Italian Wine Labels by the Alphabet


Italy’s law of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) regulates the production and labeling of a significant share of Italian wine. The law intends to give purchasers of a DOC wine a reasonable expectation that a wine labeled as, say, Barbera d’Alba will be both a Barbera d’Alba in fact and in style. That is, it will look, smell, taste, feel and age like a Barbera d’Alba—because it is.

The words Denominazione di Origine Controllata roughly translate as “the name [of a wine] is governed [or set] by its place of origin.” The underlying idea of DOC is to demarcate the regions—small and large—that produce Italy’s superior wines.

Each DOC circumscribes its winemaking zone, the grape varieties that are permitted there, minimal alcohol levels (to assure sufficiently ripe grapes), maximum yields per hectare (to ensure concentration of flavor), and other factors—such as permitted winemaking practices or aging regimens—that affect quality.

At present, 403 zones throughout the country carry a DOC designation and 73, a higher one, DOCG (DOC + e Garantita, “and guaranteed”). Quickly put, DOCG imposes slightly more stringent controls on its wines than does DOC.

Above and beyond delimiting winemaking areas of superior quality, DOC and DOCG wines also may categorize wines by type (sparkling [spumante], say, or semi-sweet [amabile]), by grape variety (pinot grigio, for example), by age (vecchio, say, or riserva), or by sub-classifications, such as classico which defines a historic or classic district within a DOC/DOCG.


One other major designation controls the production and labeling of Italian wine—Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT).

Indicazione Geografica Tipica literally translates as “typical geographic indications” and means that a wine so-named is characteristic, even exemplary, of its wine producing area.

In the recent past, because many enterprising Italian winemakers found the DOC laws constricting, they worked outside them—especially by using “international” grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon or merlot. For example, an all-merlot wine, made in the Chianti district, did not qualify for oversight under DOC. As a consequence, the sole classification that it can use is IGT—notwithstanding its price at, say, $50 a bottle.

The guarantees under IGT are more elastic than under DOC/DOCG. However, IGT also raised the bar on “table wine” so understood, regulating anew a substantial portion (about 40%) of traditional or everyday wine. Each IGT specifies which grape varieties, mix of grape varieties and winemaking practices it allows within individual designated (typical) territories.

One perhaps unforeseen benefit of the IGT regulations has been to protect many of Italy’s indigenous and native varieties from dying away from lack of use. Some feel that the promise of Italian wines lies in these very native varieties.

By | 2020-09-28T21:47:09+00:00 May 14th, 2019|

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Marczyk Fine Wines has Bill St John and other wine lovers to thank for our blog. Wine and food facts and falsehoods, delicious recipes, Denver liquor history, and "the best wines you never heard of" explained, all in one nifty place. This is the Denver wine store you're looking for. Bill is a Denver native and for 40 years, a teacher and writer on food and food & wine, including The Denver Post; Rocky Mountain News; Chicago Tribune; Wine & Spirits magazine; KCNC-TV Channel 4; and others. He also writes for Marczyk Fine Foods too.