Demystifying these terms is a relatively simple process. First, understand that each of them simply refer to a certification for the place where the products (in this case, wine) originate. AVA, or American Viticultural Area, is less restrictive than its European cousins, requiring only that the area in question be locally or nationally significant and possessing distinctive soil, climate, and terrain.
It gets a little tricky when discussing DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée). In the case of Italy’s DOC, or controlled designation of origin, wine labeled as such must be produced within a defined region using specific processes to reach a certain threshold of quality. DOC also goes a step further with DOCG, or controlled designation of origin guaranteed. This wine must be tasted by a panel of government personnel before being fixed with a government seal.
AOC, which likewise translates as controlled designation of origin, can be considered the French equivalent of DOC. Applied to a whole spectrum of agricultural products and regulated by the government, AOC is based around the concept of terroir, or the effect of climate and terrain on flavor. AOC recognition is a big deal in France, indicating whether or not a product is “true” to its location by adhering to traditional standards and ingredients. It’s actually illegal to sell a bottle of wine (or a wheel of cheese) using an AOC geographical indication that doesn’t fit this rigid criteria. This, among other reasons, is why you will never see a bottle of wine labeled Bordeaux if it has Moscato grapes in it. (Other reasons: it would be terrible.) That’s not to say wine produced in an AOC region can’t be fantastic. Our Buffalo wine store wouldn’t be the same without bottles made by rogue vintners eschewing AOC status to grow what they want, how they want.
For you, the discerning consumer, think of these terms as offering peace of mind when you’re in your local wine store. Or, should you choose, ignore them completely!