The Complicated World Of Italian Wine Terms

I will soon be publishing posts on Umbrian Wines and Tuscan Wines, and, rather than write it out for each post, I thought I’d write this guide to quickly explain the terms DOCG, DOC, DOP, IGT and IGP and Vino da Tavola. Wine, along with artisan produced foodstuffs, is often associated with particular regions that grow (or raise) certain varieties of plants and breeds of animals. Food and wine classifications are intended to protect the quality and the genuine ingredients of these foodstuffs, but, because there are so many classifications, they can often lead to confusion for the consumer. In the consumer friendly new world, wines often feature the grape variety prominently, however, in Italy and much of Europe, a lot of wine is labelled with the name of the region and the consumer is therefore expected to know what blend of grapes are in the wine. Many people (and even some internet wine merchants) think that famous Italian wine regions such as Brunello or Chianti are the grape variety (in case you are wondering, Sangiovese is the only variety of grape in Brunello and is also the main grape used in Chianti).

In 2011 the European Union decided to standardise the classification of wine across European countries to make life easier for the consumer. So far things haven’t simplified much because most producers are still sticking to the old classifications whilst the new terms DOP and IGP are used by others. The new terms, DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protettiva) and IGP (Indicazione di Origine Protettiva can be applied to locally produced food and wine. The old terms, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and VdT (Vino da Tavola) apply only to wine.

It”s tempting to suggest that the Italians start again, re-labelling their wines by grape variety first and region second, however, there is too much tradition and jealously guarded reputation for this to ever happen. The complicated world of Italian wine can be discovered bottle by bottle and the varied geography, latitudes and grape varieties will always provide something new.

DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)

If a wine is labelled DOCG then the grapes are grown and the wine is made in one of Italy’s best wine producing areas. There are strict rules permitting the grapes varieties (and clones) used, the yield per hectare, the percentages in which they can be blended and the length of time for which the wine must be aged before release.

DOCG is now included under the new European wide category DOP, but, because DOCG status is so prestigious, it is unlikely that you will find a DOCG labelled as DOP. It is important to remember that, whilst a wine labelled as DOCG will, more often than not, be top quality, the “Garantita” doesn’t guarantee that the wine will be excellent. It simply guarantees that the wine is from the specific region, made with the right grapes and has followed all the rules.

DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata)

The are so many DOC zones in Italy that I doubt if anyone can remember them all. These are wines specific to an area and made with particular grape varieties under particular rules.

A DOC is, in theory, superior to the next category IGT, but many winemakers choose to ignore their local DOC because the rules are inflexible and hardly anyone outside the area has heard of it. DOC wines are also included in the the new DOP category and sometimes you will see “DOP” on the label.

IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)

A much looser category that many wine makers prefer for their wines as they are not constrained by grape variety. You will find the region in which the wine was grown, whether it is red or white, and, if a grape makes up 80% of the total, the wine can be labelled as being of that variety.

Originally introduced as a way of classifying quality wines that fell outside the DOCG and DOC categories, IGT wine is widely produced across Italy and often includes international varieties of grape. You will often find that IGT wines are excellent value for money. IGT is equivalent to the European wide IGP label and you will sometimes see it on bottles.

VdT (Vino da Tavola)

To be labelled VdT, a wine has to come from Italy and be made from grapes.

The grapes may have been grown in one region and the wine made in another.

Superiore & Riserva

If an Italian wine is labelled “Superiore”, it has a higher level of alcohol than the producer’s normal wine, this is usually achieved by restricting the grape yield and therefore concentrating the sugar in the must. The extra sugar is converted into alcohol during fermentation.

The term “Riserva” means that an Italian wine has been given extra barrel ageing. This is usually an extra year, giving the wine extra tannin and more of the aromas and flavours associated with oak (sweet spice, tobacco, earthiness, leather etc.). The extra ageing means extra costs and this is usually reflected in the price!