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Italian wine labels: Understanding DOCG, DOC & IGT

Ever wondered what the letters on your bottle of Italian wine mean? Here are some of the main differences between DOCG, DOC and IGT...

You may have seen the letters DOCG or IGT on Italian wine labels. They are part of the Italian wine classification system, which shares similarities with the French AOC appellation system.

Since its launch in the early 1960s, Italy’s system has undergone several key updates and refinements. The modern-day hierarchy has three tiers:

  • PDO (Protected Designation of Origin: DOC & DOCG)
  • IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)
  • VdT (Vino da Tavola)

While this is intended to provide a guide to quality, there are exceptions. Some Italian wineries opt out of DOC and DOCG rules, for instance, often to pursue different winemaking techniques or use particular grape varieties not accepted by the consorzio’s regulations.

DOCG

What it stands for: ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita’

The first few DOCGs were introduced in 1980, and today there are still relatively few; just 77 across Italy. A DOCG has stringent quality controls in place, although these can only be compared to its previous DOC status rather than to other DOCs. All wines undergo analysis and testing by a government-approved panel.

Wines bottled under a DOCG are required to include a status label on the neck: pink for red wines and green for white wines.

Examples: Brunello di Montalcino DOCG; Barolo DOCG; Chianti DOCG; Franciacorta DOCG.

DOC

What it stands for: ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata’

There are currently more than 330 DOCs in Italy, and they represent the meat of quality Italian wine. Like with DOCG, rules on winemaking are strict and are based on geographical areas, and undergo analysis and testing by a government-approved panel.

It is a misnomer that DOC is inherently inferior to DOCG. Riccardo Binda, director of Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini DOC Bolgheri e DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, explains: ‘There are many DOCs that have more restrictive quality parameters than DOCGs…In our case, for example, we do not ask for the DOCG as in terms of quality we already have very strict quality parameters.’

Examples: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC; Aglianico del Vulture DOC; Bolgheri DOC; Soave DOC.

IGT

What it stands for: ‘Indicazione Geografica Tipica’

Created in 1992, IGTs were intended to provide a tier above the basic Vino da Tavola (VdT) for quality wines that didn’t meet the regulations for DOC or DOCG. So-called Super Tuscan wines are a prime example.

Today, the IGT classification is home to wines made in a more ‘international’ style, eschewing some of the traditional winemaking methods and grape variety stipulations set down by DOCs and DOCG regulations.

A wide range of quality and prices is represented, and there are currently more than 120 IGTs in Italy.

Examples: Toscana IGT; Veneto IGT; Puglia IGT; Isola dei Nuraghi IGT.

Updated 21 January 2021 to add comment by Riccardo Binda


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