You're in the wine store and you can clearly hold your own on the flavor profiles of a French Red Burgundy versus a California Pinot Noir. But what are these letters and phrases that appear on the labels? Wine classifications. Each country has specific wine classifications to ensure the growers and vintner are held to certain standards in growing and producing wine. Below is a quick guide to the different classifications that you will see on wine labels, divided by region.
* '''AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee)''' Wines designated AOC are of the highest quality and have passed the tight regulations on grape growing and controlling the alcohol content. The labels must include the term Appellation Controlee and the name of the appellation. Soil, grape, varieties, yields, alcohol levels, vine densities, pruning, and other variables are all officially regulated.
* '''AO VDQS (Appellation d'Origine Vins Delimites de Qualite Superieure)''' These are regulated in the same way as the AOC wines, but zones are drawn around commune boundaries. They are considered less quality and are beginning to be phased out of the classification system.
* '''Vin de pays''' volume and be tasted and approved for appropriate varietal characteristics.
* '''Vin de table''' This "table wine" varies in alcohol content and is of the lowest quality usually, for everyday occasions. These are not labeled with any region designation or vintage date.
* '''DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)''' Denotes the highest quality Italian wines. DOCG measures insure that each bottle is counted, providing an exact measure of production, and contains a government seal that is applied by hand. In fact, the DOCG rules prove their worth in all cases in which audit procedures show the precise ratio of bottles to output of grapes and wine. It is a costly procedure, usually reserved for expensive wines.
* '''DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata)''' Wines that fall under the DOC category must be made in specified, government defined zones, in accordance to particular regulations that are intended to preserve the wine's character that is uniquely derived from the country's individual regions.
* '''IGT (Indicazione di Geografica Tipica)''' Generally denotes ubiquitous tables wines grown in specific regions throughout Italy. However, some very good wines fall under this classification to avoid the strict regulations associated with DOC.
* '''VdT (Vino Da Tavola)''' end Italian wines. Mainly comprised of Italian table wines, whose criteria is only that they be made from grapes grown in Italy. These are often made by blended grapes from separate regions.
* '''DoCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada)''' A higher standard (above DO) recently introduced by the Spanish government in 1988. So far only Rioja has been able to achieve this status. This status guarantees that wines from an area have consistently performed at the highest quality level for a number of years.
* '''DO (Denominación de Origens)''' Wines carrying the DO label must meet the approved government standards in terms of grape varieties used, blends of grapes used within the wines, etc. It is this regulation which in part ensures the wines from each of the regions within Spain maintain their unique local characteristics. All wines are approved by the local Consejo Regulador, who administrates and regulates the production of quality wines.
* '''VT or VdlT (Vino de la Tierra)''' A notch lower, but these wines must, in the same way as DO approved wines, carry a vintage date and regional identification.
* '''VM or VdM (Vino de Mesa)''' These wines fall outside the DO system. They are table wines that do not carry vintage dates or regional identification. More often than not, they are a blend of wines from many regions and vintages.
* '''VC or CV (Vino Comarcal)''' These wines may carry a vintage date and the name of the area from which they originate. The area of origination of VC wines be the same as an official DO, but these wines are typically made from grapes or blends of grapes not approved by the local Consejo Regulador.
* '''Deutscher Tafelwein''' Denotes the lowest quality German wines, not many exported to the U.S. The grapes used have to be from Germany, and after fermentation, the alcohol content has to be at least 8.5%.
* '''Landwein''' dry).
* '''QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete)''' growing region, is made of approved grape varieties and reached sufficient ripeness for a quality wine. These wines can be chaptalized (meaning sugar is added to the juice before fermentation to increase the alcohol level after fermentation).
* '''QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat)''' The regulations are as QbA with the additions that the grapes have to be solely from the district stated and no alcohol enrichments or chaptalization have taken place. These are represented in graduating ripeness levels, which are in ascending order: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.
** '''Kabinett''' Light wine made of fully ripe grapes, with low alcohol content.
** '''Spätlese''' Literally means "late harvest." Wines of superior quality made from grapes harvested 7 days after the normal harvest. These wines are more intense in flavor and concentration than quality wines and Kabinetts.
** '''Auslese''' Meaning "select picking," these wines are made from grapes of selected, very ripe bunches of grapes.
** '''Beerenauslese''' ripe grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea.
** '''Trockenbeerenauslese''' Made with a harvest of individually selected grapes, which are overripe and shrivelled on the vine almost to raisins, preferably affected by Botrytis cinerea.
** '''Eiswein''' Also known as ice wine, the grapes have to be frozen at the time of picking and pressing. This wine is rare because the weather conditions do not cooperate each year, and it can be a little bit of a gamble for the wine growers.
* '''DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus)''' volume (displayed on the label), no discernable wood on the palate, and without marked alcoholic character.
* '''Prädikatswein''' “Certified” wine. Prädikatswein wines are the highest quality Austrian wines and are produced from specific grapes grown in a selected region. The sugar content of the wines are measured according to the Klosterneuburger Mostwaage, which expresses the sugar content as a weight percentage. After scientific testing, each wine is given an official test number. The wine is labeled with one of six degrees of ripeness:
** '''Spätlese''' Wines made from fully ripened grapes.
** '''Auslese''' Rich and intense wines made from grapes harvested by selecting specific overripe bunches of grapes.
** '''Eiswein''' Literally translated as "Ice Wine," grapes for these wines are left on the vines and picked in the winter when they are frozen.
** '''Beerenauslese''' The producer chooses specific grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea to use for the production of these wines.
** '''Ausbruch''' shriveled grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea. Ausbruch is the only specification not found within Germany’s Qualitätswein mit Prädikat.
** '''Trockenbeerenauslese''' Intense, rich, sweet and rare, these wines are made from overripe grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea that have nearly shriveled to raisins.
* '''Qualitätswein''' ripened grapes grown in a specific wine region. Sugar may be added to these wines to increase final alcohol levels.
** '''Kabinett''' wines fall under the qualitätswein category. They are made from slightly ripe grapes, but sugar cannot be added to increase the wine's alcohol percentage.
* '''Tafelwein''' Table wine. There are two types of tafelwein wines: landwein and tafelwein.
** '''Landwein''' wines are table wines that are made from officially designated grape varieties.
** '''Tafelwein''' wines are simply table wines.
* '''DO (Denominação de Origem Controlada)''' The only classification of Portuguese wines. Each of the 39 DO wine denominations require thorough testing and are given a certified test number, which must be displayed on the bottle. DO Porto and Madeira each have separate governing bodies and regulations. When a grape variety is displayed on the label, the wine must be made from at least 85% of that grape variety.