Every wine producing country has laws in place to indicate wine quality, from the bulk wines that are produced for the local market to their most expensive exports. The Italian wine classification system has often caused confusion in the past, because some of the country's best wines have not fitted neatly into its appellation scheme. But as the system has evolved to include such wines, it has become easier to understand Italian wine labels, and consequently identify what the wine in the bottle is like.
Essentially, there are four classifications. At the top there are the two Italian categories that fall into the EU "Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Area" (QWPSR) standard. These wines are labeled DOC and DOCG.
DOC was introduced in 1963 with the aim of encouraging wine producers to focus on quality and to protect the international reputation of Italian wine by ensuring that wine exported met the quality standard required. DOC wines must be produced according to strict guidelines, ensuring that the wine is made from permitted grape varieties and meets the legal requirements to be designated as a wine from the region it represents.
The DOCG category is reserved for the highest quality wines from Italy. In addition to the conditions required for DOC, the wines must be "guaranteed" by passing a blind tasting test, and since 1992 there have been additional limitations on permitted yields and natural alcohol levels, to ensure that the wines that meet the criteria for this prestigious category are undoubtedly the best that Italy has to offer.
A third category, the IGT classification, was introduced in 1992, in order to acknowledge the wines that did not fit into the DOC category but were of superior quality to Italy’s table wines. In particular, the new breed of "Super Tuscan" wines, that were made from non-Italian grapes, and therefore could not be considered for DOC according to Tuscany’s wine legislation, required recognition. This has also provided an opportunity for winemakers to experiment with grape varieties that are perhaps not native to their region, and some truly interesting wines have emerged under the IGT classification.
Finally, Vino da Tavola indicates table wine, the most basic wine available. This is genuinely mass-produced wine that is intended for local consumption and is generally not suitable for ageing. There are no specifications as to what grapes may be used, the only stipulation being that wine labelled Vino da Tavola must have been produced in Italy. A substantial quantity of bulk wine made in Italy is shipped in large vats for bottling in other countries. While this is something that is often regarded with disdain by wine industry professionals, in fact it generates a great deal of revenue and quality has vastly improved.
Each Italian region has many appellations within, which in turn are ranked according to the classification. The appellation can be an indication of a wine from a very specific area, as in "Chianti Classico", or it can name just the region, as in "Sicily IGT". Within the classification system there is movement – wines that hold IGT status can be recognised as quality wines and promoted to DOC. While this might mean that producers will have to be vigilant to ensure their wine adheres to the relevant legislation, it will also improve the profile of the wine in the global market and ensure it is accessible to Italian wine enthusiasts worldwide.
Italian legislation regulates the use of the label on the back of the wine bottles (while the front label is left to the producer's wish).
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