If you look on any Italian wine label, you will find the winery name, sometimes the vineyard name, the year, and an abbreviation (DOC, DOCG) or a phrase (Vino Da Tavola) that can be confusing.

What does this mean? Why is it there? What is the difference? Do not fret! The classifications for Italian wine are easy to understand with simply a base education which is outlined below. This information will help you on how to enjoy wine.

Four major categories of Italian wines

  1. Vino Da Tavola
  2. Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT)
  3. Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
  4. Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

Vino Da Tavola (VdT) was once only required by law to not kill the drinker. There were few rules or regulations and most were thin, weak wines and sold in jugs which eventually became candlesticks. But now – the world has changed. There are some winemakers dedicated to changing the image of the VdT and the consistency, and these wines can be excellent and great bargains.

Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT) is a classification for a wine produced in a specific area. ‘Toscana’ is a common IGT where Tuscans blend Sangiovese with varying amounts of other grapes like Cabernet or Merlot. These can be amazing wines with good acidity. 

The ‘Super Tuscan’ blends are IGT status and can be some of the best wines coming out of Italy and some of the most unique.

Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is the Italian version of the French AOC.

DOC wines are produced in specific, well-defined, and tenured regions. There are very specific rules designed to preserve the traditions of Italian winemaking – each unique to the individual region. Thus, the rules for making Barolo differ markedly from those for making Chianti Rufina. DOC regulations are the region of production, grape varietals, minimum alcohol content, and aging length. In addition, to be eligible for a DOC designation, wines must pass a taste test and a chemical analysis.

Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) is the mother of all classifications. Only the strong survive this set of rules and regulations. 

To meet the standard on Italian wine, average yields are generally lower, and all DOCG wines must pass an evaluation by a tasting committee before they can be bottled. The DOCG testing has resulted in an overall improvement in the quality of Italian wines. 

For many historic wines of exceptionally high quality, which meet all the requirements, the DOCG system functions splendidly. It provides the wine drinker and consumer with an accounting of every bottle produced.

“With 20 different wine regions spread from Alto Adige, on the border with Switzerland, to the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, the wines of Italy are some of the most historical and unique wines, as well as the most premium,” said wine expert Mar Pages.

Ancient wine

While it is true that wine did not originate in Italy, the Roman and Greek Empires during the earliest period helped a lot in spreading how the wine was consumed in the Italian regions.

This made Italy famous for its wine varieties and winemaking industry.

Fun and interesting facts about Italian wines

1. Italy has more than 400 wine appellations

Italy has strict regulations on its wine production to ensure the highest global quality standards.

Based on the European Union’s categorization, there are 408 Protected Designations of Origin in Italy. This includes 74 of the highest quality Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita regions and 334 Denominazione d’Origine Controllata, the second highest level of quality, according to Pages.

2. Italian territories are known as big producers of wine

According to historians, Italy was historically identified as “The land of wine”. During the 8th century, the Ancient Greeks called the place Oenotria, “The land of wine”, after seeing the potential of growing grapes in the Italian regions.

3. Italy is the biggest wine producer in the world

Italy has the biggest production of wine with 39 million hectoliters. Following Italy is France with 3 million fewer. Interestingly, Italy is not the biggest consumer of wine despite its title of being the world’s top wine producer. The majority of the wines in Italy are exported to other countries.

Expensive wine collection

4. The most interesting wines are found in Italy

In his article, wine expert Mar Pages said the world’s most interesting and unique wines are found in Italy.

 “With so many regions, and so many producers using so many unique varietals, the chances of something amazing happening are high. There are wines made with dried out, almost raisin-like grapes and others aged under the sea,” Pages said.

“There are also wines with such small production, getting your hands on them is almost impossible,” he added.

5. Italy is known for “volcanic wine”

Grape varieties for winemaking are planted in Italy, a country with some volcanoes located near to its vineyards.

Accordingly, grape varieties tasted smoky and unique near Sicily’s Mount Etna.

6. Italy has the most extensive range of grape varieties in the world

Based on Native Wine Grapes of Italy, over 2,000 grape varietals are grown in Italy. Of the aid number, at least 440 are recorded as for commercial wine production. 

Even ancient and endemic grape varieties are cultivated in Italy. Other globally-known grape varieties that are cultivated in Italy are Chardonnay and Merlot, which are the top-10 most grown grape varieties in the said country.

wine cork in bottle

7. Italy is home to sparkling wines

Sparkling wines find their home in Italy. The Glera grapes produced the famous sparkling wine made from the town of Prosecco.

Spumante, or sparkling wine in English, is produced using different methods like Metodo Ancestrale, Charmat, Metodo Classico, and Carbonatione.

8. Some Italian grape varieties have interesting names

Italy’s grape varieties have interesting names and origins. There is Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, which is the name of a village in the province of Le Marche. You can find Monica grapes in Sardinia. Other names include Uva Rara, or “the rare grape”, Cortese, for “courteous” and a  “Grillo” or cricket.

9. Prosecco hills are known as UNESCO candidates

The vineyards of the Prosecco region are known to be included to UNESCO’s heritage sites in 2010.

The panoramic hills planted with wine grape varieties are considered historical.