How to Decipher an Italian Wine Label

How to Decipher an Italian Wine Label

Italian Wine Label Chianti DOC

DOC? DOCG? Rosso di Montalcino? Brunello di Montalcino? Firenze? vino da tavola? Making sense of an Italian wine label can sometimes be a daunting task, but with a little practice, you too can be fluent in Italian wine labeling.

The Plate on the left says : It is always the right time for a good glass of wine

The most important components of an Italian wine label are place and grape varietal. Knowing the unique grapes used in Italian wines and having a good geographic sense of Italy will get you through all but the most confusing wine labels.

Place names are based on Italy's wine laws. Within these laws, there are three main categories: DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, roughly translated: protected place name) DOCG (Denominatzione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, roughly, guaranteed place name) and IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, typical place name.).

Chianti wine Label Italy


The DOC designation is given to over three hundred Italian wine growing areas. This designation governs such things as area of production, permissible grape varietals, maximum yield of grapes per acre, minimum alcohol content, aging requirement, and such vineyard practices as pruning and trellising. In addition, to be eligible for a DOC designation, wines must pass a taste test and a chemical analysis. DOCG has a stricter set of guidelines than DOC.

IGT wines must also meet geographic and grape varietals requirements, but the standards are less stringent for this designation. There are about 120 IGT areas in Italy.

One last label is : Vini di qualità prodotti in regione determinata (VQPRD)

DOCG and, to a lesser extent DOC, is, in most cases, an indication of a superior wine. There are, however, Italian winemakers who make very good wine but prefer not to have as much government involvement in their businesses. They choose, instead, to be labeled an IGT. Wine without a DOGC, DOC, or IGT designation is called vino da tavola, or table wine. Examples of DOGCs are Chianti Classico, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, and Barbareso.

Barbera d' Alba wine label


Grape varietals are also found on Italian wine labels. Italy's unique climate suits grapes that are not often produced in other areas. Grapes such as Chianti's Sangiovese, Barolo's Nebbiolo, Corvina, and Arneis are most commonly found in Italy.

Some words found on labels indicate the type of wine produced, such as spumante (sparkling,) chiaretto (rose,) bianco (white,) dolce (sweet,) secco (dry,) or rosso (red.) Other words have to do with the winery: vigna or vigneto (vineyard,) tenuta (estate,) or produttore (producer.)

Italian wines are distinguished with the following labels  in increasing quality order:

  • Vini da tavola
    • Vino da tavola (VDT)
    • Vino da tavola con indicazione geografica tipica (IGT)
    • Vini di qualità prodotti in regione determinata (VQPRD)
  • Vino a denominazione di origine controllata (DOC)
    • Vino a denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG)

In any case a  large part of the best Italian wines are classified only as 'Vino da tavola'   for example  wines labeled  'Supertuscan'.

By Sandy Mitchell

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