“Wine, and particularly wine with food, is one of the great pleasures of life”.
A very wise person.
Not a surprise, I am a big fan of wine. I rather drink a glass of wine than a glass of beer at any time in any situation. Red wine over white one, Italian over other regions. Sardinian wine even better, but this is just my personal opinion. We also love red wine risotto as you may have noticed in the past!
I decided I wanted to learn more about this spectacular universe, so I signed up to an introductory wine tasting course here in London. I am still way far to be called an expert, but I am learning new things and techniques after every lesson and tasting. If I was just able to categorize in red/white and like/dislike, now I am paying attention to the appearance, the nose and the palate of each wine.
If you usually buy Italian wines you will have certainly noticed all the acronyms written on the label: IGT, IGP, DOC, DOCG, VDT… this can be confusing or mysterious for many people. This is why we decided to write a simple guide to the most common acronyms related to Italian wines.
How to read the wine label
Shall I judge a wine by its label? Mmm… sometimes! (Read: How wine label design and typography really influences how it tastes)
Shall I pay attention to a wine label? Definitely yes!
Reading a wine label goes beyond the label design. You should focus on what the label says, and it should say at least where the grapes come from, the name of the wine, the year when the grapes were harvested, or Vintage (as general rule: multi-vintage wines or NV are lower value wines), the producer’s name, the alcohol content. It could be in the front or back label, but these basic data must be there.
Understanding a wine label may not always tell you how the wine tastes but it can help you get a better idea of what you are buying.
The Italian wine acronyms
The European Union issued an amendment where all the wines coming from regions known for their producing skills were flagged as DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) – Denomination of Protected Origin and IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) – Protected Geographic Provenience.
Both of them legislate about:
- Name of Denomination
- Borders of the area
- Physic and Chemical parameters (i.e. % vol.)
- Grapes Implant quantity and ratio grape/bottles
- What kind of grapes are allowed to use and in which percentage
- Kind of producing system
- Climatic conditions, terroir
- Historic origins
The IGP states the producers must use at least the 85% of grapes growing in the designed area while the DOP is more restrictive being possible to use only grapes coming from the area.
Italy includes in the IGP its own wine marked as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and in the DOP wine marked as DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).
IGT wines can be upgraded to DOC after 5 years and a DOC can be transformed in DOCG after 10 years.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Controlled Denomination of Origin). These are wines produced from grapes harvested in a specific geographical area and made with particular grape varieties according to specific rules.
DOC rules are quite strict, especially compared to IGT rules and this is the main reason why several winemakers choose to ignore their local DOC.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed). Like the DOC wines, these are produced in a specific area and in a particular discipline, but in this case, there are bodies to ensure that the grapes come from a land that meets specific characteristics and that methods of cultivation are sticking to the terms of the discipline, especially as regards the yields per hectare.
There are strict rules permitting the grapes varieties used such 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 European category DOP (like DOC wines), but, because DOCG status is so prestigious, it is unlikely that you will find a DOCG labeled as DOP. However, having this label doesn’t guarantee to be an excellent wine; it simply certifies that the wine is from the specific region, made with the right grapes and has followed all the rules involved.
Indicazione Geografica Tipica (Typical Geographical Indication). Wines from a particular geographical area and from a production area that is usually larger and recognized by the European Community. Not having to conform to any rules of production, the cultivation and vinification, aging and maturing are free.
This appellation was created in 1992 for wines that were considered to be of higher quality than simple table wines, but which did not conform to the strict wine laws for their region.
This is a much looser category that many wine makers prefer for their wines as they are not constrained by grape variety. On the label you will find the region in which the wine was grown. If a grape makes up 80% of the total, the wine can be labeled as being of that variety.
IGT wines are the counterpart of French “Vin de Pays” and German “Landwein” and usually are great value for money. IGT is equivalent to the European wide IGP label and you will sometimes see it on bottles.
Vino da Tavola (Table Wine). Wine not classifiable in other categories, provided that the alcoholic strength between 8.5% and 15% vol. These wines are typically of lower quality than those labeled with IGT, DOC or DOCG. On the label there must be stated the colour of the wine
For VDT a wine must come from Italy and must be made from grapes that may have been grown in one region while the wine made in another.
Other label info
Classico (classic) – Wine produced in the oldest territory of origin
Riserva (reserve): Wines that had an ageing process
Superiore (superior): Wines with better ageing and alcoholic characteristics than DOC-DOCG standard
This guide is way far to be the most informative piece you will ever read, but that was not its purpose. We tried to give you a less rough understanding of what you should expect and look for when buying Italian wines. And remember: having a specific label, although prestigious, does not necessarily mean you will enjoy the wine 🙂
We are always looking for new tasting and recommendations: if you love a specific wine please let us know in the comments! Cheers! (or as Italians say: Cin Cin!)