid for three months. VDQS laws cover:

  • Area of production
  • Type of vine
  • Pruning
  • Vinification
  • Maximum yield
  • Alcoholic content

Table Wines

Table wines are regulated by the Office du Vin ('Wine Office'). They are split into two categories.

Vin de Pays

The laws covering Vin de Pays ('local wines') came into force in 1973 and now cover:

  • The region the wine comes from
  • The grape varieties used
  • The yield
  • The minimum alcohol content
  • A tasting test
  • Chaptalisation (enriching with sugar) is not permitted
  • Red wines must undergo malolactic fermentation1

Vin de Table

The only real rule here is that it must be made from wine produced in the European Union. Although, to be labelled as French wine, all the wine in the bottle must come from France.

1A secondary fermentation process that changes malic acid into a far more pleasant (for the taste buds) lactic acid. This softens and adds complexity to the wine.

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