Similar to Canada, France and Germany, Italy has developed its own safeguards where grape growers and producers must adhere to strict regulations in order to be certified. The laws also govern things like the type of grapes used, the alcohol content, and how long the wine is aged.
Italian certification falls into three categories of decreasing strictness: DOCG, DOC, and IGT.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wines contain the DOCG letters on the label. For the consumer this means that the producer followed the strictest regulations possible to make that wine. The wine is tested by a committee that then authenticates the geographic location and the quality of the wine. There are currently only a handful of Italian wines that qualify for DOCG status. DOCG wines are easy to identify as they contain a numbered government seal attached to the neck of the bottle.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines are much more commonly found. The rules governing quality and authenticity are still very strict, but not quite as stringent as those containing the DOCG insignia. For instance, the geographic zone might be a little bigger or the rules about what kind of grapes might be a little more relaxed. The letters DOC will be found on the label, similar to DOCG.
The final quality designation is Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT). This category was created after the DOC and DOCG designations in order to accommodate growers who couldn’t meet all the DOC or DOCG requirements but were still producing good quality wines.
The following will help provide an understanding of the information commonly found on an Italian wine label.
- Abboccato = Slightly sweet
- Amabile = Medium sweet
- Amarone = Dry red wine made from dried grapes
- Azienda/Tenuta/Podere = Estate
- Bianco = White
- Cantina = Winery
- Cantina sociale = Co-operative winery
- Chiaretto = Pale red or dark rosé
- Classico = Denotes the traditional, theoretically superior, vineyard area within a DOC/DOCG zone
- Dolce = Sweet
- Frizzante = Slightly sparkling
- Imbottigliato all’origine = Estate bottled
- Metodo Classico = Sparkling wine made by the classic Champagne method
- Novello = Describes light, fruity wines intended for early consumption rather than cellaring
- Passito = Generic term for wine made from dried grapes (usually sweet but occasionally dry)
- Recioto = Sweet red or white wine made from dried grapes (a form of passito)
- Ripasso = Full-bodied, powerful wine style made by re-fermenting wine with amarone grape skins
- Riserva = Denotes extended aging (in cask, then bottle) before the wine is sent to market
- Rosato = Rosé
- Rosso = Red
- Secco = Dry
- Spumante = Sparkling
- Superiore = Wines with greater concentration and higher alcoholic strength
- Vendemmia = Vintage
- Vigneto = Vineyard
- Vin Santo = A dessert wine style originally from Tuscany, generally made from air-dried grapes
- Trebbiano = A name shared between many different Italian grape varieties, planted almost everywhere within Italy. It is dark gold or amber-coloured with high acidity and a rather neutral flavour profile
I myself have sampled quite a few Italian wines over the years and they have not all been DOCG or DOC. I have found that IGT wines are often very similar in taste to their higher rated cousins. In general, the quality standards are very good.
With Italian wines I am more inclined to purchase what intrigues me and not pay so much attention to whether it contains a certain insignia. It is also interesting to note that the price point of DOCG wines is often no higher than, and sometimes even less than DOC or IGT wines.