Betty's Wine Musings

Having a system to tell you the quality of a wine is a very cool concept. Isn’t it? Well, yes and know. When you look at the French wine laws (the AOC system) that have been in effect since the 1930s, you see the positives and the negatives. This article will focus on the downsides of the French wine laws.

Downsides: Label confusion

Let’s start with the wine label. Here is a typical French wine label.

French Wine Label - from
French Wine Label – from

You can see that the label is very informative. It provides all kinds of information, except for one key item – the varietal. The French focus on terroir (the grape’s growing environment) dictates that an AOC wine label only provide information about the appellation, not about the grape. You are expected to know what grape goes with what appellation. According to, “It seems that the average wine-drinking consumer is perfectly willing to learn a few dozen grape varieties to help make their purchases, but totally unwilling to learn the thousands of French appellations, especially when AOC rules prevent most producers from displaying grape varieties on their labels.”

Also, there are cases where towns share names with appellations. If the town of origin of a wine contains a controlled appellation in its name, the producer is in a dilemma. They are required by law to identify the place of origin on the label but prohibited by law from using the full town’s name unless the wine is an approved AOC wine. Not easy.

Downsides: Terroir above all else

At the heart of the AOC system is the importance of terroir and its impact on the wine’s character and quality. claims that “the French overstate the influence of the vineyard site and downplay the role of the winemaker…There is an assumption that great wine is a consequence of a great vineyard site and that all the winemaker has to do is allow this greatness to show by not interfering too much.” I think most people would acknowledge that terroir and winemaking both play a role. But the AOC system focuses almost exclusively on terroir. goes even further by saying that “you can make a very bad wine on a great piece of land. You can seriously damage the quality of your land by drowning it with chemical sprays. But if you work in a prestigious AOC, you don’t need to worry. It’s the label that sells the wine.”

Downsides: Quality issues

A blind taster must approve the wine for it to receive AOC classification. However, the blind tasting often occurs before the product is bottled, and often by a local expert who has ties to the local vintners.

The good and the bad

The good news about the AOC system is that it is the model for regulatory systems around the world. The system helped to protect many of the high quality French winemakers at the beginning of the 20th century, when there was a high incidence of fraud in the industry. It also helped to formalize and promote the important concept that certain terroirs are better suited to certain varietals. It undoubtedly could benefit from some updating. That is what my next and final article in this series will cover.

Please share your thoughts and questions on this topic here.

As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine job opportunity, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Betty Kaufman, WineShop At Home

As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Cheers, Betty Kaufman
WineShop At Home

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    1. That is definitely one of the problems. There’s a lot of information on French wine labels. But the one piece of information that we can really understand, the name of the grape, is missing.

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