Finding the best quality Italian wine: how do wine labels help?
Labels are a powerful tool and can give us key elements to understand wines even before opening the bottle. This is why I firmly believe that anyone approaching this world should have at least some basic knowledge on how to read a label.
So, after talking about Spanish wines on our last post, today we will approach Italy that has a classification system similar to the Spanish one but overall more confusing labels.
But…don’t panic. I’m here to help!
Italian wine naming
Italian wines can be named after the grape variety, the region or appellation, or they can have a fantasy name.
Obviously, when the wine is named by grape variety, things are much easier. Unfortunately most of the time, wines are named after the classification that, in turn, takes its name from the area of origin (such as, for example, Barolo or Chianti, just to name a few). And, to make things worse, some Italian wines are labelled by fantasy name, like, for example the Super-Tuscans Sassicaia or Tignanello.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific rule on this regard, only time and experience can help you. Apart from that, the pyramidal system of classification is an excellent starting point to decode the label of an Italian wine.
What do Italian wine labels shout for?
At the top of the pyramid, is the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) dedicated to wines characterised by a consolidated prestige and widely recognised as valuable in terms of organoleptic evaluation.
Currently Italy lists 74 DOCG wines including the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and Chianti.
The DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) classification refers to areas traditionally suited to quality wines. They must express a peculiar character strongly linked to their territory and must respect specific production requirements but with less strict margins that those applied for DOCG wines.
Currently Italy lists 332 DOC wines with the highest concentration in the region of Piedmont.
Sherazade Donnafugata, Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC
Further specifications present on the label (for DOC or DOCG wines) are:
Classico: wines produced in a specific historical and traditional sub-region
Riserva: wines that have sustained longer ageing than that requested by the classification
Superiore: wines that have an alcohol content of at least 0.5% above the standard.
IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) wines are classified based on the geographical area of production, often corresponding to a whole region. This is one of the lowest classifications but among these wines it is possible to find amazing gems, including some Super-Tuscans.
How to find out which one is really descent? Time for some tech: Wine Picker, a food and wine pairing app will help choose the best wine and give a food matching tip.
Villa Raiano Falanghina 2017
Vino da Tavola
At the bottom of the pyramid, is the Vino da Tavola that generally coincides with ready-to-drink and large daily consumption wines.
Vino da tavola. (Image:http://www.agriturismoallegretti.com)
And a few more useful words
Imbottigliato all’origine: Bottled at source. This indicates that the whole production, vinification and bottling of the wine has been processed in the same place.
Cantina: cellar, winery.
Frizzante/Spumante: sparkling wine
Passito: dessert wine produced through the drying of the grapes.
Now, if everything is clear (or at least clearer than before), I’ll pass to next step…tasting! Cheers or to say it the Italian way…Salute!