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An overhaul of EU wine laws is now coming into effect , ushering in the most significant changes in years, to production and labelling practices. One of the key rationales for change, was to help European wine producers compete on a level playing field with their ‘New World’ counterparts, particularly those at the cheaper end of the market.

On the surface of it, the new EU system looks broadly similar to its predecessor, retaining the familiar 3-tiered approach that works like a pyramid. At the base of this quality pyramid lies the general catch-all category of ‘table wine’ (known to date as vin de table (France), vino da tavola (Italy), vino de mesa (Spain) etc). A notch up in quality is the more region-specific ‘country wine’ level (known to date as vin de pays, indicazione geografica tipica, vino de la tierra, etc), while, at the very top of the tree are the ‘ appellation’ wines (eg appellation d’origine controlée, denominazione d’origine controllata, etc) generally perceived to denote best quality, a particular style linked to a ‘sense of place’ and methods of production that uphold those wines’ quality and style.

The new EU laws seek to update this quality hierarchy, alter certain laws to make the wines more commercial or consumer-friendly (for example, allowing producers to use less expensive oak chips during the winemaking process) and at the highest level, to further enshrine quality parameters (eg further reducing yields). While these laws are EU-wide and will be gradually adopted by all EU countries producing quality wine, the first country to be implementing the changes is France. On that basis therefore, and by way of example, let’s take a look at how the EU changes will be reflected on French wine labels. In the top quality tier, AOC ( Appellation d’Origine Controlée ) becomes AOP ( Appellation d’Origine Protégée ) though for the timebeing producers may retain ‘AOC’ on their labels. A tier lower, VDP ( Vin de Pays ) is replaced by IGP ( Indication Géographique Protégée ), eg Vin de Pays d’Oc becomes IGP Pays d’O c. Vin de France is the new Vin de Table . There are other changes too, for example all wines at all quality levels may now mention grape variety on their wine labels, a practice formerly forbidden for all but Vin de Pays wines and AOC wines from the Alsace region. This is an important step forward in making these wines more consumer-friendly, given that so many consumers make purchase choices based on grape variety.

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