Everyone that has purchased a bottle of Italian wine has seen three or four little letters - IGT, DOC, and DOCG - that stand out on the label.
Everyone that has purchased a bottle of Italian wine has seen three or four little letters - IGT, DOC, and DOCG - that stand out on the label. These are part of the Italian wine classification system, a guarantee that you are purchasing a quality wine produced according to rigorous government standards.
Law 164/92 which regulates the classification of wines can be graphically summarized in a pyramid, at the base of which are found table wines, IGT, DOC and DOCG.
There are four Italian wine classifications listed below but for relevancy and purpose we will focus on the first three.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
Vino da Tavola
It should be specified that this system does not identify the quality of wine, but only its territoriality and that a fine wine aspiring to get or keep a quality label, must precisely meet the requirements imposed by a proper set of norms, called disciplinary. The "higher" the appellation, the more complex, particular and restrictive the requirements to be met will be.
Let’s start at the base of the pyramid, where we find IGT wines. IGT wines are those that come from a broad geographic region. For example, with a wine labeled Veneto IGT, 85% percent of the grapes used must come from the region or area indicated, in this case Veneto. Additionally, there are a set of rules governing vineyard management, production and sensory standards that must be followed. IGT has the most lenient rules out of the denominations described here.
The middle tier of the pyramid is dedicated to DOCs. With 333 different DOCs in Italy, the majority of Italian wines fall under this category and they can be produced in a red, white, rose, or sparkling style. Coming from a more restricted geographic area than IGTs, these wines are inherently tied to that territory.
Each DOC has its own rules regarding permitted grape varieties and percentages used in the blend, vines per hectare, maximum harvest yields, and ageing requirements, among other strict standards. Additionally, DOC wines must undergo an official chemical and sensory analysis carried out by a government-appointment commission before hitting shelves. DOC wines can have additional wording such as Superiore or Riserva, or include the name of a specific vineyard site.
If we take the example of Prosecco DOC, we know that it must be made with a minimum of 85% Glera, a local variety, and produced in 5 provinces in the Veneto (Treviso, Venezia, Vicenza, Padova, Belluno) and in 4 provinces of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region (Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste e Udine).
The remaining 15% can be white grapes, either local or international varieties. Prosecco DOC can be produced in a sparkling, sparkling rose, semi- sparkling, and tranquillo (still) style with varying degrees of residual sugar and must be produced using the Charmat method, where the second fermentation occurs in large tanks rather than the bottle. In terms of aromas, Prosecco DOC should exhibit the classic aromas of green apple, citrus fruits, and white flowers.
At the very top of the pyramid we have DOCG wines. The first DOCG was Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, produced with Sangiovese, followed by Brunello di Montalcino, also produced with Sangiovese, and Barolo and Barbaresco, both single-varietal Nebbiolo wines from Piemonte. There are now 76 DOCG wines in Italy with the majority concentrated in Piemonte, Tuscany, and Veneto.
DOCG wines have the strictest and most extensive regulations and are produced in an even more restrictive territory compared with DOCs. As they are intrinsically tied to a territory, DOCGs wines exhibit distinctive features that represent that specific territory, particular variety, and local wine-making traditions.
From the vineyard to production, to ageing and all the way to bottling, the entire cycle is closely monitored. The wine must undergo extensive chemical and sensory analysis by a government commission before bottling and also before being placed on the market. Additionally, every DOCG bottle is labeled with a special seal displaying a unique identification number.
Prosecco DOCG is produced from an even more restricted area than the Prosecco DOC we spoke of earlier, as the DOCG can only come from two areas, Asolo or Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Prosecco from Asolo is labeled Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG and the Prosecco from Conegliano is labeled Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Conegliano is THE historic area for Prosecco production.
Additionally, wines labeled with “Rive” indicate those villages that make vintage wines of excellence, while “Cartizze” is known as the grand cru of the region, due to the steep elevations that allow grapes to achieve ideal ripeness resulting in elegant, fragrant wines.