wine selection


Wine grades and classifications


Read about the wine grades in the Old World:

France  Germany  Italy  Spain


There is an attempt within Europe to standardise the wine cellarwine grading system, but the big producers are a bit resistant to this and their own classifications are still very much in use.  We’ll have a look at them country by country to help you understand a little more about what is seen on wine labels.

It is important to remember that while the rating shown on a wine label is generally a good indication of the quality of the wine, it does not mean that you will actually like it.  The ratings refer to the style of the wine and the way in which it has been made as well as to the actual area or origin and the body and alcohol content.  There can be excellent wines produced to the highest standards, but in a style which does not suit your taste.  If you can have a chance to taste the wines you can then know whether or not you like a particular wine or style.

However as a general rule, if a wine has been awarded a top grade it is a good indication that the bottle contains something of top quality.  What you need to know is what styles of wine you personally enjoy, and that's where a wine tasting can be very beneficial.

New World wines are not normally graded in this way, but you can still look out for information on the label relating to the grape variety, the area of production and the winemaker, and where the wine is bottled.  This last point, when considered alongside the price, is a good indication of the wine's quality.  The best wines will be bottled by the winemaker on the estate.




golden grapes



The French wine classification system is fairly complex and the regulations for the best grades are very strict. Each wine region has specified grape varieties which must be used in the making of the top quality wines, the grapes must be grown and harvested in accordance with the regulations and the method of wine making is also strictly controlled.  Wine must also be bottled within the regions boundries, and finally the best quality wines must be tasted before they can be awarded the top grades.


  • 1)   Vin de Table  the basic grade for French wine: Table Wine  There are no particular controls or requirements for this grade, except that the grapes must be of French origin and the wine produced within France.


  • 2)   IGP:  Indication Geographique Protegee.  This grade indicates that IGP labelthe wine is guaranteed to be produced in a particular district or zone, but is not necessarily produced in the typical style of that district.  This classification is the modern equivalent of Vin de Pay, the original concept being to offer reasonably proced wineswitn a guarantee opf quality and consistency. 


  • 3)  VDQS : Vin Delimite de Qualite Superieure.  The requirements for this grade are again for the wine to be produced within the specified region but without the strict controls over grape varieties or alcohol content.  VDQS wines must be submitted to a tasting committee.  The VDQS grade is used less today and many wines have been regarded to either IGPor AOC


  • 4)  AOC  (AC) : Appellation Origin Controlee.  The best grade for French wine. AOC label To qualify the grapes must be grown within strictly controlled areas and must be of the specified varieties for that region.  Vines must be grown and pruned by in the set way and the wine production method is tightly controlled. The wine must be bottled within the area and  is subject to tasting by the appellation controlling committee.


premier cru label


Bordeaux and Burgandy also have their Cru Classe Systems which apply to individual Chateaux in Bordeaux and to geographical areas (regardless of ownership) in Burgandy.


In Bordeaux Premier Cru is the best selection of Grand Cru

In Bordeau Grand Cru is a higher rating than Premer Cru.



You may sometimes find the classification Vin de France. This is a general classification to allow production from grape varieties which may not conform to AOC regulations.  Although it looks like Vin de Table, Vin de France can be a high quality wine equal to some with an AOC rating.  The only real guide to the quality is the price of the bottle!


In France it is not a requirement to show the grape variety on the wine label.  bunch of grapesEach region has its designated grape varieties and it is likely with IGP or VDQS that these grapes have been used.  For an AOC grade the designated grapes for an area must be used.


The number of permitted grape varieties for a given region varies considerably and some regions specify as many as 13 different grapes.


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 German style wine glass


German wines are divided into 4 quality categories, with the fourth being subdivided again into 6 styles.


Interestingly, the labels of German wine bottles are very informative.  There is a wealth of information printed on them, and the German label system is very standardised, so careful reading will tell you a lot about the wine.  There is generally more information, or at least it is always presented in a standard form, so it is much easier to determine some basic details about the wine, its character and the grape variety than it is on labels from most other countries.


1 Deutscher Tafelwein  Simple German tale wine.  Tafelwein table wineSome wines may be rated a simply “Tafelwein” and the lack of the word “Deutscher” means the wine has not originated in Germany.  It may (not necessarily) have been blended with a German wine and bottled in Germany.


2  Deutscher Landwein  Special German table wine.  This grade will show more body and character than the basic wines and will be named after one of the 17 Landwein Regions.


3.  Qualitatswein Bestimmter Anbaugebiete  (QBA) Qualitatswein BAQuality wine by area.  


Coming from one of the 13 specified wine growing regions, QBA wine must be produced from approved grape varieties, and the grapes need to achieve sufficient ripeness to ensure that the wine possesses the recognised style and taste of the particular region.


4  Pradikatswein or Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (QmP)Pradikatswein  

Quality wine with distinction.  


This is the finest of all German wines, and the classification is subdivided into 6 further categories which indicate how ripe the fruit is at harvest.




The 6 Pradikats


A) Kabinet  Best of the first harvest, the fruit just reaching ripeness. A Kabinet style wine is made using the best selected bunches of grapes from the first harvest.


SpatleseB) Spatlese  Late harvest.

Wine made from fully ripened grapes from the late harvest.  Spatleses display a full flavour and intense bouquet, but are not always sweet.



C) Auslese  Selection. Hand picked bunches of grapes are selected from the late harvest producing wines with rich concentrated fruit flavours.


D) Beerenauslse. Berry selection. Individually selected over-ripe grapes produce these rich, sweet desert wines.


TrockenbeerenausleseE)  Trockenbeerenauslese.  Dry berry selection.

Made from grapes which have been attacked by the Noble Rot and are shrivelled up like rasins. This style gives a very rich, sweet honey-like wine. nb the term "dry berry selection" refers to the grapes beign dried up, not to the wine style as in a dry wine.  This is definitely not a dry wine.


F)  Eiswein.  Ice wine.  frozen grapes



Over ripe grapes are picked when frozen and pressed immediately, producing a luscious liqueur wine.  Traditionally a delight with Christmas Pudding and proof of a great harvest.  The pride of the German winemaker.





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Italian wine



 Italy is one of the worlds oldest wine producing countries and actually the biggest wine producer world wide, producing even more than France.  There are wine producing areas in every corner of Italy and the country boasts over one million vineyards planted and producing.


Wine production in Italy pre-dates the Romans by some considerable time, but it was probably during Roman times when the health benefits of drinking red wine began to be appreciated.  It is said that a soldier in the Roman army had to consume a litre of wine per day to maintain health and strength.

 Its a wonder they were able to stand let alone march!



There are 5 grades for wine in Italy:

1 VT  Vino da Tavola  Table wine, the basic grade of Italian wine.


2 VS  Denominazione Semplice  Top-table wine, in reality not significantly different from VT.


IGT label Italy



3 IGP  Indicazione Geografica Protetta  As in France indicates that the wine is the product of a specified region.  Still sometimes shown as the older notation IGT (as in the photo).




DOC label Italy



4  DOC  Denominazione di Origine Controllata  equivalent of the French VDQS approximately, wine which is produced in a specified region by a specific method.



DOCG label Italy

5  DOCG Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita  This is the best of the Italian wine, equivalent to the AOC rating in France.  The wine is guaranteed to be produced win the specified region and to the specified style.  There are only 17 areas within Italy’s wine regions which can award this grade to their wines.


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Spanish wines



Spain has actually more land under vine than any other country, but because of the infertile and rocky soils, and the hot dry climate, the yields are considerably lower than elsewhere, so wine production is only about a third of Italy’s.


Rioja has always been the big name in Spain, but in recent times Spanish winemakers have been producing increasingly better wines and today a wide variety of quality wines are coming from Spain.


Of course Spain has also been famous for the production of Sherry, a fortified wine, which is also available in a range of sweet and drier styles.




1 Vino Corriente/Vino de Mesa ordinary table wine, bring your demijohnthe basic grade of Spanish wine.  There are no guarantees about region of origin or whether or not it is a blend of various wines. This wine generally is not bottled and supplied in a bulk container, or dispensed from the winery by a pump, like a petrol pump.  Just bring along your demijohn, or bucket....




vino de la Tierra2 Vino de la Tierra wine of the region, these words will be followed by the name of a particular Spanish wine region.  This is the equivalent of IGP in France and Italy, giving a guarantee that the wine is produced in a specified region.



denominacion de origen3. DO - Denominacion de Origen special wine from a specified region.  This equates to the French VDQS grade and the DOC in Italy.  The wine is classed as special quality and verified to have originated from the specified region.



denominacion de origen controlada 4. DOC – Denominacion de Origen Controlada (Calificada) this is the top grade for Spanish wine, equivalent to the AOC (AC) grade of France and the DOCG of Italy.



You will also see the word Tinto on some Spanish wines, which is the description for a basic red wine, but not to be confused with a Tinto Fino, which in fact can be a really top quality red!


In the case of a Rioja, a Tinto is a basic wine with no specified aging.  The grape vintage on the bottle will be the only clue as to the age.


A Rioja Crianza however must have been aged for at least one year in a cask.

A Rioja Reserva must have a minimum of two years in cask followed by a further one year to mature in the bottle.

A Rioja Gran Reserva must have a minimum of three years in cask and two more years in the bottle.

 rioja crianza       rioja reserva       rioja gran reserva



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