Understanding Italian Wine Labels
When looking at a bottle of Italian wine, you may see the name of the wine without mention of the grape variety, but sometimes you may see both the grape and the place of origin. An example would be Nebbiolo di Langhe, who would be the Nebbiolo grape from Langhe which is a region within Piedmont. Another example would be Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, which would be the Montepulciano grape from the region of Abruzzi.
Now in terms of the classification system the is a hierarchy of specific labeling that is controlled by the Italian government. First is just the simple distinction of Vino da Tavola or “table wine” that is the most broad and least demanding of the label indications. The only restriction on this wine is that it’s produced in Italy, and this is commonly reserved for mass produced wine or wine for local consumption. If you order a house red or white in Rome odds are they will serve you a Vino da Tavola.
The next distinction would be IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, which was a classification introduced in 1992 that was made to acknowledge wines that didn’t fit into the DOC standards but needed to be recognized as superior quality then the standard table wines. “Super Tuscans” or the prestigious wines that use Bordeaux grapes are classified IGT, and so the category has a large fluctuation in quality across the entire classification. There is also a similar classification of IGP or Indicazione Geografica Protecta for wines made within a protected region of Italy.
Next would be one of the most common classifications which was established in 1963, the DOC or Denominazione di Origine Contrallata. With this distinction the wines must pass through a tasting panel and are subject to rules that enforce harvesting yields, alcohol levels, and grape varieties grown in a particular appellation.
Finally, the DOCG category is reserved for the wines with higher standards and distinction. These wines have additional requirements on grape yields in the vineyard, which grapes can be grown in the region, alcohol levels, and of course the wines must pass through a tasting panel to ensure the proper quality and typicity is achieved in the category.
Understanding Italian wine labels can give you greater power when it comes to choosing the best value for money wines from this country. A great example is the Il Pumo Primitivo which is an IGP wine from the Puglia region of Italy. This wine punches well above it’s price tag and classification grade. San Marzano wines specialise in producing amazing wines like this and all of them are regarded as having a lesser classification yet every wine is of outstanding quality.
So the next time you are puzzling over labels of Italian wines just stop and remember that they hold a great deal of valuable information that isn’t that difficult. Pronouncing the words is another story though!