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How to Read an Italian Wine Label

Italy, like many other countries, has specific rules about what is printed on their wine labels. Some of what you will see on the labels is mandatory and other items are optional. Before we get into details though, a little wine history is needed.

In 1963, Decree 930 was issued and divided wines between table wines and wines of greater value. In Italy, three levels were created. Later, another decree was issued dividing wines into three categories.

  • Table wines (Vino da Tavola – VdT)
  • Wines with a Typical Geographical Indication (Indicazione Geografica Tipica – IGT)
  • Quality Wine Produced in a Specified Region (which is in turn subdivided into):
    • Wines of Controlled Denomination of Origin, (Denominazione di Origine Controllata – DOC)
    • Wines of Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin, (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – DOCG)

In 2008, the European Union, of which Italy is a member, divided all wines into a few categories.

  • Rather than three categories they used two: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO or, in Italian, DOP) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI, or in Italian, IGP).
  • The PDO denomination includes both DOC and DOCG wines and PGI includes Italy’s IGT wines.
  • They also did away with the Vino da Tavola denomination.
  • In Italy producers can still use DOC and DOCG on their labels if they choose to, rather than PDO, and many tend to do that.

Mandatory Items on an Italian Wine Label:

  1. All PDO or PGI Italian wine labels must contain the product's name;
  2. If the wine is included in one of the denominations of Origin or Typical Geographical Indication areas, that must also be included and you will see those names listed;
  3. The words “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” or “Indicazione Geografica Tipica”, or the traditional abbreviations DOC/DOCG or IGT will be used although they can also use the European versions of those denominations (DOP/PGI);
  4. The name and company name of the bottler and its headquarters;
  5. The alcohol content is indicated as a percentage of volume;
  6. The quantity of the product in liters, centiliters, or milliliters;
  7. The wine batch;
  8. The words ‘contains sulfites’ for all wines containing more than 10 mg/liter of sulfur dioxide;
  9. Some other indications can be the use of words such as Riserva, Classico, and Superiore, which are explained below.

Some other items that you might find on a wine label are optional and can include the following:

  1. Fantasy name of the wine and/or brand of the producer;
  2. Product category (wine, sparkling wine, semi-sparkling wine...);
  3. Vintage dates for PGI wines;
  4. Color (red, white, rosè);
  5. European Community logo indicating the presence of allergens;
  6. Indication of the blend;
  7. Indications regarding the vinification methods and aging;
  8. European Community symbols of the PDO/PGI;
  9. Indication of sub-denominations or indications of the specific vineyard or similar;
  10. Sensory characteristics;
  11. Food pairing proposals and serving temperature;
  12. Indications for cellaring;
  13. And others (certifications, QR code, etc.).

What do Classico, Riserva, and Superiore actually mean?

When you see the word Classico on bottles of wine, it means that they are wines that come from the original or historical production area, now part of a greater delimited production area of the wine in question. Some Classico areas include Chianti, Valpolicella, and Castelli di Jesi.

Riserva on a wine indicates that that wine has undergone an aging period of at least two years for red wines, and one year for white wines, but this time frame can be even longer depending on the single production.

If the word Superiore is listed on a bottle of wine, it means that it was produced following more stringent rules such as the minimum alcohol content must be higher (+0,5%) and that the yield per hectare must be at least 10% less compared to the wines of the same denomination that do not bear the Superiore designation.

Italian may not be the language you speak yet, but you can speak wine label Italian with these quick easy tips.


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