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Italian wine classification demystified

April 6, 2019 Tags: Italian Wine Classificaion, DOC, DOCG, IGT, Table Wines, PDO, PGI 0 comments
We all agree that Italian wine is very confusing and it is often a matter for experts. Plenty of wines have names that have nothing to do with the grapes they are made of, Chianti and Amarone are two very good examples, some have the name of the town or the area where they are produced, Orvieto and Brunello di Montalcino are two and we could go on and on. And even when the name on the label is the same the wine could be very different, sometime totally different.

Understanding Italian wine is not easy, it is awfully confusing and using the Italian wine classification doesn’t help either.

The Italian wine classification was introduced in 1963 and initially introduced a 3 class system, Vino da Tavola, DOC and DOCG with the IGT, the 4 class or category, being introduced in 1992. This system has now been overruled by the new European wine classification system introduced by the European Union to harmonize the individual country’s wine classification system.

I do believe that lower class doesn’t automatically mean lower quality wine and vice versa, so a table wine is not automatically a poor quality wine and a DOCG is not always a great wine and I always recommend never to buy a wine only because of its class. The different classes, more than telling us about the quality of the wine, tell us about the wine making process. Table wines are often wines to be drunk within the year and can be drunk without any preparation, DOCG wines on the other hand, needs ageing before being ready and preparation, whether decanting the wine or the right food, so it is also important to bear this in mind.

The lower class or category is the Vino da Tavola or Table Wine, the only thing we know about these wines are that are made with grapes grown in Italy. It could be a wine made with whatever is left or could be a wine created because the other classes did not give the winemaker enough freedom, we should never forget that Supertuscans were initially table wines.

Next class or category up is IGT, Indicazione Geografica tipica. Here wine makers have still enough freedom to create the wine they want, their only restriction is to use the grape grown in the specified area, normally is a region, but could also be a smaller area. Most Supertuscan wines now belong to this class.
The next class up is the DOC, denominazione di origine controllata. Normally DOC wines are made with grape grown in a smaller area, there are exceptions, eg Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, that cover the whole region, and the DOC regulation also cover other aspects of the wine making process, from yield to minimum alcohol content.

On the top of the pyramid, we have the DOCG class, Denominazione di Origine controllata e garantita. This is the class where there are some of the most known and expensive Italian wines, from Prosecco di Valdobbiadene to Barolo, passing for Amarone and Brunello di Montalcino. DOCG wines are normally the ones with a higher cost because of their wine making process and restrictions imposed to the wine maker.

The higher we are in the pyramid, the stricter are the rules and the less freedom winemakers have.This one of the main reasons some of the top wine makers have decided to ignore the DOC or DOCG regulations and just create IGT or table wines.

In 2011 the European Union decided to step in with the aim of harmonise wine labelling across the continent. Currently the European system is still very much ignored. The new classes are:

PDO (Protected Designation of Origin)
PDO wines are "produced in a given geographical area, using recognized know-how" and correspond to the DOC and DOCG wines

PGI (Protected Geographical Indication)
PGI wines are closely linked to the geographical area in which they are produced and which has specific qualities attributable to that geographical area and correspond to Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP)
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