What is an appellation?

Staff Account

Written by Arnie Millan

An Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP), also called a Denominación d’Origen Protegida (DOP) in Spain and a Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP) in Italy, is a set of rules governing production of cheeses, meats, olive oil and, of course, wine. For example, Bordeaux is an appellation while an IGP (Indication Geographique Protegée) is a classification that does not comply with the strict requirements of an appellation.

Appellation Rules

For wine, each appellation has rules to describe the exact demarcated geographic zone where the grapes must originate and frequently where the wines must be vinified. The rules governing the vineyard may stipulate which grape varieties may be grown, minimum vine density per hectare (ha), maximum yields per ha, minimum must weight at harvest, when the harvest may commence, and even how one may train the vines – for example, in the Côtes du Rhône, Grenache must be planted as a bush vine (en gobelet), not trained on wires. In the winery, the rules may govern chaptalization (the addition of sugar to the fermenting must), acidification, ageing (how long, in oak or not, in bottle) and which closures are permitted (cork, screwcap, glass closures, etc.). Rules vary by region but often require a tasting expert(s) to approve the wine for classification.


The appellation system is usually under the auspices of the national Ministry of Agriculture. In France, the appellation system is supervised by the INAO (National Institute of Appellations of Origin) which reports to the Ministry of Agriculture. Italy and Spain have similar agencies also under their respective Ministries of Agriculture. Each appellation has a local commission to oversee and enforce the appellation rules; in France, it’s the Commission d’Agréements, in Italy, it’s the Consorzio (a consortium of producers) and in Spain, it’s the Consejo Regulador.


The origins of AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée now Protégée) date to the year 1411, when the production of blue Roquefort cheese was regulated by parliamentary decree. In 1905, due to massive and increasing fraud in the wine trade, a law was created to protect the concept of an Appellation of Origin. As a result of continuing fraud, the phylloxera crisis, and the upheavals following World War I, the first modern French wine law was passed on May 6, 1919, the Law for the Protection of the Place of Origin, specifying the region and commune in which a given product must be manufactured. In July 1935, the Comité National des Appellations d'Origine (CNAO), with representatives of the government and the major winegrowers, was created to manage the administration of the process for wines. In 1947, after World War II, the committee became the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO).

The appellation systems in Italy, Spain, and elsewhere, are largely inspired by and patterned after the French model.

Why follow appellation rules?

You can make any wine you want with any grapes you desire but you may not use any part of the appellation name on your label. Instead of, say, Bordeaux AOP, you may to call the wine a Vin de France or declassify it as an appropriate IGP. The consequence is likely lower demand and a lower market price.

Examples of Top Appellation Wines

Rioja DoCa

Rioja is one of approximately 69 DOP’s in Spain and one of only two DoCas (Denominación d’Origen Calificada or DoQ in Catalan); the other is Priorat. Grapes permitted in Rioja are Tempranillo, Grenache, Graciano, Mazuelo (Carignan) and Maturana tinta.

Rio Madre 2019 Rioja Graciano 

This Rio Madre is made from 100% Graciano. Josh Raynolds of Vinous writes, “Inky ruby. Blackberry, cherry pit, pungent flowers and a hint of olive on the fragrant nose. Gently chewy and fleshy in the mouth, offering bitter cherry and cassis flavors that take a spicy turn through the midpalate. Smooth tannins come in late to add shape to the long, smoke- and spice-tinged finish.” 90 points


Chianti Classico DOCG

Chianti Classico is one of 76 DOCGs (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita), the highest level of Italian wine classification. All Chianti is DOCG. Chianti Classico is one of 10 Chianti DOCGs. The Classico wine must consist of at least 80% Sangiovese. A maximum of 20% of other red grapes Colorino, Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot may be used.

San Felice 2018 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 

This Chianti Classico is 100% Sangiovese, aged 24 moths in oak followed by another 12 months in bottle.

“San Felice's 2018 Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio da San Felice offers lovely brightness and energy. Fresh red fruit, spice, wild flowers and mint give this mid-weight Riserva lovely aromatic presence to match its understated personality. The 2018 is very nicely done.”  

90 points Antonio Galloni, Vinous



Côtes du Rhône

This was one of the very first appellations under the 1935 law and it was created in 1936 with the influence of Baron Leroy de Boiseaumarié, one of the pioneers of France’s modern appellation system, Baron Leroy owned Château Fortia, which remains a well-known Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate.

The Côtes du Rhône comprises approximately 171 villages, mostly in the Southern Rhone. Here are the minimum grape amounts for Côtes du Rhône reds:

30% Grenache, 10% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre along with a maximum of 30% local reds including a maximum 10% total of three recently authorized varieties, Marselan, Caladoc Noir and Couston Noir. A maximum of 5% white grapes are allowed in red Côtes du Rhône.

Brotte 2017 Côtes du Rhône Rouge 

The 2017 Brotte is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. This wine is a beautiful light ruby color. The Esprit offers up plenty of bright, lively cherry, blueberry and blackberry fruit with smoky, pepper spice and other savory spice notes. There is also a tantalizing undercurrent of dark, black fruit that remains through the finish. The Esprit is medium-bodied with terrific balance and smooth, supple tannins that help to extend the remarkably satisfying finish.

91 Arnie points