DOC, DOCG, IGT and VdLT: Wine Label Alphabet Soup

This may be a good time to take a step back from discussing the specific wines of Italy and discuss some of the terms that others and I have been bandying about in these articles. More importantly, this discussion will be useful when trying to read the label on a bottle of Italian wine that you may be contemplating either buying or drinking. Specifically, I would like to address the Italian wine laws that create classifications for wines based upon geographical location.

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As in France, and most of Europe, Italian wines are classified based on where the grapes were grown and the wines produced. Unlike the United States and Australia, Europe emphasizes geography over varietal. While this may be frustrating for the new world consumer, there is a reason for this system. Sense of place is very important to the Europeans. Many vineyards have histories dating back hundreds if not thousands of years. During this time, the owners and consumers have developed a relationship with the land, the culture and the foods. All of these factors meld into one seamless experience. Some areas have developed a reputation over time as producing quality wines. It is therefore important to protect the reputation these regions have taken so many years to develop. Possibly the most famous of these names in Italy is Chianti. When someone sees Chianti on the label, they have a right to know what they are getting.

The “problem” with this from the American consumer, and indeed many others, is that while Chianti may be well known, other areas with rich histories and traditions are unknown. Still others are relatively new. New world consumers are used to seeing the varietal name on the label i.e. Merlot, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Indeed as used to seeing the name “Chianti” on a label, many consumers think the Chianti is, in fact, the name of the grape (and have no idea that it is made from Sangiovese). Unfortunately, the only real way around this is to learn the wine areas of Italy (or France, Spain, Germany, etc.).

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.