Appellation d'origine controlee (AOC), which translates as 'controlled designation of origin', is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, all under the control of the government bureau 'Institut National des Appellations d'Origine' (INAO).
The French system of appellations, begun in the 1930s and considered the wine world's prototype. To carry an appellation in this system, a wine must follow rules describing the area the grapes are grown in, the varieties used, the ripeness, the minimum alcohol strength, the vineyard yields and the methods used in growing the grapes, vine density limits and making the wine.
For France's several hundred geographically defined appellations, this can cover entire regions, individual villages or even specific vineyards, and AOCs vary dramatically in size.
'The premise of the AOC - is based on the concept of terroir.'
A rigorous set of clearly defined standards, stress that AOC wines will be produced in a consistent and traditional manner with ingredients from specifically classified producers in designated geographical areas. The products must further be aged at least partially in the respective designated area.
AOC products can be identified by a seal, which is printed on the label in wines. This strict label policy can lead to confusion, especially in cases where towns share names with appellations. While the process of label approval is enforced to the millimetre, the quality control for the wine in the bottle is much less strict. While a blind taster must approve the wine for it to receive AOC classification, this tasting often occurs before the product is even bottled, and by a local expert who may well have ties to the local vintners. Even if the taster is objective, the wine sample may not be representative of the actual product, and there is almost no way to verify that finished bottled product is the same as the original AOC sample.