Being raised as an American girl has its perks, but sipping wine at dinner every night starting at age 10 isn’t one of them. In Old World countries there are heaps of cultural tradition woven into every pour of wine. But of course that makes sense when you think how long wine has soaked the European shores. Here in the New World we’re just getting started.
All winemaking regions around the world have some sort of boundaries set around them. These plots of land are clad with labyrinths of rules and regulations that vary in strictness. Every country has a different name for their driving viticulture force. And even though they can be drastically different they all share a common purpose: quality.
Here is a quick and dirty guide to the regulatory systems in place in three of the world’s top wine making countries:
Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – aka Controlled Designation of Origin
Long story short this entire system is based on terroir. To be able to slap the AOC status on your bottle you need to play by the rules. Including: The area where the grapes are grown, what grapes you can grow, how much water you can give your grapes, the age of the vines, the amount of alcohol in the wine, maximum levels of yield, grape growing standards – and list goes on. These rules are strictly kept and if you don’t meet them you fall into one of the lower categories.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – aka Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin
Modeled after the AOC system in France, there are 20 regions in Italy. Rumored to have over 2,000 different grapes, although there are only 350 regulated wine varietals. DOCG wines are guaranteed by a group of quality insurers who verify the wine is from a specific region and has followed the specific rules laid out for the region. The two lower classification systems here are DOC and IGT, which are more lax.
American Viticulture Areas
The AVA system is like your laid back aunt who just took a Xanax when compared to the iron fisted European classification systems. Like France it’s all about terrior and geographical area, but that is kind of where the similarities end.
Here the biggest concern is at least 85% of the grapes used to make the wine need to be grown in the AVA listed on the label. Yeah, USA is a young punk. Yes, I said it and I stand by it.
As a young wine enthusiast I only wanted to buy Italian wines that had a thin strip of paper curled around the bottles neck that looked like a band of colorful foreign currency, with a bold DOCG printed in Times New Roman on it. That’s what I thought the green light to quality and perfection in wine was. That is until I woke up to the real world. I am a classically trained Certified Sommelier. I went to a school where they pressed the importance of tradition in the vineyard, with the specific significant grape verities of the land and conventional long established wine style of each definitive piece of earth.
Since growing up and finding my own footing in the wine world I see myself leaning towards the rebel wine makers. The ones that say fuck the rules! I like their passion and their drive to follow their soul, the ones that care about what’s best for the grapes and don’t care about putting letters on their bottles. I like the people who are taking risks and breaking tradition because that’s what makes life and simultaneously wine beautiful and interesting.