The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner; Wine education for us all – understanding Italian labels; October 13th, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

The ABCs of DOCs:

In order to understand Italian wine labels, a basic grasp of the DOC system is essential. Created in 1963, wines designated as ‘DOC’ (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) were established to ensure the authenticity of specific types of Italian wine. And while this system has experienced several important changes since its inception nearly fifty years ago, its basic principles have not.

So how does one go about deciphering the most important pieces of information? For beginners, the first thing to determine is whether or not the wine actually falls under the DOC umbrella. If it does, this means the wine must adhere to a specific set of rules relating to its production, including, but not limited to, geographical boundaries, permitted grape varieties, vineyard management, winemaking techniques, and aging requirements.

Fontodi Vigna del SorboTake Chianti Classico DOCG, for instance—created in 1980, ‘DOCG’ stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garantita, an extra guarantee of quality reserved for some of Italy’s most exclusive wines. If you see ‘Chianti Classico’ on the label, this means the wine hails from Tuscany; the wine must contain 85-100% Sangiovese; it must be aged for at least 7 months in oak; and may not be released to the public until at least 1 October the year following the vintage. These are several of the most important pieces of information we can gather from such a label.

TignanelloHaving determined that the wine falls under the DOC/DOCG system, now is the time to verify the producer. Many Italian wine lovers find this difficult, as labels often include the name of the producer and a title for that specific wine. But how do you determine which is which? The trick is to figure out which estate/winery is bottling the wine, which may be written on the back of the label (but not always). If not stated in English, look for the words ‘imbottigialto,’ which will be followed by the name of the producer. By process of elimination, you will now be able to determine the title—many Italian winegrowers love giving each of their wines specific titles. Do not be discouraged if this seems confusing at first. Over time, it will become second nature.

Another descriptor that might be included on an Italian label is ‘Riserva’ and/or ‘Classico.’ The former simply means the wine has been aged, usually in oak, for a longer period of time; though this does not necessarily mean it will be superior to a non-Riserva. If ‘Classico’ appears on the label, this means the grapes have been sourced from the original heartland of the region it comes from. Chianti Classico is a perfect example of this, its original growing area being between Florence and Siena.

So much for DOC/DOCG info. In a few months, we’ll cover IGTs…

Click here for a few gems from the October 13, 2012 Vintages Release