Every country has its own set of wine regions, quality designations and stylistic terms that appear on their wine labels. Let’s take a look at ones for wines from Italy.
While they may not be as complicated as German wine labels, Italian labels will contain information about where the wine is from and an indication of the quality. The label may also contain specific terms that point to the style of the wine.
Regions and Quality
Similar to Spain, Italy has two different designations for its higher-quality wine, both of which are tied to different wine growing regions. The first is DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). Many well-known wine regions (e.x Soave, Etna) in Italy fall under this designation, which dictates things like which grapes can be used and how the wine is produced. Regions that are consistently known for producing higher quality wines (ex. Barolo, Chianti Classico) are promoted to the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) designation. This designation naturally comes with more strict rules governing the wine’s production. It is also subject to more government inspection. As a result, DOCG wines will bear a numbered seal around the neck of the bottle.
Below the DOC/DOCG level are wines labeled as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). The regions for these wines are larger, usually encompassing multiple DOC/DOCG regions. Wines at this level are not subject to rules that govern as strictly which grapes can be used or how the wine is produced. The less-strict rules can lead to a wide variety of quality; however, the upside to less restrictions is that winemakers are free to experiment with a wider variety of grapes and wine styles. The highly regarded Super Tuscan style of wine started at this level, but specific areas known for consistently producing high-quality Super Tuscan wines are starting to be elevated to DOC status.
Below the IGT level are basic table wines which bear the designation Vino da Tavola. They do not represent any specific region and may be blends of grapes harvested in different years.
Classico – In regions like Chianti and Soave that have expanded significantly over time, this designation indicates that the grapes were grown in the original, historic district, which is considered of better quality.
Passito – This is an umbrella term indicating that the wine is made from grapes that have been dried for some period of time after they were harvested and before they were pressed. (See also Recioto and Ripasso.)
Recioto – This is a sweet style wine that can be red or white and is made from dried (passito) grapes.
Ripasso – Meaning to “go over again”, Ripasso style wines are fermented with the skins of passito grapes that were already used to produce Amarone, a style of dry red wine that is produced from passito grapes.
Riserva – While there is no specific time period associated with this term, it indicates that the wine has been aged longer than the standard DOC/DOCG rules require.
Spumante – This term indicates a wine that is sparkling.
Superiore – This term indicates that the wine is considered of better quality than the basic DOC/DOCG wine of the region. Generally, these wines must meet additional criteria beyond what is required of the DOC/DOCG designation, and will have a slightly higher alcohol level (indicating the grapes were allowed to ripen a bit more).