Wine Regulations: Old World Countries

By Ryan Snyder

Old World wineries must follow strict rules governing the types of grapes used in their wines, the area in which these grapes must be grown, as well as vineyard and winemaking practices. Old world wine regulations vary from country to country and appellation to appellation. However, in general, wines labeled with a specific appellation must:

• Be produced within, and contain grapes only grown within, the specified appellation.
• Use only permissible grape varieties and adhere to specified varietal amounts.
• Produce less than the specified maximum yield of grapes per hectare.
• Contain between the designated minimum and maximum alcohol percentage.
• Adhere to predetermined vineyard practices, winemaking practices and aging techniques.
• Pass chemical analysis and typicity tests.

Below you will find a list of Old World countries and a brief summary of their wine regulations:


Austria:

Austria’s wine laws are enforced by the Austrian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management and cover these designations:

• Prädikatswein (Wine with Special Attributes)
• Qualitätswein (Quality Wine)
• Tafelwein (Table Wine)

Prädikatswein wines are the highest quality Austrian wines and are produced from specific grapes grown in a selected region. The sugar content of the wines are measured according to the Klosterneuburger Mostwaage, which expresses the sugar content as a weight percentage. The wine is labeled accordingly with one of six degrees of ripeness. After scientific testing, each wine is given an official test number.

The six degrees of ripeness are as follows:

• Spätlese - Wines made from fully ripened grapes.
• Auslese - Rich and intense wines made from grapes harvested by selecting specific overripe bunches of grapes.
• Eiswein - Literally translated as "Ice Wine," grapes for these wines are left on the vines and picked in the winter when they are frozen. These grapes produce a sweet wine with extremely concentrated fruit characteristics.
• Beerenauslese - The producer chooses specific grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea to use for the production of these wines. Typically rich and sweet with a honey taste.
• Ausbruch - Made from overripe, medium-shriveled grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea. Ausbruch is the only specification not found within Germany’s Qualitätswein mit Prädikat.
• Trockenbeerenauslese - Intense, rich, sweet and rare, these wines are made from overripe grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea that have nearly shriveled to raisins.

Qualitätswein wines are light and simple wines derived from less-ripened grapes grown in a specific wine region. Sugar may be added to Qualitätswein wines to increase final alcohol levels. Kabinett wines fall under the qualitätswein category and are made from slightly ripe grapes, but sugar cannot be added to increase the wine's alcohol percentage. There are two types of tafelwein wines: landwein and tafelwein. Landwein wines are table wines that are made from officially designated grape varieties, while tafelwein wines are simply table wines.


France:

The National Institute of Appellations of Origin (INAO) created the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system in 1935 to guarantee the origin of wine and other food products, such as cheese. The AOC was the first organization to define strict regulations for winemakers, and since then many other countries have used the AOC as a model for their own wine regulations. The following classifications are still governed by the INAO today:

• AOC - Vins d’Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (Appellation of Controlled Origin)
• VDQS - Vin Délimités de Qualité Supérieure (Wines of Superior Quality)
• Vins de Pays (Country Wine)
• Vins de Table (Table Wine)

AOC wines are widely known as being the highest quality wines in France. VDQS wines come from AOC regions, but fall slightly beneath the quality level of AOC wines. Their grape yields are allowed to be higher than AOC regulations will allow and alcohol percentage may vary. Vins de Pays are wines grown outside AOC regions, where non-traditional varieties and higher yields are allowed. Vins de Table are basic table wines that do not need to claim appellations or varietals.

In addition to wine regulations, France has many Cru systems that define the quality of wines and wine producers in many of their appellations.


Germany:

Germany’s wine regulations cover these designations:

• QmP – Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (Quality Wine with Special Attributes)
• QbA – Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (Quality Wine from Specific Appellations)
• Deutscher Landwein (Superior Table Wine)
• Deutscher Tafelwein (Simple Table Wine)

QmP wines are the highest quality wines in Germany that are tested and assigned one of six levels of ripeness. All QmP wines must be made naturally and cannot have sugar added to increase the wine’s alcohol percentage. The six levels of ripeness are as follows:

• Kabinett - Dry, light bodied wines made from grapes picked during normal harvest time.
• Spätlese - Literally translated as "late harvest," these wines are made from fully ripened grapes. Typically off-dry, with a high-level of acidity and greater concentration than kabinett wines.
• Auslese - Literally translated as "selected harvest," these wines are made from grape bunches specifically chosen by the producer. Typically crisp and sweet with concentrated fruit charcteristics.
• Beerenauslese - The producer chooses specific grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea to use for the production of these wines. Typically rich and sweet with a honey taste.
• Eiswein - Literally translated as “Ice Wine,” grapes for these wines are left on the vines and picked in the winter when they are frozen. These grapes produce a sweet wine with extremely concentrated fruit characteristics.
• Trockenbeerenauslese - The most expensive, richest and sweetest German wines. Chosen grapes are affected with Botrytis cinerea and shriveled to raisin size.

QbA wines are basic, inexpensive wines made from slightly ripe grapes grown in one of Germany's 13 official winegrowing regions. Landwein wines are table wines that are made from officially designated grape varieties and are named after one of Germany's 19 Landwein regions. Tafwelwein wines are simple table wines made from officially designated grape varieties and are named after one of Germany's 5 broad Tafelwein regions.


Italy:

These classifications are currently overseen by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry:

• DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin)
• DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin)
• IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica (Typical Geographical Indication)
• Vini di tavola (table wines)

The DOC classification was instated in 1963 to create higher quality Italian wines that could compete with the French wines that were dominating the market. In the 1980's there were many problems with low quality wines and name manipulation, creating the need for a system that could guarantee higher quality standards. In 1992, the DOCG system was created, which included 21 appellations known as historically producing the highest quality wines in Italy. In order to prevent later manipulation, DOCG wine bottles are sealed with a numbered governmental seal across the cap or cork. Wines within both of these classifications must adhere to strict laws designed specifically for the appellation they are produced in.

The IGT designation was created to help distinguish regions making good wine that were not prestigious enough to fit into the DOC classifications. IGT wines are similar to the French Vins de Pays, and must adhere to laws similar to, but much less stringent than, the DOCG and DOC classifications. Vini di tavola have very loose guidelines that they must follow.


Portugal:

One classification is currently overseen by the Institute of Vines and Wines:

• DO – Denominação de Origem Controlada (Denomination of Controlled Origin)

There are currently 39 DO denominations. Each DO wine requires thorough testing and is given a certified test number which must be displayed on the bottle. DOs Porto and Madeira each have separate governing bodies and regulations. One important note is that when a grape variety is displayed on the wine label, the wine must be made from at least 85% of that grape variety.

Spain:

Two classifications are currently overseen by the National Institute of Denominations of Origin:

• DO – Denominación de Origen (Denomination of Origin)
• DOC – Denominación de Origen Calificada (Denomination of Qualified Origin)

DOC wines are considered to be of higher quality than DO wines. While there are currently 54 DO denominations, Rioja is currently the only DOC denomination. Each DO has a governing control board that enforces wine regulations and evaluates each wine to ensure that it is true to type.