GEOLOGY AND WINE
French wines are grouped into three broad categories. Yields (measured in hectolitres of wine produced per hectare of vineyards) are generally lower for the higher quality wines.
The most basic category, formally called Vin de Table (table wine).The grape varities may be indicated on the label, and many are blended wines - sometimes blends of one from more than one region of France. No particular region is specified on the label. Most of these wines are produced in the Mediterranean region, including Corsica.
Protected Geographicl Indication. Formally termed Vin de Pays (country wine). These must be from a specific area (varying in size from a small vineyard to a large region) of France; produced from certain grape varieties approved for that region; must observe maximum crop yields and minimum alcohol contents specified for that region. Vins de Pays were introduced in 1983, and these wines are often excellent value for money. They fall into two groups: 1) wines produced from traditional local grapes, usually blends, but not given AOP status (see below), often for somewhat subjective reasons; 2) wines produced from non-traditional grapes for that region (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon in southern France), which are therefore excluded from AOP status. The second group usually states the grape variety on the label. Most IGP wines are red, and most of these are produced in the Mediterranean region (Languedoc-Roussillon & Provence).
The highest grade, (but not always the best value wines!). AOP wines account for about 48% of wine production (2013). All the better known wine regions make predominantly AOP wines, e.g. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne. Exact locations of vineyards, grape varieties, yields, alcohol content etc. are strictly laid down. Wines must be submitted for tasting and analysis before being marketed. This category covers a huge range of quality, from plonk which is scarcely worth AC status, to fine Bordeaux and Burgundies costing hundreds of pounds per bottle. Since 1980, several new AC/AOP areas have been created in Languedoc-Roussillon (e.g. Corbières, Minervois, St Chinian...). AOP appellations may cover a whole region (Languedoc), part of a region (e.g. Côtes du Roussillon), a smaller vineyard area (e.g. Terrasses du Larzac) or an individual village (e.g. St Chinian Berlou).
N.B. Many wines are not bottled where they are produced. Read the label carefully, as those which have travelled hundreds of km by tanker before they are bottled tend not to be of the highest quality! A knowledge of French postcodes is useful: the first two numbers identify the département (shown on French maps). Wines bottled in northern departments (e.g. 14, 59, 62) will not have been grown in those regions.