Vin de Pays Wines: France's Best Value "Country Wines"

In most wine producing regions of the world, there is a government body that attempts to classify wines in order to protect both the producers and the consumers from fraud.  This (quasi) governmental entity ensures that the information on the label is correct and can be relied upon by the consumer.  Wine must come from the region stated and the grapes and vintage must match (or at least a certain percentage of them) what the label says.  In France, there are four main levels of wine classifications.

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The highest quality level is the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) followed by Appellation d'Origine Vin De Qualité Supérieure (AOVDQS).  At the base level is the Vin de Table or table wines.  Table wines make up about 40 to 50 percent of the wine produced in France.  There is very little restriction on what grapes may be in these wines or where they may come from.  In this article, I want to discuss the third level classification.  It is called Vin de Pays (VdP) and is pronounced VAN deu pay YEE.  These wines make up about 25% of the wine produced in France and can offer the consumer exceptional quality at an affordable price.  

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Vin de Pays means “country wine”.  The category was created in 1979 to allow producers to use grape varieties and wine making methodologies not allowed under the stricter AOC standards of the first two classifications.  It was seen as a way to allow quality minded producers to have a more marketable wine than one listed simple as Vin de Table.  While the regulations are more lenient than AOC rules, they still require the wines to be submitted for approval.  The wines must be from a designated geographical region and must contain specified grapes.  One of the major advantages VdP wines have in marketing to US consumers is that they may list the varietal on the label, something not always allowed under stricter AOC laws.  In fact, these wines are often more highly regarded outside of France where the “stigma” of not carrying an AOC designation is not as strong.  

There are about 150 different VdP classifications.  VdP wines are broken down in three levels based on geography; region, department and local.  The largest level is the regional Vin de Pays.  Wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon area are labeled as Vin de Pays d’Oc.  This is the largest area of all Vin de Pays wines and covers a large portion of the southern Mediterranean coast of France.  Wines coming from the Loire Valley may use the Vin de Pays du Jardin de France.  These two VdP’s account for the majority of exported VdP wine.  Wines from the southwest are Vin de Pays du Comtè Tolosan.  Wines from Provence and Corsica are labeled as Vin de Pays de Mèditerranèe.  In the Rhone, wines are known as Vin de Pays des Comtès Rhodaniens.  As of the writing of this article, there are three other Vin de Pays under consideration.  Vin de Pays de ‘Atlantique (covering Bordeaux and Cognac), Vin de Pays Vignobles de France (a broad designation covering all of France) and Vin de Pays de Gaule (covering Beaujolais).