Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Understanding the Wines of the Rhône Valley: The Classification - AOC/ Vin de Pay/ Vin de France

Picture: Annette Schiller and Yann Mousset at the Wine Shop Château des Fines Roches in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. See: Rhône Valley Tour December 2017: From Lyon to Avignon - Wine, Food, Culture, History

The wine classification system of France was under overhaul from 2006, with a new system fully introduced as of 2012. As of today, any wine produced in France (and in the Rhône Valley) is sold as an (1) AOC, (2) Vin de Pay/ IGP or as a (3) Vin de France wine.

At the top, the AOP system replaced the old AOC without major modifications, although the term AOC is still widely used, including in this article.

Whereas in Bordeaux, Alsace or Bourgogne, essentially all wines are classified in the AOC system, this is not the case in the Rhône Valley. Domaine du Pegau, widely regarded as one of the leading producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, produces wines in all three classification categories, including the NV Plan Pegau Vin de France that is available, for example, at Calvert and Woodley in Washington DC for about US$20.

The AOC Systems of the Rhône Valley: Rhône AOCs and Other AOCs

The Rhône Valley is dominated by the Rhône AOC system. But there are other AOC systems in the Rhône Valley in addition to the Rhône AOC system. 3/4 of the total AOC region in the Rhône Valley is Rhône AOC and 1/4 is other AOC systems. All ultra-premium AOC wines in the Rhône Valley are Rhône AOC wines, including Hermitage AOC, Côte-Rôtie AOC and Châteuneuf-du-Pape AOC.

Rhône AOC

The Rhône AOC system provides a classification into four categories of AOCs:

(1) Côtes du Rhône only displays the region, and may be used in the entire wine region, in 171 communes. For some communes, this is the only allowed AOC. It is therefore the lowest classification for Rhône AOC wine. Regional Côtes du Rhône wines account for 48% of the total AOC wine production in the Rhône Valley.

(2) Côtes du Rhône Village is an AOC allowed for 95 communes, with a higher minimum requirement for grape maturity than basic Côtes du Rhône. It is therefore a higher classification.

(3) Côtes du Rhône Village plus village name on the label is allowed for 18 communes (approximately 6,500 hectares under cultivation). The 2 Côtes du Rhône-Village categories combined account for 11% of the total AOC wine production in the Rhône Valley.

Current regulation includes following villages: Cairanne, Chusclan (red and rosé only), Gadagne, Laudun, Massif d'Uchaux (red only), Plan de Dieu (red only), Puyméras (red only), Roaix, Rochegude, Rousset-les-Vignes, Sablet, Saint Gervais, Saint Maurice, Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes, Séguret, Signargues (red only), Valréas, Visan.

Picture: Côtes du Rhône Village Roaix

(4) At the most demanding level of distinction, a total of 17 crus are allowed to be recognized by their village name without requiring the mention of Côtes du Rhône on the label. These include the most famous Rhône wines, such as Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and Châteuneuf-du-Pape. There is no official classification differentiating between different crus, but the market prices some AOCs much higher than others.

The Northern Crus account for 5% and the Souther Crus account for 12% of the total AOC wine production in the Rhône Valley.

Beaumes de Venise AOC, Château-Grillet AOC, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, Condrieu AOC, Cornas AOC, Côte-Rôtie AOC, Crozes-Hermitage AOC, Gigondas AOC, Hermitage AOC, Lirac AOC, Rasteau AOC, Saint Joseph AOC, Saint Péray AOC, Tavel AOC, Vacqueyras AOC, Vinsobres AOC, Cairanne AOC.

Pictures: Côtes du Rhône Crus: Côte-Rôtie, Saint-Joseph, Hermitage, Gigondas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel

Other AOCs in the Rhône Valley

Other appellations in the Rhône wine region are:

Grignan-lès-Adhémar AOC: The Grignan-Les Adhemar AOC (formerly the Côteaux du Tricastin) is the northernmost wine-growing AOC in the southern area of the Rhône wine region of France. The wines are produced in 21 communes. The Grignan-lès-Adhémar AOC accounts for 2% of the total AOC wine production in the Rhône Valley.

Formerly known as Costières du Gard, a VDQS, the region achieved AOC status in 1986 and was renamed Costières de Nîmes 1989. The Costières de Nîmes Appellation between the ancient city of Nîmes and the western Rhône delta was formerly part of the Languedoc-Roussillon Region is since 2004 part of the Rhone wine area and administered by the Rhône Wine committee which has its headquarters in Avignon.Interestingly enough, the immediately adjacent AOC of Clairette de Bellegarde remains listed as a Languedoc AOC. The Costières de Nîmes AOC accounts for 7% of the total AOC wine production in the Rhône Valley.

The Côtes du Vivarais is a wine-growing AOC in the northwestern extreme of the southern Rhône wine region. The wines are produced in 9 communes of the Ardèche department, and in 5 communes of the department of the Gard. The wine became a VDQS in 1962 and was awarded the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée in 1999.

The Duché D’Uzès wine region, in the extreme south-west of the Rhône valley was upgraded from IGP to AOC status in 2012.

The Ventoux AOC (known as Côtes du Ventoux AOC until 2008) is a wine-growing AOC in the southeastern region of the Rhône wine region, covering 51 communes. The Ventoux AOC accounts for 9% of the total AOC wine production in the Rhône Valley.

The neighbouring appellation of Côtes du Luberon AOC stretches along Ventoux' southern border and is separated from it by the Calavon river. The wines are produced in 36 communes of the Vaucluse département. The Côtes du Luberon AOC accounts for 5% of the total AOC wine production in the Rhône Valley.

Vin de Pays (VDP)/ IGP

Vin de Pays (VDP) is the French national equivalent of the Europe-wide IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée), a quality category of French wine, positioned below the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This layer of the French classification system underwent several revisions in the past decades.

There are now more than 150 VDP/IGP titles, covering locations mostly in the southern third of France. The Vin de Pays category is subdivided into three levels of geographical specificity.

The top regional level has six divisions, corresponding roughly to existing wine regions. These are: VDP du Jardin de la France (Loire); VDP de L'Atlantique (Bordeaux, Dordogne, Charentais); VDP du Comte Tolosan (South-West); VDP d'Oc (Languedoc-Roussillon); VDP Portes de Mediterranee (Provence and Corsica); and VDP des Comtes Rhodaniens (Rhône Valley, Beaujolais and Savoie). The center of the Rhone Valley is covered by both the Comtes Rhodaniens and Portes de Mediterranee titles.

The next layer is departmental, reflecting France's wider administrative structure. Of France's 100-odd departements, 52 have their own VDP titles.

The most finely tuned level consists of the 93 Vins de Pays de Zone, the most location-specific titles. These have tighter production regulations, sometimes approaching the strictness of AOC laws. Their evocative, sometimes lengthy, names are intentionally designed to avoid confusion with nearby AOC titles.

Collines Rhodaniennes is the IGP title for red, white and rosé wines from an area which essentially corresponds to the northern Rhône Valley wine region.

Coteaux du Pont du Gard is an IGP title covering wines from an area of the Gard department, at the meeting point of the Languedoc, Rhône and Provence wine regions.

Bouches-du-Rhône is the IGP title for wines made in the Bouches-du-Rhône area.

Picture: 2016 Domaine Les Bruyeres (David Reynaud, Crozes Hermitage) Viogner VDP des Comtes Rhodaniens

Pictures: Coteaux du Pont du Gard IGP in the Pont du Gard Region

Vin de France

Vin de France is a designation for table wine from France that has been in use since 2010, when it started to replace the former Vin de Table category. Unlike IGP and AOP wines, Vin de France wines do not indicate the wine's geographical origin within France.

Pictures: Domaine Pegau - Star Producer - Offering Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC, Côtes du Rhône AOC and Vin de France

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