Ever wondered what the letters on your bottle of Italian wine mean? Here is everything you need to know about DOCG, DOC, and IGT.

You’ve likely picked up bottles of Italian wine that have been labelled DOCG, DOC, or IGT. These letters are part of the traditional Italian wine classification system.

To make matters a little more confusing Italian wines may also be labelled as DOP or IGP.

But what does it all mean?

Before 2009, Italy’s wines were classified into four groups, as illustrated in the pyramid below.

Italian wine quality pyramid
Italian Wine Quality Pyramid

We’ll go on to explain each of these classifications in more detail later but first, we need to look at the latest EU classification pyramid and understand how each of the Italian classifications fit into it.

In 2009 the EU introduced new regulations to standardise the quality levels of wines with geographical place names. The idea was to align EU standards with those already adopted by the World Trade Organisation and make labelling more uniform across the EU.

These new regulations divided wine into two main groups:

Wines with geographical indication and wines without geographical indication, i.e., generic wines.

EU wine quality pyramid
EU Wine Quality Pyramid

EU member states were expected to adapt their wine regulations accordingly. However, most of the traditional designations continued in use as they fit neatly into the new EU structure.

The Vini da Tavola designation is the only one in Italy that ceased to exist. These wines are now lumped into the generic wines category.

Modern Italian wine quality pyramid
Modern Italian Wine Quality Pyramid

At the top of the modern Italian wine quality pyramid sits DOP, which the traditional DOCG and DOC categories fit within.

Producers of DOCG and DOC wines can use the DOP designation if they choose and some DOC producers have done just that. Producers of DOCG wines have little incentive to label their wines as DOP since DOCG has a more prestigious status.

To this day the vast majority of Italian wines are labelled with the traditional designations (DOCG, DOC, and IGT).

It’s important to note that the new EU quality pyramid has had no effect on the official laws, guidelines and rules for the production of DOCG, DOC, or IGT wines in Italy.

So what does all this mean and what can we expect from wines labelled as DOCG, DOC, IGT or DOP and IGP?

Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) / Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)

This EU category refers to a region or specific place that produces wine of a certain quality. All wines in this category must be produced from grapes grown in the referred to region or place and the entire production process must also take place there.

Both DOCG and DOC designations fit under the DOP category but differences in regulations and production criteria remain.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

At the very top of the classification system, these wines have high reputations and qualities associated with specific delimited areas that are typically smaller than most DOC areas.

DOCG wines have very stringent production criteria from vineyard to bottle, which may include lower yields and longer ageing requirements compared to DOC wines.

Before a wine can be sold as DOCG it has to undergo laboratory analysis to ensure it complies with the chemical-physical and organoleptic parameters set out in the DOCGs specifications.

To prove the authenticity of a DOCG wine it’s labelled with a gold-coloured band.

An example of a DOCG label
A DOCG Label

Before a wine can be promoted to DOCG level it has to have held DOC status for a minimum of 10 years.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)

Although DOC wines fit in the DOP category they are one step beneath the DOCG level. DOC wines also come from delimited areas but they tend to be larger than DOCG areas. Production criteria are still stringent although not as strict as DOCGs and the wines go through the same laboratory analysis to ensure adherence to precise chemical and organoleptic standards.

DOC wines can be labelled with a blue coloured band or the producer can choose instead to replace the band with a serial number on the wine label.

An example of a DOC label
A DOC Label

If that’s not enough to get to grips with there’s more. DOCG and DOC wines are sometimes categorised even further.

Sottozona (sub-zones)

These are more restricted areas within a DOCG or DOC that often have special conditions in terms of climate, topography and soils. Typically wines from these sub-zones tend to have a higher quality level and the production rules are often more stringent than the DOCG or DOC to which they belong, although some maintain the same production rules.

An example of a sub-zone would be Grumello, one of the five sub-zones of the Valtellina Superiore DOCG.

Classico

Classico sub-zones are the original and historic wine-growing area within a DOCG or DOC. For example, Soave Classico DOC.

Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva

These are specific delimited vineyard areas within a DOCG or DOC and are smaller than sub-zones and typically owned by fewer producers. For example, Brunate is one of the Barolo Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva.

Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) / Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP)

IGT/IGP growing areas tend to be quite large from an entire province or region to multiple regions or provinces.

At least 85% of the grapes must come from the stated geographical area and the production process must take place within this area.

The production process for IGT/IGP is regulated but is much less stringent than DOCG and DOC allowing more flexibility in terms of grapes, viticultural decisions and winemaking practices.

Generic Wine

Vini da Tavola was the original name for this category but it was completely replaced by the new EU regulations and can no longer be used on labels.

The grapes used to make generic wines are generally grown outside of the appellation boundaries or are blends of multiple appellations.