How to Read an Italian Wine Label

How to Read an Italian Wine Label

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


Italian countryside vista of rolling hills covered with vinesItaly has a lengthy history of producing exceptional wines, but the range of wines they export are classified by tiers as well as region and varietal — all of which can be overwhelming to decipher on the label. If you’re looking for new wines to add to your collection or bring out at a dinner party, you should first understand how to read an Italian wine label. This article will help you know what to expect when you open your next bottle.

Italian Wines: Different Parts of the Wine Label

Once you understand the layout of the wine label and terms used, you’ll have an easier time knowing what is what. The first step is to understand the basic structure on a wine label. Italian wines vary a lot in their labeling, but at a minimum, each bottle consistently shows the alcohol percent and volume. Let’s find out what else you may see.‌

‌Wine Name

‌The wine name tells you what type of wine you’ll find in the bottle. This is the section that can cause confusion because there are three primary ways producers can label the wine. ‌‌

By Grape Variety

Some producers label their wine by its grape varietal, such as Pinot Grigio, Barbera, or Sangiovese. Others use a blend of grape and region when naming their wine, such as Dolcetto d’Alba made with Dolcetto grapes or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo made with Montelpulciano grapes. You might also see a wine name like Nero d’Avola. While this name appears to use grape and region, it’s actually the name of the grape variety itself.‌

‌By Region

The majority of Italian wine producers favor labeling their wines by geographic region or sub-region. This preference ties in with the classification system that relates to quality and strict production standards. On a wine label, you might see a region like Chianti, Orvieto, or Soave. ‌

‌By Brand Name

Other producers, especially those who produce IGT wines (more on that below), may choose a brand or fantasy name for their wine. You might see a name like Oreno, Solengo, or Tignanello. 

‌‌Instead of a fantasy name, the name might be the name of the winery or estate, such as Cantine San Matteo, Massolino, or Argiano.‌

‌Producer Name

You may see the words “Imbottigliato da” and a bottling company name. This gives the name of the winery or company that bottled the wine. If the wine says “Imbottigliato all'origine da” and the winery’s name, it means the winery produced the wine and bottled it on site at the estate.‌‌

Region

If the producer uses only the geographic region in the wine name, you likely won’t see any further details. Some producers also include the broader wine region, such as Toscano, Veneto, Piemonte, or Emilia-Romagna, along with the sub-region. There are 20 broad wine regions in Italy.‌‌

Classification

The classification refers to where the wine falls in the hierarchical tier system for Italian wines. You might see Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), or Vino da Tavola. The next section offers more details on this important part of the Italian wine label.‌‌

The Four Classification Tiers for Italian Wine

The Italian classification system began in 1963 with the creation of the DOC and DOCG classifications, although the DOCG tier didn’t take effect until 1982. In 1992, Italian lawmakers then introduced the IGT tier. These standards help create strict production methods and quality standards, and they often require specific grape varieties or percentages of each.‌‌

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

The DOCG classification sits at the top of the tier system and controls the production and quality of the wine. It puts rules in place to make sure producers use specific grape varieties, even capping yield limits and grape ripeness to ensure a top-quality harvest. Producers must follow specific winemaking processes and age their wines for the required time.‌‌

Wines in this classification must get government testing, and they display a colored government seal: light green for white wines, light pink for sparkling wines, and magenta for red wines. Currently, there are 75 DOCG designations.‌

‌Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)

‌The DOC classification is the second tier for Italian wines. Like DOCG, the classification sets rules on permitted grape varieties, specifics on wine production styles, and laws about viticultural zones. This tier is where the majority of Italian wines fall, and it covers nearly all wine styles in the country. Currently, there are 329 DOC designations. DOCs that consistently produce high-quality wines and follow all rules and standards can become eligible for DOCG designation upon review.‌‌

Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)

As the third classification, IGT is also the most generous with how producers can create their wines. While the IGT classification sets limits on the geographic area that grapes must come from, it doesn’t put limits on the grape varieties or wine styles. Some producers keep more traditional styles, but others opt for more international tastes. This is where you’ll find the Super Tuscans. Currently, there are 120 IGT designations.‌‌

Vino da Tavola

Also called Vino d’Italia or simply Vino, Vino da Tavola is the lowest quality of wines. Everyday wines fall into this classication, but they are not necessarily poor quality. Wines in this category have the least number of restrictions and often provide basic information on wine labels. Some of the wines are sold in bottles, and some in cartons.‌‌

What Italian Wine Terms Mean

You may see a variety of terms on an Italian wine label.

  • Tenuta: Landholder, property, or estate
  • Azienda: Company
  • Castello: Castle
  • Cantina: Winery
  • Cantina sociale: Co-operative winery
  • Classico: Traditional vineyard zone within DOC/DOCG
  • Superiore: Higher-quality grapes with higher alcohol
  • Riserva: Reserve wine aged for longer than usual
  • Fattoria: Farm
  • Poggio: Hill
  • Vigneto or Vigna: Vineyard
  • Abboccato: Slightly sweet
  • Amabile: Medium-sweet
  • Dolce: Sweet
  • Secco: Dry
  • Rosato: Rosé
  • Bianco: White
  • Rosso: Red

Wrap Up

Now that you know how to read a wine label properly, you’re ready to expand your palate and sample delectable new finds. Check out our extensive online catalog for all the wines you might need, whether Italian, French, Australian, or elsewhere. You can also reach out for our expert consultancy services. We look forward to serving you.