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Italian Wine Basics

Fortune's Fact: More people attempt to learn a foreign language like Italian or French to be able to read wine labels than for any other reason.

Back in the old days, pre 1963, most of the wine sold in Italy was classified as table wine. In 1963, legislation was brought forth to create the Denominazione di Origine Controllata known in English as Denomination of Controlled Origin.

By "legislation was brought forth" I mean that laws were created to designate wines in a classification and to regulate production from specific regions. The idea was to create a national wine industry by helping vineyards create a marketing identity and to develop wines within a region to a level higher than table wine. There are also French laws that were created in the 50s called appellation controlee laws that the Italian law was modeled after.

From its start in 1963 until today, there are four classifications; Vino da Tavola (VdT), Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).

The Vino da Tavola (VdT) is translated to table wine or actually wine of the table. It is most commonly what is poured at Italian restaurants as the house wine. Don't think that because it is table wine that it is inferior to wine in other classifications. I have had many bottles of Italian VdT that were excellent.

The Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) translated as Typical Geographic Indication was created in 1992 as a way to create a middle ground classification. It was denoting that the wine was better than table wine but did not meet the standards of the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) classification. An IGT designation only means that the wine comes from a certain geographic area but the production method is not as closely monitored as the DOC wines. Also the label of IGT wines will carry the name of the grape variety used. Since the VdT wines may be a blend of several grapes, the name of the grape will probably not appear on the label.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is not just a place and grape name but also specifies which grapes are used and how long the wine must be aged. Most DOCs will state that the winery must be in the same place as the grapes are grown. The wineries must also send samples of the wine to a group of tasters so that the wine can be certified as DOC wine. It can get a little confusing to a beginner since there are over three hundred DOC zones in Italy.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) translates into Guaranteed Denomination of Controlled Origin. The DOCG is the upper crust of wines in Italy. Since the origin is guaranteed, the wineries have to jump through more hoops to get this classification.

One would naturally think that if the wine has an IGT designation it will be better than one with VdT and a DOC designation is better than a IGT and the DOCG is the best of all. However, this is not the case. It will increase your chances of getting a better wine, but there is no guarantee that you will like the wine better or that it is a great bottle of wine. Also your taste buds may actually prefer an IGT to a DOC. The advantage of a DOC or IGT is that usually the grape variety is listed on the label and the wine has met certain Italian wine industry standards.

Until next time, let me know what is on your mind, and how you are doing, O.K.?

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Jim Fortune - the Bella Online Wine Guy

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