Welcome to Wine Wednesdays, a new series where I’ll select a type of wine, grape, region, or country and give an overview as it pertains to wine! When you’re visiting Europe, wine is generally a major part of the culture, and knowing a little bit about it before you go can help make your trip more fulfilling, not to mention delicious! You don’t have to be a fully qualified sommelier to appreciate wine in Europe, as their approach to wine is generally super casual, but having some background knowledge is always helpful.
Today’s Wine Wednesday post will cover the country of Italy. Italy has 20 regions and 96 provinces, and you could spend a lifetime learning about all them all. But don’t worry – you don’t need to break out your flashcards to be able to enjoy wine in this country. Here are a few general guidelines to help you navigate grocery stores, restaurant menus, and markets when you’re picking out a bottle of wine in Italy.
When you look at an Italian wine label, you’ll likely notice it has one of three designations: IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), or DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). To have one of these designations, the wine is required to adhere to certain standards set by Italy’s DOC, a governing body that regulates things like which grape varieties can be used, how long the wine must be aged, the minimum alcohol content, and more. While Italian producers are not all required to adhere to DOC standards, and there are definitely some good wines out there that don’t, selecting a DOC-approved wine is an excellent starting point.
The IGT designation is the least stringent of the three classifications. To earn an IGT stamp, the wine must be produced using at least 80% of grapes grown in that region. The other 20% can be made up of non-native (i.e., from outside Italy) grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. This category allows winemakers to be more experimental, while still meeting DOC approval.
The DOC designation is the next step up from IGT, and wines stamped with this label are produced in specific regions, according to the strict rules established by that region. The goal of the DOC is to protect the traditional winemaking methods of that region and to ensure that all wines meet minimum quality levels.
The DOCG category is only given to the top Italian wines that adhere to the highest standards and strictest regulations. In addition to following the exacting rules set for DOC wines, to earn a DOCG label, a wine must pass a blind taste-test. The DOC governing body also sets limits on grape production yields, which further restricts the amount of wines that earn a DOCG stamp. Two of the most famous DOCG wines are Chianti and Barolo.
Another Italian label you might see is Vino da Tavola (VdT), which literally means “table wine”. Usually, wines with this category are affordable, everyday drinking wines. There are both very good wines and less good wines in this category, making it more of a gamble – but at the right price point, it’s a gamble I don’t mind taking.
Here’s a handy map I found showing the various regions of Italy and the types of grapes grown in that region. On a wine bottle, Italian wines can either be labeled by the grape and region/subregion (Barbera d’Asti), by the type of wine (Chianti), or by just the region (Toscana). Or there’s the non uncommon “rosso di” or “vino di” ________, in which case it’s probably a Sangiovese, which is far and away the most common grape grown in Italy.
I first learned to drink wine during my semester abroad in Florence, so I may be (read: I am) biased, but I think Italian wines are the best in the world. No matter which bottle of Italian wine you choose, you can’t really go wrong, but I hope this post will help you understand the different DOC labels and feel more confident when you’re selecting a bottle of wine to drink in Italy.
Are you a wine drinker? What’s your favorite country, grape, or wine? Do you have any requests for future Wine Wednesdays posts?