Wines Of Italy

To write about the wines of Italy, is almost like attempting to write about the creation of the world. It could, quite possibly, take my lifetime and I still wouldn’t be done, nor would I know everything there is to know. So, I thought sifting through the designations might be a good place to start.

There are 19 wine regions in Italy and upwards of 1,000 different grape varieties. In some areas, the countryside is boundless in graceful vineyards spreading as far as the eye can see. Many people are familiar with varieties such as Chianti (the good and the bad), Amarone, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino. Or, if you’re a wine drinker from the 70’s, wine in a straw cloaked jug. But there are many, many lesser known varieties. Some are not even open to exportation and only known in their local area. Since living in Italy, I’ve also become familiar with landlord wine which can range in taste anywhere from a dirty, wet sock to a lightly refreshing, frizzy summer pick-me-up. Believe me……..I’ve had both.

The wines in Italy are designated much like the wines of France. Specific regulations are followed in order to be named in a designation. These designations can help land you a good bottle; however, they don’t always guarantee a good one. As a matter of fact, surprisingly, many wines with lesser designations are just as good, if not better, as some of the ones with the more controlled regulations.

There are 4 basic designations for the wines of Italy: Vino da Tavola (VdT) – Table Wine, Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) – typical geographic location, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) – denomination of controlled origin, and Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garantita (DOCG) – guaranteed denomination of controlled origin.

VdT is wine classified as table wine but that’s about it. It can be made of any grape(s), grown in any area of Italy and is often sold as bulk or blending wine. Many of the house wines in restaurants are of this designation. Although they don’t carry an illustrious designation, some of these wines are the perfect compliment to casual, al fresco dining in a scenic, little village. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, as some “Super Tuscans” are classified as VdT (more on Super Tuscans later).

IGT is wine classified as having been grown in the appropriate geographic location but other than that, no specific regulation is required. These wines encompass a large playing field and can be some of the best. In Italy, they are plentiful in enotecas, restaurants, and grocery stores.

DOC is wine classified as having followed the appropriate guidelines for growing region, varietal, production formula, and aging. Wines that fall under this designation go through rigorous tasting from a committee for every production year before they can be certified. Many of these wines are excellent; however, when you see this designation, it does not necessarily assure exceptional wine.

DOCG specifies the same as the DOC but, as mentioned above, the “G” stands for “garantita” (or guaranteed). This designation is usually set aside for the more historic wines like Brunello di Montalcino, Barbaresco, Chianti, etc. and is considered more strictly regulated.

In upcoming posts, I will travel through specific regions and wines (there’s a great white wine I want to tell you about). If you desire an in-depth look into the designations or any other wise counsel on the wines of Italy, I suggest Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy . This book is chock-full of information and has been invaluable to me as I’ve trekked through the different regions of Italy.

In the meantime, may I suggest going to your favorite wine store, and picking up a bottle of Italian wine. Whether you find a VdT, IGT, or DOC, I hope you have fun exploring.

Sources: Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch, Vino Italiano. The Regional Wines Of Italy, (New York, New York, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2002); Robert M. Parker, Jr., Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, 7th Edition, (New York, New York, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008); Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas Of Wine, (London, England, Octopus Publishing Group, 2007)

photo by Joe Overstreet