APPELLATIONS: Understanding Italian Wines

D.O.C., D.O.C.G., I.G.T., Superiore, Classico, Millesimato, Riserva... what does all of this mean?

Italians over the centuries have certainly mastered the game and pioneered the laws to control the origins and protect the names of wines. This heritage is well alive today in the D.O.C. & D.O.C.G. classification system.

From Barolo and Chianti to Valpolicella and Soave, most traditional high quality Italian wines are produced in limited D.O.C. or D.O.C.G. areas, according to very strict regulations.

The first attempts to make laws to legally promote the production of quality wines in Italy and to safeguard the viticultural areas were conducted at the beginning of the 1900. The first real quality system that set rules to guarantee the quality of wines and their place of origin, was introduced in 1963.

The law n° 930 dated 12 February 1963 introduced for the first time in Italy an appellation of controlled origin and set a difference between “table wines” and quality wines. With this law Italy also introduced and recognized the EEC acronym VQPRD (“Vino di Qualità Prodotto in Regione Determinata”, Italian for Quality Wine Produced in Determined Region).

The current Italian quality system is ruled by law 192 of the 1992 that fully replaced the precedent law of the 1963.The system primarily defines the geographic area of the appellation, grapes and proportions admitted for a specific wine production, the maximum yield per hectare, minimum percentage of alcohol by volume, the styles and types of wines recognized by the appellation system, the minimum time of aging before the wine can be sold, chemical and physical characteristics as well as organoleptic qualities.

The quality system is made of appellation categories defining distinct quality classes ideally structured in a “pyramid of quality” where the apex represents the highest quality level possible. The categories defined by the system, are as follows:

  • IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, Typical Geographic Indication)
  • DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, Appellation of Controlled Origin)
  • DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Appellation of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin)

Some appellation laws also allow optional use of special types, usually used for special wines made by particular production techniques and they must be written in the label with the following terms:

  • Classico (Classic) - is a wine produced in the most typical and renowned area of the appellation, for example Orvieto Classico
  • Superiore (Superior) - is a wine having a percentage of alcohol by volume higher than the normal requirement for the appellation, for example Valpolicella Superiore (get it here)
  • Riserva (Reserve) - is a wine that went through a longer aging process than the normal requirement for the appellation, for example Garbin Rosso Riserva (get it here)
  • Millesimato - the term indicates that the sparkling wine is produced with wines obtained from grapes of a single harvest, vintage, in this case called "millesimo". Inherently it also means that those grapes are of particular value and the wine is worth to be bottled without assembling with other vintages, for example Prosecco Millesimato  (get it here)


(Italian for Typical Geographic Indication, equivalent to P.G.I, Protected Geographical Indication)

As already mentioned, this category was created in 1992 in order to upgrade about 40 percent of Italy's table wine production by placing these products on a par with the French 'Vin du Pays' or German 'Landwein' systems. It was also designed to include Italy's myriad esteemed, and often extremely expensive, wines selling as a Vin da Tavola outside the much criticised DOC system. The wine's label must declare its specific region and may cite varietal type and vintage. Growers or regional governments are required to apply for IGT status just as they do for a DOC or DOCG appellation.


(Italian for “Denomination of Controlled Origin”, equivalent to P.D.O, Protected Designation of Origin)

DOC means that a wine with this mark on the label has been produced in a specified area and has been aged and bottled in accordance with existing regulations and under strict control by the Italian Authorities.

To qualify for DOC status, the producer must prove that production of grapes from his vineyard is limited to a set maximum, that the quantity of must obtained from the grapes during processing does not exceed an agreed level and that the wine produced has a minimum natural alcoholic content. Furthermore, in many cases there are set periods of minimum aging so that the wine cannot be sold to the consumer until it has reached an acceptable level of maturation.

Frequent checks are carried out by the authorities and samples are taken to be analysed at different stages of production. These checks start from the vine and go through to the finished product in the bottle. Infringements are rare now that many producers have found that it pays to make good wine and establish a standard of quality. Moreover, penalties are very severe, consisting of heavy fines or prison terms depending on the quantity of wine involved.

Currently there are some 300 DOCs, a number that is likely to increase during the next few years, reflecting the continually improving standards of Italy's wine production.


(Italian for “Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin”, the highest level for P.D.O, Protected Designation of Origin)

This category is reserved for elite wines whose quality is "guaranteed" by the Italian Government. These wines can be sold only in bottles not exceeding a certain size and each bottle bears a seal of guarantee.

The first DOCG wine to go on sale was Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, from Tuscany, and was followed by Brunello di Montalcino, also from Tuscany, and Barolo and Barberesco from Piedmont. Chianti became DOCG with the 1984 vintage and Albana de Romagna in 1987. More recently other wines were upgraded: Gattinari and Asti Spumante, from Piedmont, Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Carmignano from Tuscany, Torgiano Reserva and Montefalco Sagrantino from Umbria and Taurasi from Campania.

Other wines of particular repute are regularly considered by the above Committee as possible candidates for this exclusive category. The number of DOCGs, though, will always be extremely limited. These seals are numbered and show the name of the appellation and are issued by the Italian Government.

The appellation system also admit, where applicable, the indication of the name of a sub zone, such as a specific vineyard, farm or estate, or the name of the place of origin, in order to narrow and safeguard even more the quality a specific area having superior quality in respect to the rest of the appellation. This actually is an adaptation of the cru concept used in France.