Quality Wine in the Old World

Have you noticed a change on the label of your favorite French wine? It might be subtle, and it may not even be there at all.

A few years ago, the European Union (EU) determined that something had to be done to tame the growing wine surplus. Indications are that many of the wines that were being produced didn't have much market potential, due to a poor end product. Many of these wines were so poor, that they were used for distillation. The ultimate goal of the EU was to  modernise the European wine trade, and improve its' quality and competitiveness with the new world producers. One of the significant reforms is the ability to mention grape variety on the label, making the wines more accessible to those who prefer New World market practices.

In the simplest terms, the EU wines will fall into two general categories: Table Wine (TW), and Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR). Table wines are the basic cheap blends that are sourced locally, and rarely seen on the import market. What we are used to seeing is the QWPSR wines. These are wines of a higher quality, and must pass minimum standards of production, and come from a protected geographic area.

Within the QWPSR, there are two levels of quality wines: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographic Indication (PGI). These are the English translations for the two levels.


Designation of Origin is defined in article 34 of the regulations as “the name of a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country …that complies with the following requirements;
-its quality and characteristics are essentially or exclusively due to a particular geographical environment with its inherent natural and human factors
-the grapes from which it is produced come exclusively from this geographical area
-its production takes place in this geographical area
-it is obtained from vine varieties belonging to Vitis vinifera”



Geographic Indication is defined as “referring to a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country …which complies with the following requirements;
-it possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to that geographical origin
-at least 85 % of the grapes used for its production come exclusively from this geographical area
-its production takes place in this geographical area
-it is obtained from vine varieties belonging to Vitis vinifera or a cross between Vitis vinifera species and other species of the genus Vitis.”




Each European country has its' own name for PDO. In France, this level is known as Appellation d'Origin Protogee (AOP). This is equivalent to the current AOC level most of us are familiar with (think Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cotes du Rhone - all are AOC's). The AOP will not entirely replace the AOC on the labels, rather the producers will have a choice of using one or the other. In the case of the PGI, this is equivalent to the Vin de Pays level. Table wine in France is now known as Vin de France.

Italy, Spain and Portugal all have similar designations. Where it gets a bit confusing is with Germany. Since the wines are labelled based on ripeness levels, there is currently no system similar to the EU designations. In Germany, the PDO level is known as gesch├╝tzte Ursprungsbezeichnung (gU) and the IGP level is known as

gesch├╝tzte Geografischa Angabe (gGA). I have yet to see how this will affect German wines.

So, if you have stayed with me on this, you are wondering..."how does this affect me?" Well, it may or may not. Many producers of higher quality wines, don't like the idea of putting the grape variety on the label. For example, if you are lover of wines from Jura, does it matter to you if it just says Jura, or will it change your opinion if it says the grape variety is Savagnin (yes that is spelled correctly - it is a different grape than Sauvignon). Many winemakers are stuck in tradition.

For now, you may or may not see a change on the label. The wine producers are given a choice. We are slowly seeing some changes on the shelf now, but only time will tell if it helps Old World wine sales, or confuses the buying public even more.

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