One of the most important criteria for a certain quality and distinctiveness of a wine is the controlled geographical origin of the grapes from which it was pressed. Controlled" means that the corresponding wine law requirements are also regularly and strictly checked. The most important reason is the protection against wine adulteration. Even in ancient times, there was the occasional custom of naming wines according to their origin. Among the oldest European designations of origin are the area for Chianti, defined in 1716, and the boundaries for port wine, defined in 1756. The great pioneer for a nationwide system, however, was France, where an appellation system(Appellation d'Origine Protégée) was adopted after the end of the First World War. This established a locally defined and controlled origin and production methods for agricultural products. After the Second World War, the rules for viticulture were perfected under the auspices of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine).
Closely related to the appellation system in France is the comprehensive concept of terroir, which is internalised by the producers. It encompasses the complex influence of climate (microclimate), soil type, grape varieties and the art of the winemaker on the distinctive wine style of even the smallest area. The French system served as a great model for the wine legislation of most wine-growing countries in Europe and partly also in the New World. The laws in these countries not only regulate the origin, but also contain regulations for permissible quality wine grape varieties, pruning and maximum yields, as well as for the production and character of the wine, such as minimum and/or maximum quantities for alcohol content, acidity and residual sugar, as well as certain tastes regarding sugar content from dry to sweet.
Within the EU, there has been an origin-based designation or quality system in place since August 2009, which is valid for all member states and divides the wines into two quality classes, namely with and without designation of origin. The origin thus implicitly refers to a very specific type of wine. In France, the system goes even further, as in certain regions such as Bordeaux or Burgundy, the indication of a vineyard, such as Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château d'Yquem or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, corresponds to an even narrower, often very small designation of origin.
The often used statement "the smaller the region of origin, the better the (presumably) expected quality of the wine" is certainly unfair to excellent wines also from larger regions of origin (which of course exist), but it has a great justification. Wines with a "large" designation of origin, such as a region like Bordeaux, Castile-Leon or Sicily, or even a country like Greece, Italy, Spain, Austria or Germany, usually mean lower quality, since much lower and far less strict quality criteria apply to their production.
After the pioneers France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, the origin-oriented system is also known as "Romanesque wine law". In Austria such a system was introduced in 2002 with the designation DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus). This contrasts with the "Germanic wine law", which is not based on the origin, but primarily on the must weight (sugar content of the berries) and designation of the grape variety. This is mainly applied in Germany and Austria. In Austria, people still usually order their "favourite grape variety" in a restaurant without an indication of origin, for example Zweigelt or Grüner Veltliner.
But this does not give any indication about origin or producer. A well-assorted restaurant offers Grüner Veltliner from various wine-growing regions such as Kamptal, Kremstal, Mittelburgenland, Wachau, Wagram or Weinviertel. And these can differ considerably in taste. Furthermore, no statement has been made about the desired vinification (dry, smooth, sweet). If you buy a Chablis, however, you know that it is a dry French white wine made of Chardonnay, but the variety is not indicated on the label. A Rioja is mostly a red wine from Tempranillo, but it can also be a white wine.
See a list of different classification systems under the keyword Grand Cru. The classification system valid throughout the EU is described in detail under Quality System. All work and measures in the vineyard during the vegetation cycle can be found under vineyard care. Complete lists of the numerous cellar techniques, as well as a list of the types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law can be found under the keyword Vinification. Comprehensive wine law information can be found under wine law.