You may have been out for dinner, at your local wine store, or here on our site and seen the acronyms: "DOC", "DO", "AOC", "QbA", etc. on your wine labels. At the beginning of my wine adventure I was completely lost to the meaning of these funny little labels. I quickly learned they're not only easy to remember but they're a great way to find quality wine from some of the best wine regions in the world.
Well, What The Heck Are They?
These acronyms tell you the wine is from a specific Apellation.... "A What?" ... Apellations are recognized wine growing regions throughout the world, where winemaking style, grape choice, and quality are regulated to ensure higher value and brand recognition for that region. That's the core idea of an apellation, maintaining quality standards to ensure that wines of a certain region have inherent value.
You may be thinking... "WTF"... and that's perfectly normal
Apellations are often broken into tiers, either demarcated by region, local towns, microclimates, or even soil composition. An example of tiers would be Chianti DOC and Chianti Classico DOCG; Chianti is the greater region and recognized as a quality wine region but Chianti Classico is a smaller more established region within Chianti. With the optimum microclimates, soil types, and winemaking tradition Classico is considered more "valuable" or at least more "typical". Winemakers in Chianti Classico may choose to make Classico DOCG, Chianti DOC (which has less restriction in style), Chianti IGT (may use any grape varietal), or Vino da Tavola (the lowest quality wine designation)
The same tier situation is true of Bordeaux where the large regional Apellation is Bordeaux AOC, followed by District AOC's like Libourne or Graves AOC, followed by each district's unique chateaux tier system. In Graves for example there is a Cru system which stratifies wine producers into 5 tiers: Premier Cru (1st Tier) through Cinquiemes Crus (5th tier). While certainly an absurd and relatively arbitrary system, just remember, that Premiers or 1er Cru is going to be ridiculously expensive and that there are often great values further down the ranks.
Apellations vary in every country, from the very lenient AVA apellations of the USA, to the elaborate Pradikat and QbA systems in Germany and Austria.
Now That I've Confused You
The core takeaway point from this tirade is this: Apellations are a helpful guide but they are by no means a guaranteed measure of quality. Most apellations do try to ensure quality and consistency through blind tastings, harvest and grape regulations, and other quality standards, but the field of options will often remain very wide indeed.
What you can rely on is this, apellations help regulate classic styles and help you make more informed decisions when choosing wines. You'll never go wrong by taking a few different bottles from the same region and comparing them. You may surprise your taste buds and find a world of minute variation you never expected.
So, invite some friends, make a facebook event with a name like "Tonight We Taste Tuscany", and compare a few similar vintages. You'll have fun and learn a little along the way.
For further info into this large and confusing world, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apellation.