AOC is the French acronym for Appellation d’Origine Controllée. It is the equivalent of the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée). It could be translated litterally as Appellation of Controlled Origin. It has been translated in European wine laws by the acronym PDO meaning Protected Denomination of Origin.
It can be considered as a French wine soft brand (learn more about Soft-Brands in the wine industry here) guaranteeing, for a local wine, a certain level of quality to the customers while protecting producers from frauds. There are many AOCs in France, the most famous is probably the AOC Champagne. It was first introduced by the French INAO in 1935. It is usually managed by the adjacent Comité Interprofessionnel. It is based on a legal text mainly regulating: the authorized production area, the list of vine varieties allowed, the minimum ripeness and alcoholic strength, the maximum production yields, the viticulture techniques to be used, and the main wine-making requirements.
It seats at the top of the French Appellation system usually represented by the pyramid of quality below:
The higher you go on the pyramid, the more detailed and stringent the base specifications are.
Its Spanish equivalent are the D.O. and DOCa.
Its Italian equivalent are the DOC and DOCG.
Its Portuguese equivalent is the Denominacion de Origen.