How to read Italian wine labels

Have you ever wanted to make a good impression at a friends’ dinner with a good bottle of Italian wine? But how many times did you find difficult to read the wine label? Lots of wine lovers are conditioned by the packaging of the bottle or the graphics on the label or, sometimes, even by the price. I’m here to help you learn how to decipher the basic information on Italian wine labels, so you can make a more informed choice. 

Reading an Italian wine label: a short guide  

  1. Name of the wine
    It is usually placed in the central area of the front label or at the top. Italian producers name their wines following three different ways: by grape variety, by region or by brand name (both fantasy names or the name of the winery or estate). For example, you can find a bottle named Pinot Grigio (grape varietal), Chianti Classico (geographic region) or Tignanello (fantasy name).  
  2. Producer
    Wine labels must indicate the bottling company name. If the bottler is the same as the producer, you’ll find the expression “imbottigliato all’origine da…” and the winery’s name, meaning that the winery produced and bottled the wine on site at the estate. 
  3. Vintage Year 
    Another fundamental piece of information to consider when choosing a wine is the vintage. It refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. Why is this important? Because every year the harvest is different because of the climate, which can be warmer, wetter, more humid, etc., and can therefore affect the quality of the product.Indication of the vintage is not compulsory for sparkling wines, nor for semi-sparkling or liqueur wines.
  4. Region and classification tiers
    This information not only tell us about the geographical area of origin of the wine, but it also gives us an indication of its quality. In fact, together with the region of origin, the wine label also indicates the classification tiers guaranteeing the quality of the Italian agricultural and food heritage: DOC, DOCG and IGT. 
  5. Alcohol 
    Another important piece of information is the percentage of pure alcohol present in 100 ml of the same wine. The value ranges between 9 and 16. 


How to decipher the Classification Tiers 

When you see the acronyms DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin), DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and IGT (Typical Geographical Indication) you know that the wine has been produced according to a precise specification that guarantees the quality of the product. If you’re looking for Italian wines to add to your collection, you should first understand the Italian hierarchical tier system.  

This system began in 1963 with the creation of the DOC and DOCG classifications, although the DOCG tier didn’t take effect until 1982. In 1992, Italian lawmakers then introduced the IGT tier. These standards help create strict production methods and quality standards.

DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) 

The rules imposed by the DOCG classification are the strictest. It puts rules in place in terms of geographical indication of origin, grape varieties, yield limits and grape ripeness to ensure a top-quality harvest. Producers must follow specific production processes, including the ageing time. Wines in this classification display a unique code issued by the state. 

DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) 

Like DOCG, this classification sets rules on grape varieties, wine production processes and viticultural areas. This is the tier where most Italian wines fall. It also indicates: the precise geographical area of origin, the quantity of grapes that can be obtained per hectare, the minimum alcohol content and the duration of ageing. 

IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) 

The IGT classification informs about the geographical indication of origin, the basic grape variety and the vintage year. According to this classification, at least 85% of the grapes must come from the geographical area whose name they bear. 

Now that you have all these infos at your disposal, you can surely choose with more confidence and familiarity the wine that best suits your needs and tastes and those of your hosts. Otherwise, you can always turn to me for some extra advice on how to choose the perfect wines for your special events. 

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