Lusting for Wine: A Dude’s (or Lady’s) Guide to Wine-Smarts Part III


Last time on Lusting for Wine we examined some key varietals from around the world and their characteristics. We talked about American wines and how they are primarily designated by a single varietal.

This time we are going to delve into the terrifying world of European wines (cue Exorcist theme). Don’t panic. The first thing you should know is that it is actually easier to determine the quality of a European wine than an American wine. How and why you may ask? Because Europeans love wine so much, they have actual government bureaucracies totally dedicated to regulating wine quality (who wouldn’t want that job?).

Part 3: A brief guide to European wine

While selecting an American wine for quality requires prior knowledge of varietals, vintages, regions, and wineries; Europeans have simplified the task. They just go right ahead and tell you on the bottle whether or not the wine is good. European countries have a ranking system for wine that distinguishes top quality bottles that are region specific and follow strict standards for traditional winemaking, all the way down to “table wine” which is a Euro way of saying: cheap wine from just about anywhere made in just about any manner.

Here are some key regions and their specialties in key wine producing nations in Europe along with each country’s ranking system. Remember, Euro wine is all about region. Varietals don’t matter as much as regional vintages and wineries. Bottles are named by region meaning the bottle contains a blend of grapes growing in that region.



Key regions and their specialties:

Bordeaux (Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Carmenere)

Burgundy (Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Gamay)

Rhone (Grenache, Syrah)

Champagne (Sparkling Wine)

Ranking System:

Appellation d’Origine Controllee (AOC): The highest quality French wine. Bottles labeled with this distinction meet strict requirements for regional production, production methods, and grape quality. For example, a Bordeaux bottle may be labeled “Appellation Bordeaux Controllee”. This is certified Bordeaux wine that meets AOC standards.

Vin Delimite de Qualite Superieure (VDQS): A step below AOC, this distinction denotes high quality, but perhaps a young winery, or wine that isn’t quite ready for top distinction.

Vin de Pays: Highest distinction of table wine. Vin de Pays means “country wine” and typically meets regional requirements but not production standards or grape quality. Often incorporates region into labeling: “Vin de Pays d’ (region) Controllee”.

Vin de Table: Table wine. Wine that can come from anywhere in France; made by any method.


Key regions and their specialties:

Tuscany (Sangiovese, Chianti)

Piedmont (Nebbiollo)

Veneto (Rossignola)

Ranking System:

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG): Highest quality Italian wine. Like AOC in France, but even more elite and harder to get. There are actual Italian government tasting panels that have to certify DOCG (again, sign me up). DOCG will appear on the label and the bottle neck will carry a DOCG seal.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): Top quality Italian wine about the equivalent of AOC French wine.

Indicazione Geografica Tipica: Apart from being very fun to say out loud, Indicazione Geografica Tipica means medium quality wine equivalent to Vin de Pays.

Vino da Tavola: There it is again. Italian table wine.



Key regions and their specialties:

Rioja (Tempranillo, Garnacha)

Andalucia (Sherry)

Catalonia (Syrah, Sparkling Wine)

Ranking System:

Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa): Sensing a pattern yet? DOCa is Spain’s version of DOCG. Highest quality, typically reserved for the Rioja region.

Denominacion de Origen (DO): The equivalent of AOC wine. Applies to all of Spain.

Denominacion de Origen Pago (DO Pago): This is where Spain gets crazy and adds a THIRD high quality designation. This is to denote high quality single estate bottling, as opposed to high quality regional bottles. There are a limited number of estates which qualify for DO Pago.

Vino de Calidad con Indicacion Geografica (VCIG): Spain also adds a level between the medium Vin de Pays level and the higher quality levels. VCIG is a pat on the back for wines that are probably medium quality but are on their way up.

Vino de la Tierra: Medium Quality. Equivalent of Vin de Pays.

Vino de Mesa: Can you guess?



Key regions and their specialties:

Mosel (Riesling)

Rheinhessen (Mostly Riesling with some red wines)

Rheingau (Riesling and Spätburgunder)

Wurttemberg (Trollinger)

Ranking System:

German ranking is all about grape ripeness determined by the level of natural sweetness. Don’t even try to pronounce these names, just typing them was exhausting.

Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (QmP): Highest quality German wines due to best natural ripeness (no sugar added during fermentation). QmP is further divided into six ripeness levels that we absolutely will not delve into here.

Trockenbeerenaulese (TBA): A designation for rare high quality wines from grapes shriveled by a special fungus.

Qualitatswein bestimmerter Anbaugebiete (QbA): Second-tier wines that may have sugar added during fermentation.

Deutcher Tafelwein: German table wine.


For more wine knowledge and a map of the world’s wine regions, check out this Trivial Pursuit style game for winos: Wine Wars, A Trivia Game for Wine Geeks and Wannabees


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