Understanding Italian Wines

Impressively, Italy is responsible for roughly ⅓ of the world’s wine production, with one million vineyards scattered throughout the country under cultivation. Italy’s wine regions correspond with the 20 administrative regions, the most famous being the prestigious wine regions of Tuscany, Veneto and Piedmont. Even more staggering however, is there are up to 500 species of grapes being grown, quite a big leap from the 130 or so cultivated in Australia.

If most of your wine experience has been with Australian wine then you probably find the French and Italian wine naming systems rather difficult to comprehend. You’re not alone!

Like the French, Italian wines are named under specific appellations according to a number of factors including region and winemaking process. You may be familiar with appellations such as ‘Barolo’, ‘Chianti’, and ‘Brunello di Montalcino’. Frustratingly, these names often neither reflect the region nor the grape variety used in their production.

This due to a classification system engineered in the mid 1900’s to raise the overall quality of Italian wines. A four-tiered naming system rates wines according to a combination of factors including region and winemaking techniques. The following information should help to give you a basic understanding of the classification system.

The Italian Wine Classifications

‘Vino Da Tavola’ (VdT)
Translated as ‘table wine’, these wines are the lowest quality, the only criteria being that they are produced somewhere in Italy. These wines cannot put the vintage on the wine labels. Mostly found in local trattorias, not so much exported internationally.

Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT) Wines with Protected Geographical Indication
Wines labeled IGT are produced in a specific area. They aren’t governed by any tight rules associated with the wine’s production. Generally, these wines are still typical of a particular region but for one reason or another do not meet the more strict DOC or DOCG criterion. ‘Super Tuscan’ wines generally fall in this category. See full list of IGT wines.

Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controlla (DOC) – Controlled Designation of Origin
Wine produced in specific regions according to traditional wine making regulations to ensure quality. There are literally hundreds of DOC appellations, each with unique rules. Wines cannot be named after a grape type. These wines have to meet certain standards to qualify and as such the quality of these wines it typically higher than that of IGT and VdT. See full list of DOC wines.

Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOGC) – Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin
This is the highest wine classification in Italy, with the most stringent rules. Wine must pass an evaluation by a tasting committee before being bottled. Wines are sealed with a numbered governmental seal across the cap or cork to ensure they have not been tampered with. Generally, these wines have lower allowable grape yields and require longer ageing periods. See full list of DOCG wines.

Under the DOC/DOCG tiers there are also three terms you may come across;

  • Classico – Wines produced from vineyards in the most historically oldest part of the region
  • Superiore – Wines produced from lower yielding vines with at least 0.5% higher alcohol percentage than the prescribed DOP guides
  • Riserva – Wines aged for an extended period (based on the variety)

Super Tuscans

Frustrated with the rules defining DOP production, and believing them to be counter-productive to the quality of wine, a group of producers began producing their own blend and naming them ‘Super Tuscans’. These wines were highly regarded by connoisseurs around the world, demanding equally high prices. The Italian wine classification system has since altered to qualify many of these wines as DOC or DOCG but many remain classed as IGT.

Most Common Italian Grape Varieties

Bianco (White)
Arneis; Catarratto; Fianco; Greco di Tufo; Garganega; Malvasia Bianco; Moscato Bianco; Nuragus; Pigato; Pinot Grigio; Ribolla Gialla; Friulano; Trebbiano; Verdicchio; Vermentino; Passerina; Pecorino

Rosso (Red)
Aglianico; Barbera; Corvina; Dolcetto; Malvasia Nera; Montepulciano; Nebbiolo; Negroamaro; Nero d’Avola; Primitivo; Sagrantino; Sangiovese

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