An Introduction to Italian Wine Classifications

Currently Italy’s wine classification system has four categories. In descending “quality” order they are: DOCG (e.g. Controlled and Guaranteed Origin Denomination), DOC (Controlled Origin Denomination), IGT (Protected Geographic Indication), and vino da tavola (table wine). On August 1, 2009, new EU regulations went into effect that created a three tiered “quality structure” for wines, and also introduced new labeling requirements. However, pre-existing classifications (e.g. Designations of Origin) can continue to be used by member countries as long as they are registered with the EU by December 31, 2011 — so there probably won’t be many changes to Italian wine labels.

DOCG wines represent a small group of the very best wines. The full Italian title of Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita is spelled out on the labels of these special wines. Translated, this title means the wine in question is “designated” to have a “regulated and guaranteed place-name.” Italy has 20 wine regions, but less than half produce any DOCG wines. Most DOCG wines come from the regions of Piedmont (12 DOCGs), Tuscany (7 DOCGs), Veneto (4 DOCGs), and Lombardia (4 DOCGs).

DOC wines are more numerous than DOCG, less distinguished, and usually less expensive. When the phrase Denominazione di Origine Controllata appears on the label, this indicates a wine that is characteristic of its region of origin, and superior in quality to table wine.

IGT wines (Indicazione di Geografica Tipica) usually are table wines with a “geographic indication” on the label. In extraordinary cases–the best known being the example of Super Tuscans–IGT wines can be as good as the best DOCG wines. A few producers (mostly in Tuscany and Piedmont) have created wines made with grape varieties or combinations prohibited by DOC/DOCG regulations. Their official category might be only “IGT,” but they are outstanding wines, nevertheless.

The lowest category of Italian wine (vino de tavola) carries no geographical indication aside from “Italy” and states on the label that it is table wine—in Italian, vino da tavola, abbreviated VdT. Vini da tavola are often bottled in larger containers such as jugs.

When reading an Italian wine label, other terms such as “Classico,” “Riserva,” and “Superiore” can appear. Classico often indicates a more prestigious region of origin for the signature varietal or wine type. Valpolicella Classico and Chianti Classico are two such examples. In Italy, “Riserva” does not necessarily imply higher quality–only additional aging. Some Italian regions have strict rules about aging, but others do not. A Chianti Riserva must be aged for at least 38 months before it can be sold. A Chianti Superiore must undergo 9 months of aging before it can be sold. (Standard Chiantis need only 4 or 5 months of aging.) As with the term “Riserva,” the term “Superiore” does not speak to the wine’s quality. A bottle labeled “Superiore” indicates that the wine inside has a higher than usual alcohol level.

Photo courtesy of the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico Gallo Negro.