I have the good fortune of writing this blog post from my sister’s apartment in the center of ancient Rome. The last few days have seen me enjoying enough pizza, pasta, and wine to last a lifetime (all at the expense of my waistline). Last night I did take a moment to pause mid feasting and inspect the bottle of wine we were sipping. Along with the region, winery, and vintage, a group of letters were printed on the label. After inquiring what the letters stand for, I learned a thing or two about Italian wine classification. And if you enjoy a good Italian wine, you’ll want to know too.
On every bottle of Italian wine, either on an identifying band near the top of the bottle or on the label itself (front or back), you’ll find one of these four classifications: Vino da Tavola (VdT), Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT), Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). An ongoing process, these classifications were established by the Italian government in 1963 to protect the purity of the wine being made in their country. The ranking system provides incentive for winemakers and transparency for wine consumers. To be certified accordingly, winemakers must adhere to strict regulations. Now, let’s look at some specifics for each category. Since the categories basically tell you the grade of wine, we will start with the lowest and work our way to the top.
Classifications of Wine
(Brought to you by my Roman brother-in-law, along with some clarification from Kyle Phillip’s article on “The Spruce Eats”)
This literally means "table wine" and it's a wine intended for everyday drinking, whose production process is restricted by very few rules and regulations. Although normally thought of as the lowest of the low, some good wines have come from this category. Just don’t be surprised when your 2 euro wine doesn’t taste as great as you thought it would.
"Geographical Indication" is a wine produced in a specific area. At one time, there was nothing special about most IGT wines, though that is no longer true. This designation was created a little after DOC and DOCG in order to accommodate growers who couldn’t meet all the DOC or DOCG regulations for one reason or another, but were still producing great wines.
"Controlled Designation of Origin" wines are produced in specific, well-defined regions, according to precise rules designed to preserve the traditional winemaking practices of each individual region. The rules for making Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC, for example, differ markedly from those for Salice Salentino DOC (from Puglia). The winery can state the vineyard the grapes came from, but cannot name the wine after a type of grape or use a name such as "Superior." The creation of this category exponentially improved the overall quality of Italian wines, and there are currently more than 300 Italian DOC wines.
The "Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin" category is similar to the DOC, but even more stringent. Allowable yields are generally lower, and DOCG wines must pass evaluation, analysis, and tasting by a government-licensed committee before they can be bottled. There are currently about 74 Italian DOCG wines, including my favorite, Chianti Classico. (Speaking of Chianti Classico, my next blog post will dive into the story behind its labeling and what that black rooster is all about).
Being out of the country I call home has forced me to look at products and notice things I might have overlooked in more familiar surroundings. And for that, I’m grateful. Learning these classifications will help me choose my next Italian wine with confidence. So, here’s to asking questions and travel and new experiences and wine. Yes, good Italian wine.
Ciao for now.