For those familiar with Australian wine, it can be very confusing to try and understand an Italian wine label. The three most important pieces of information for the Aussie consumer i.e. the winery, the type of grape and the year of harvest, are easy to find on the front label of a bottle of Australian wine. Other information such as regulatory requirements are often found on the back label. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule but this is the case in the majority of Australian wines.
Apart from being written in Italian, wine labels from Italy are different for the following reasons:
Italian grape varieties
While there are small amounts of French grape varieties such as Merlot and Chardonnay grown in Italy, the majority of Italian wines are made from indigenous grapes of which there are more than 2000 varieties. Some of the more well known Italian grapes used in the production of wine sold by TFT Boutique Products are Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Corvina, Lambrusco di Sorbara and Glera. Other less common varietals include Marzemino, Schiopettino, Ribbola Gialla and Friulano.
Sometimes as in the case of Barbera, Dolcetto, Marzemino and Ribolla Gialla, the grape variety is named on the label. In other examples this is not the case. One of the reasons for this is that a single grape variety can make several different styles of wine. For example, Barolo and Barbaresco are both produced from the Nebbiolo grape. Other Italian wines such as Valpolicella (which is one of the most produced wines in Italy) are a blend of different grapes – in this case Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.
Therefore the first thing to know about Italian wines is that the grape variety may or may not be on the label.
The Italian wine appellation system
The Italian wine appellation system is a quality assurance system that ensures the integrity of the wine. An appellation is a legally defined and protected geographic area where wine grapes can be grown for a named wine to be produced. There are often other regulations such as grape yields and production methods that must be adhered to before an appellation marker can appear on a wine label. As an example, Barolo can only be produced in the designated area of Italy and must adhere to strict growing and production methods.
While TFT Boutique Products are not big fans of regulation in Australia, in the case of the Italian wine we recognise the importance of the appellation system in ensuring the integrity and quality of Italian wine.
DOCG Label from our Barbaresco
Italian appellation classifications
IGT (Typical Geographic Indication): The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin rather than permitted wine varieties and production methods. This was introduced in 1992 to allow a level of freedom to Italian wine makers.
DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin): The DOC classification is the answer to the French AOC and is the main tier of Italian wine classification. There are currently 229 wines that have earned the DOC title, each with regulations governing wine growing area, grape varieties and production methods.
DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin): The DOCG classification is the highest classification of Italian wines. At the time of writing there are 74 wines that have earned the DOCG title. Apart from showing consistent high quality as a DOC wine for ten years, there are strict regulations governing grape varieties, yield limits, grape ripeness, winemaking procedures, and barrel/bottle aging. To guarantee quality every DOCG wine is subject to official tasting and analysis throughout the winemaking process.
As well as appearing on the label, DOC and DOCG wines are designated by a government seal around the neck of the bottle.
DOC and DOCG sub-denominations
DOC and DOCG wines may also by subject to three sub-denominations.
Classico: This indicates that the wine has been produced in a sub-area of a DOC or DOCG that has been producing the specified wine for longer than the remaining territory and may be subject to stricter regulations in the winemaking process.
Riserva: This indicates that the wine has been aged longer than other DOC or DOCG wines by at least two years for red wines, one year for white wines and sparkling wines produced by the Martinotti/Charmat method and three years for sparkling wines produced by the Metodo Classico procedure.
Superiore: This indicates that the DOC or DOCG wine has at least 10% less grape yield per hectare than required for the standard wine. This improves the organoleptic qualities and raises the alcoholic content by at least 0.5%.
While most Italian wine is regulated by the Italian appellation system, some Italian wines carry EU classifications.
IGP/DOP (Typical Geographic Indication / Denomination of Controlled Origin): The IGP and DOP classification are wines that maintain a close correlation with the territory in which the grape is grown and are part of a winemaking process more loosely regulated than the Italian system.
Label examples from the TFT wine catalogue:
The following are examples of front labels from three wines sold by TFT Boutique Products. We won’t concern ourselves here with rear labels which carry regulatory information such as alcohol and sulphite content.
Example 1: Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC (A bargain at $33! But I digress ...) Note the DOC seal around the neck of the bottle. Now let’s look at the label from top to bottom:
Vecio Belo: This is the name given to the wine by the winery;
Valpolicella: The type of wine (made from the Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes);
Denominazione di Origine Controllata: DOC;
Classico Superiore: A wine made from a traditional Valpolicella producing territory from vineyards with 10% less yield than required for standard wine and at least 0.5% more alcohol content;
Manara: The name of the winery.
Example 2: Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore DOCG (Good Lord another bargain!) Note the DOCG seal around the neck of the bottle. Now reading the label from top to bottom:
Azeinda Agricola Olivetta: The name of the winery;
Barbera del Monferrato: The name of the wine (grapes - 85% Barbera and 15% Freisa);
Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garantita: DOCG;
Superiore: Made from vineyards with 10% less yield than required for standard wine and at least 0.5% more alcohol content.
Example 3: Vanta 2009 Magnum DOC. Now let’s look at the label:
Vanta: The name of the wine ...
... That’s it? Hey, Italians are always going to place style over labelling conventions. What a great label! Vanta is the exception that proves the rule. This is a superb DOC wine made from Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes. The winery has chosen (minimalistic) style over substance for a fantastic effect.
While it will take plenty of studying (or indulging in) Italian wine before you gain a comprehensive understanding of Italian wine labels, hopefully this has helped to start that process.
Find below the beautiful wines which have been mentioned in the above article...