A short guide to the wine hierarchy and quality



  • Vin de Table - table wine. Lowest category with no restrictions as to geographic origin. Made to meet requests as to colour, body, dryness etc. Little variation from year to year. No personality.
  • Vin de Pays - the character of the wine reflects the area, the grape variety and the year.
  • Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS) - wines in "waiting position" for obtaining AOC.
  • Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) - the wines come from a geographically limited area and must follow the rules for that area as to grape variety, alcohol degree, yield, pruning etc.

Bordeaux - uses the term Cru to indicate quality. The top classes are:

  • Médoc: 1., 2., 3., 4., and 5. Cru Classé, followed by Cru Bourgeois.
  • Graves/Péssac-Léognan (white and red): Grand Cru Classé.
  • Saint-Emilion: 1. Grand Cru, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru.
  • Sauternes: Grand 1. Cru 1. Cru and 2. Cru
These wines are followed by the Cru Bourgeois of 1978: Grand Bourgeois Exceptionnels, Grand Bourgeois and Bourgeois.

Burgundy - uses the term Cru and distinguishes between Grand Cru and 1. Cru.



  • Vino da Tavola - table wine. This category not only includes the most simple wines, but also the most exclusive wines. The "super Tuscans" and others that go their own way and choose not to follow local rules, especially as to choice of grape variety and ageing.
  • Indicazione Geografica Tipic (IGT) - can be compared to Vin de Pays.
  • Denominacione di Origine Controllata (DOC) - can be compared to AOC.
  • Denominacione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) - is also a guarantee for quality.

Italy uses the term "classico" for wines coming from the original production area, i.e. Chianti Classico and Soave Classico.



  • Vino de Mesa
  • Vino Comarcal - can be compared to Vin de Pays.
  • Denominación de Origin (DO) - can be compared to AOC.
  • Denominación de Origin Calificada (DOC) - only Rioja has DOC - can be compared to DOCG.

Most of the Spanish wineregions use the terms Reserva and Gran Reserva about their better wines. Rules may vary, but generally speaking minimum requests are:

Rioja distinguishes between wines with or without barrel aging - "sin" or "con Crianza." The lowest category of barrel aged wines is: Vino de Crianza (or con Crianza): 2 years ageing with 1 year in small barrels followed by Reserva and Gran Reserva.



  • Vinho de Mesa
  • Vinho Regional
  • Indicacão de Proveniencia Regulamentado (IRP) - can be compared to VDQS.
  • Vinho de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada (VQPRD) - can be compared to VDQS but with stricter rules.
  • Denomincão de Origem Controlada (DOC).

Garrafeira - means "the best of its kind". The wine must hold 0.5% more alcohol and be aged 3 years: 2 years in wood and 1 year in bottle.



A piece of good (wine)-advice

Wine to drink now:
Red Bordeaux: 1985, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994
Burgundy:     1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994

Wine to lay down:
Bordeaux red:            1998, 1999 (bottled in the autumn of year 2001).
Bordeaux white dry:      1998, 1999.
Bordeaux white sweet:    1998, 1999.
Burgundy red:            1998, 1999 (bottled in the early summer of year 2001).
Burgundy white:          1998, 1999.
Rhône north/south:       1998, 1999 (bottled in the summer of year 2001).
Piemonte:                1996 and 1997.
Toscana:                 1997.
Rioja:                   1996.
Australia:               1998, 1999.
Napa/Sonoma:             1998, 1999.
Chile:                   1995.
South Africa:            1998.
Argentina:               1998, 1999.
New Zealand white, red:  1998, 1999.

Wine and Food:
When you select wine to go with food, the easiest is to look for harmony. Strong food needs strong wine, light to light and sweet to sweet. Once you are familiar with this you can experiment with contrast. The body of the wine is very important; a powerful, spicy wine will make a light wine taste like water. Wines from warm countries are heavier and more powerful than from cooler areas.

The fruit acidity is very important, especially if the food is acid. Lemon, vinegar need an acid wine. Or an acid wine can make a good contrast to fat food. German wines have a lot of fruit acid, but most dry white wines have some fruit acid.

Tannin has the same cleaning effect as fruit acidity. Without food they taste hard and bitter, but they mingle well and help swallow the food.

The fruitfulness of the young wine is important, especially if there is fruit in the food or a light sweetness in the dish.

Sweet desserts are difficult. If the wine is sweeter than the dessert, the dessert will taste like diet food. If the dessert is sweeter than the wine, the wine will taste thin and simple.

As a general rule you should serve:
- young, fruity wines before matured wines
- light wines before powerful wines
- chilled wines before chambered wines
- low alcohol wines before high alcohol wines
- dry wines before sweet wines

Please note that there is no rule saying white before red wines.

Investment in wine:
The professional investors concentrate on the few top wines from the classic districts and on the best vintages. It is only worth investing in the "cream". Only these wines will interest the buyers on international wine auctions. For private consumption the choice is much bigger.

If the wine has sediment it should be left standing upright quite a long time before being served, 24 hours would be fine. Then the bottle should be uncorked and the content is carefully poured into a decanter. Place a light just behind the bottle so that you can see when the sediment of the wine is leaving the "shoulders". Leave the rest in the bottle and serve from the decanter. If you do not have the opportunity to let the bottle stand up some time before it is to be served, you can use what is called a basketpourer where the bottle can be placed, uncorked, and from where the wine can be served.

Allowing a wine to breathe:
This has little to do with the sediment of a wine. The process involves the opening of a wine some time before it is to be drunk in order to allow it to soften and the flavor to develop. As a general guide: fullbodied wines should be allowed to breathe by decanting a few hours before drinking; and younger red wines nearer the time of drinking.

- Dry thite and rosé wines: between 8º and 10ºC.
- Sweet white and dessert wines, champagne and sparkling wines: between 6º and 8ºC.
- Light red wines: between 10º and 12ºC.
- Other red wines should be served "chambered", i.e. between 15º and 18ºC.

The following is a short glossary of common wine terms to aid those navigating the racks:

Asti Spumante: A sparkling white wine. A medium-sweet substitute for champagne.

Burgundy: A generic name for red wine from the Burgundy region in France.

Cabernet Sauvignon: A grape used to make red wines that have a heavy body and sometimes peppery overtones.

Chablis: A dry white wine.

Chardonnay: A generic name for white wine made from Chardonnay grapes. They produce a wine that has a medium-to-heavy body with a fruity aroma.

Champagne: If the label says brut, it's very dry, but if it says sec, it's sweet. True champagne has to be from the Champagne region in France; otherwise, it's a sparkling white wine.

Chenin Blanc: A white grape that produces light-bodies white wines with apple or honey aromas. French Chenin Blanc wines are sometimes very fine; in the U.S. the grapes tend to be used for cheap jug wines.

Chianti: A dry red Italian wine.

Claret: A general name for red wines from certain regions of France (and those U.S. wines that resemble them).

Dubonnet: A sweet red wine.

dry: This indicates the wine has a low sugar content; dry wines often seem rather sour to those used to sweet drinks.

fortified wine: Wine that has had grain alcohol added to increase its strength.

Grenache: A grape used to make Californian roses and some port. These wines have light red-orange appearance and spicy aromas.

Madeira: A golden, dry-to-sweet fortified dessert wine.

Moselle: A light German white wine.

Merlot: These red wines are moderately dark and have a medium body that can have fruity and chocolate aromas.

Pinot Blanc: A grape used to make dry white wines and some champagnes.

Pinot Noir: A grape used to make all red Burgundy and some champagnes. The wines produced from these grapes have a light-to-medium body and cherry aromas.

Port: A sweet, red, fortified dessert wine.

Riesling: A grape used to make dry-to-sweet white wine. Rieslings have a light-to-medium body and a distinctive, complex aroma.

Rose: A pink wine.

Sémillon: A grape used for white wines; it produces a wine with a medium body and orange or fig aromas. It's often blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Sherry: A category of dry-to-sweet, fortified dessert wines.

Sauvignon Blanc: A white grape used to make dry and sweet white wines. These wines have a light-to-medium body and often go very well with food.

sparkling wine: Bubbly wine. In the best wines, the carbonation is natural; cheaper wines are pumped full of CO2.

Zinfandel: The most widely-planted red wine grape in California. Red zinfandels can have a light to a very heavy body and they typically have blackberry aromas.

References: Exploring Wine by Steven Kolpan and www.wineeducation.org.

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