How to buy Italian wine (without knowing a single thing about wine)


No other country in the world produces more wine than Italy. Coincidentally, no other country consumes or exports more wine beverages than Italy. As a matter of fact, many wineries in other parts of Europe use Italian wines to make their own products stronger. So, sometimes you will be drinking Italian wine without actually knowing it. But proper Italian wine is a big deal and if you ever, being a complete amateur,  plan to purchase a bottle that’s worth sharing with someone who understands and appreciates wine this information should help.

Like many other products in Europe, wine is categorized by the level of protection that its manufacturers can enjoy from the law. To put it broadly, nobody should be able to use a name for a particular product unless it is made in a specific area that claims this product as its specialty and uses a particular technological process. Knowing the codes that are employed for these purposes is extremely important. Theoretically, you should be able to buy a good bottle of wine even you’ve never heard of a winery that’s listed on the label, as long as there are magic letters indicating the wine’s recognized status. Sometimes these titles are spelled out. Curiously, because in Bolzano German is the official language, you can see German words on some authentic Italian wines.

DOCG_Chianti_labelDOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (“controlled designation of origin guaranteed”). This is the highest possible distinction that can be held by an Italian wine. These wines are guaranteed to have been produced in a specific region using particular kinds of grapes. The quality control associated with these beverages is unprecedented. Government inspectors examine wine before it is bottled, and afterwards they apply official numbered seals across the top or the cork. This ensures that they wine cannot be tempered with. If you buy a DOCG wine and the seal is missing, something is not right. There are 73 wines on the list of DOCG products, with Piedmont and Tuscany being the most represented regions. Needless to say, these wines can be pricey, especially if vintage comes into play.


Amarone_della_ValpolicellaDOC –  Denominazione di Origine Controllata (“controlled designation of origin”). These wines are guaranteed to have come from a certain region in Italy. They also must meet government specifications, but not as rigorous as DOCG wines. The number of wines that qualify for this designation is over three hundred. If you can find a bottle at a price that sounds reasonable to you, DOC wines are are sure bet. If somebody does not like them, it’s a matter of preference, not quality.

ITGIndicazione Geografica Tipica (“typical geographic location”). It may seem counter-intuitive that the third tier of Italian wines has fewer names than the second one, just over one hundred. The reason for that is simple. Many wines, especially in the Tuscan region, are of a very high quality, but they do not meet the standards of DOC. Vintage and kinds of grapes are typically indicated for these wines, but it might take a real connoisseur to tell where the true value lies.

VDT – Vino di Tavola (“table wine”). These cheaper varieties of Italian wine can be produced without any indication of origin, grapes and vintage. It is probably best to stay away from them unless you know exactly what you are doing. Trying a particular VDT wine before sharing it with a company of friends is recommended. Still, you may not get the same quality and taste the next time you try a VDT wine.

See also: Toasting in Italian


Images by Alessandro Vecchi, Eduardo and FotoosVanRobin.

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