How to research PDO and PGI wine regulations

The name of a PDO or IGP on a wine bottle label conveys a lot of information: where the wine comes from, the grape varieties it may contain, the production methods, and permitted yields. These details are often summarised in wine books, and online in various places, but if you want information that is guaranteed to be accurate, complete and up-to-date, you really need to go the original specification documents.

cahier-des-chargesHere I tell you how to find and read these document for the two biggest wine-producing countries: France and Italy. The methods of finding them, particularly in the case of France, are not at all straightforward – I discovered them by asking on online wine forums, and by poking around on the official websites.

At the EU level

You can find all the PDO and PGI names by using this eAmbrosia form. It requires little explanation, but I would like to draw you attention to one detail that could be extremely useful in the future, and eventually render the rest of this blog post obsolete. If you perform a search, and then click on any PDF icon in the “Action” column, you open a short document. At the bottom of this, there is a field “Reference to the single document”, which in all the examples I have checked contains “Not yet available”. It seems that this will eventually link to a document that describes the PDO of PGI. What a wonderfully simple idea, if and when it ever gets implemented.

French AOC specifications

The simplest way I have found is to start here, where you then enter the PDO or AOC name of interest in the “Nom du produit” field. I have found the system to be tolerant of missing hyphens and accents, but otherwise you must get the spelling correct, so use the EU system first if you need to check on the spelling. Then click “Lancer la recherche”. If you get far too many hits, you might want to repeat the search with more restrictive criteria. You could, for example, limit the search to wines by selecting “Vins” in the “Types / Catégories” field. When you have found the wine you want in the search results, click on its “Fiche détaillée” link. On the page that opens, click on “Cahier des charges” and then “accéder au cahier des charges”. You then get a list of documents, and the one you want is the one with “cahier des charges” in the title. That contains all the information you need about regulations for the AOC. But what a palaver! What we really need is a big link reading: “Just give me the sodding cahier des charges, and give it to me now”.

The Italian system

In comparison, the Italian system is a model of clarity and simplicity. Firstly, go to this page, and scroll down to the lists of zip files. You need one of the zip files listed under “Disciplinari di produzione vini” or “Documenti unici riepilogativi disciplinari (fascicoli tecnici)”, for DOCG, DOC or IGT. Each zip files contains a number of specification files grouped together by the initial letter of the name you are looking for. It’s difficult to describe,  but when you see the lists you will soon get the hang of it. As far as I can make out, the two types of files – “disciplinari” and “documenti unici” – contain essentially the same information, but laid out in a different way. You will notice that the “documenti unici” have the reference numbers you find when performing searches using the EU E-Bacchus system, so my guess is that these documents were designed by the Italians to be linked to in the “reference to the single document” field I mentioned above. Sadly though, the E-Bacchus guys have not yet got round to putting the links into their search results.

But I cannot read French and Italian

As you might expect, the specification documents I told you how to find are in French and Italian. If you have even the merest smattering of those languages it is not too difficult to spot things like grape varieties, but if you need more help there are online translation services for PDF documents. I found that Google Translate does a decent job. If you downloaded the specification PDF you need translating, which is probably the easiest way to proceed, you should click on “translate a document” and upload your PDF to Google Translate. You can then save the translation if you wish.

Doubtless these methods will at some point be broken by changes to the official websites, but there is at least hope that future changes might make access simpler.

Rosé from white and red blends now legal

Early in 2009, there was a lot of media fuss about EU plans to cheapen the image of rosé wine by allowing it to be produced by blending white wine with a little red – a plan which was eventually abandoned.  The tone of the way it was dealt with in the press is fairly illustrated by these articles in the Telegraph and Independent.  But no article bothered to explain exactly what the rules were, and in the end the overall impression given was that the EU is very quality conscious, unlike the nasty foreign countries which stoop to make inferior rosés.

Most wine buffs know that pink Champagne is normally created by blending white and red base wines, despite this being (according to the tone of the debate) far inferior to proper rosé wine.  But not many seem to know that, as far as the EU is concerned, this is allowed for many other EU wines too.  In fact it is only illegal for still table wines with no geographical indication.  It is OK for any sparkling or semi-sparkling wine, not just Champagne.  And it is OK for any PDO or PGI wine – which as far as France is concerned means any Appellation Controllée or Vin de Pays wine.

Don’t believe me?  Well check out  Commision Regulation (EC) No 606/2009, Article 8, Paragraph 1:

A wine may be obtained by blending or coupage only where the constituents of that blending or coupage possess the required characteristics for obtaining wine and comply with Regulation (EC) No 479/2008 and this Regulation.

Coupage of a non-PDO/PGI white wine with a non-PDO/PGI red wine cannot produce a rosé wine.

However, the second subparagraph does not exclude coupage of the type referred to therein where the final product is intended for the preparation of a cuvée as defined in Annex I to Regulation (EC) No 479/2008 or intended for the production of semi-sparkling wines.

The definition of cuvée referred to above is:

Cuvée shall mean:

(a) the grape must;

(b) the wine;

(c) the mixture of grape musts and/or wines with different characteristics,

intended for the preparation of a specific type of the sparkling wines.

So AOC or VdP producers of “quality” rosés were objecting to the fact that, with the proposed rule change, they would have to compete with rosé table wine made by the cheapest possible method.  But if they themselves wanted to avail themselves of the cheap methods there never were restrictions.  Not at the EU level at least, but of course their own AOC or VdP regulations may forbid it.  To me it seems perverse that EU regulations should be stricter for humble table wines than they are for PDO and PGI wines, and I think all wine should compete on a quality and price basis without restrictive regulation from the EU.

But apart from Champagne, are any other PDO or PGI rosés actually made by blending white and red grapes?  Producers of other sparkling wines are a bit coy about describing how they make their rosés, but I find it inconceivable that English producers would make their sparkling rosés in any other way, and here is one definite example of an English rosé sparkler made by blendingIckworth sparkling wine is produced from Auxerrois and Pinot Noir grapes.   The Pinot Noir grapes give complexity and elegance to this rosé called ‘Suffolk Pink’.  And what about cheaper sparkling wines from elsewhere in the EU?  As for still wines, I am not aware of any PDO or PGI rosés made by blending, but there are a lot of wine-producing countries in the EU now, and it is a brave man who would say categorically that they all ban the practice.

So in conclusion, although it is not news, it is indeed true that it is now legal in the EU to make rosé wine by blending white and red wines.  Why am I bothering to blog about it now?  Well, partly to put the record straight – in particular in response to those who continue to say that the only permitted blended rosé in the EU is pink Champagne.  But also partly to serve as a reminder to myself – so the next time I have to explain to someone I don’t have to go hunting through EU regs again to find the appropriate paragraphs.

Update 16/07/12:  I see that Gusbourne Rosé is also a blend of red and white grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier.

Update 26/12/13:  And Nyetimber Rosé is Chardonnay with a touch of Pinot Noir.  Revealed in a piece by Tom Stevenson in The World of Fine Wine, Issue 42, 1013.