Ah, wine – it's like a puzzle for your taste buds, but don't worry, the origins of French wine are not as puzzling as your last attempt at assembling that IKEA bookshelf! French wine comes with its own classification system, and it's like a roadmap for your taste adventure. (Though, how much you enjoy it might depend on your palate, or how many glasses you've downed already!)
APPELLATION D'ORIGINE CONTRÔLÉE (AOC)
As with all products that claim some portion of their notoriety from their region of origin (e.g. Roquefort cheese that comes only from the caves of Roquefort, or Evian water sourced at its namesake springs) there exists a regulatory body to oversee the production of French wine.
The AOC sets the stage for all French wines. These guys are like the wine police, ensuring that if you're naming your wine "Champagne," it has to come from the region of Champagne. But its not just the region. The AOC's laws are like the ultimate mash-up of wine regulations, including terroir, grape types, production style, vineyard locations, aging times, and even the minimum alcohol content.
So, when you pop open a bottle with an AOC label, you can be pretty sure it's the real deal, like a regional copyright guarantee.
GRAND CRU AND PREMIER CRU
Now, let's talk about the wine hierarchy, where some vineyards are the cool kids on the block. You've got the Grand Cru, which refers to a wine in one of two ways, either it has a renowned plot of land where the grapes are grown or the chateau at which the wine is made. The former applies most famously in Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne (but is also used in Languedoc and the Loire Valley). The latter is exclusive to Bordeaux.
Then there's the Premier Cru – these are the kids who made it to the upper echelon of the Grand Cru clique. They're either the cream of the crop in a vineyard plot (mostly in Burgundy) or the VIP section within a Grand Cru classification, like the "Premier Grand Cru Classé" chateaux in Bordeaux. It's like being the cool kid among the cool kids.
But don't get too hung up on the classifications. We believe the best wine is the one you like to drink!