Culinary Arts

What Is DOC and DOCG Wine? Differences Between DOC, DOCG, IGT, and VdT on Italian Wine Labels

Written by MasterClass

Jul 1, 2019 • 3 min read

Can you tell which wines are higher quality than others just by looking at their labels? Not with certainty, but most wine producing countries have a labeling system that attempts to make it easier for consumers to understand what to expect from a given bottle. France is successful with its well-known Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) scheme, a wine classification system based on where and how wines are made. Italy’s denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) system, introduced in 1963, is based on the French model, but goes one step further: It specifies not only the production area and methods for each wine, but also guarantees the quality standard of certain wines which pass a government taste test.

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What Are Italian Wine Label Classifications?

Italian wine label classifications are part of Italy’s appellation system for wine. There are four Italian wine classifications: Vino da Tavola (VdT), Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). Together, the DOC and DOCG levels are called Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP). These label classifications help consumers understand the quality of the wine they are buying and where it came from.

Some classifications can be found on the label of the bottle. All DOCG wines and some DOC wines will have a paper band containing a serial number that covers the cork or wraps around the neck of the wine bottle.

What Is the Difference Between the Various Italian Wine Classifications?

There are four main categories of Italian wine label classifications, ranging from lowest quality to highest quality:

  • Vino da Tavola (VdT): Wine without a geographical indication is called Vino da Tavola, or VdT, which means “table wine.” Table wines are made from grapes grown anywhere in Italy and are rarely of high enough quality to be bottled for the European market or export to the US.
  • Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): The broadest category is Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or IGT. All grapes in IGT wines should come from the IGT region stated on the label, but otherwise the wines do not have to conform to strict standards regarding the style of wine. Wines in the IGT category are often, but not always, of lower quality than DOC wines. Some producers of high quality, non-traditional wines, like the makers of some super Tuscans, may release their wines under the IGT classification when they do not wish to adhere to the strict DOC or DOCG restrictions.
  • Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): The next highest quality level is Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or DOC, which means “designation of controlled origin.” There are 329 different DOCs in Italy, which cover many types of wine, from the sparkling wines of Prosecco, to the Vin Santo dessert wines of Tuscany, to a wide range of red and white wines across the country. Each DOC has its own rules about permitted grape varieties, maximum harvest yields, and aging requirements.
  • Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), is the highest quality level. The DOCG designation was created in 1980 in response to criticisms that there were too many DOCs and their quality was variable. DOCG wines, in contrast, were to be truly the best of what Italian wines could offer. The first DOCG wines were Barolo and Barbaresco, both red wines made from the nebbiolo grape in Piedmont; and Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both red wines made from the sangiovese grape in Tuscany. There are now 74 DOCG wines in Italy, most of them concentrated in the regions of Piemonte, Tuscany, and the Veneto.

What Is the Difference Between DOC and DOCG Wines?

The practical difference between DOC and DOCG is one of quality: DOC and DOCG wines are both wines with a designation of origin, but DOCG wines have an additional “garantita,” or guarantee, by the Italian government to be wines of especially high quality. Each DOCG-labeled wine must pass a wine quality tasting panel, while DOC wines must merely be grown and made in accordance with the rules of the appellation.

Are There Other Quality Classifications for Italian Wines?

Aside from DOC or DOCG status, there are a few important words you may see on Italian wine labels that indicate wine quality.

  • Classico can be added after the appellation name for wines that are made in the historic center of a wine-producing region, for example Chianti Classico or Valpolicella Classico.
  • Superiore means that a wine has at least 0.5% higher alcohol content than the regular wine from a certain region, and also adheres to limits regarding harvesting and minimum aging.
  • Wines labeled Riserva will have aged even longer, for at least two years.

Learn more about wine appreciation in James Suckling’s MasterClass.