You Can Buy Better Italian Wine If You Know What This Acronym on the Bottle Stands For

Three or four letters on your bottle of wine contain a lot of information about what you're about to drink.

Suppose you’re someone who finds themselves shopping for Barolo, Chianti, and Pinot Grigio regularly. In that case, you’re likely familiar with the following letters: DOC, DOCG, DOP, DOC, and IGT. While these acronyms may seem like some kind of secret code, they’re actually necessitated by Italian wine law and contain a surprising amount of information about how the wine you’re about to enjoy was produced and aged and where the fruit was sourced from.

What are DOC wines?

DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata. Wines with this label are from regions subject to several rules and regulations. These regulations include the grape varieties that can be used to make wine, how much oak aging is permitted, and the boundaries of the geographic region that counts as the “DOC” itself.

Key DOCs include Alto Adige DOC, which is known for producing Pinot Grigios in a dry, lighter-bodied style, as well as Gewurtztraminer and Chardonnay; Friuli Grave DOC is known for its medium to fuller-bodied Pinot Grigio. Soave DOC is home to medium to high-acid wines made primarily from Garganega. For DOC known for producing red wines, look out for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, and Bolgheri DOC.

Related: How to Find the Best Italian Wines

What are DOCG wines?

DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. That additional letter in the acronym carries a fair bit of weight because DOCG wines must meet all of the qualifications of a DOC wine but also be bottled in the same area of production. DOCG wines are also subject to a taste test from the local Ministry of Agriculture.

This additional layer of regulation leads many drinkers to believe that DOCG wines are inherently better or higher quality than their DOC counterparts. “Frescobaldi, the great Tuscan producer, puts it well on their website,” Food & Wine contributor Brian Freedman previously explained. “‘The tip of the pyramid is represented by DOCG wines, indeed the most prestigious acronym. Obtaining it requires adherence to even stricter criteria. It is, in fact, a natural step up from DOC wines, given that to become DOCG, the wine must have been DOC for at least ten years and be recognized as of particular value for its quality and as a historical production area.”

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Well-known DOCGs include Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG, both of which are made entirely from Nebbiolo grapes. Wines from Barolo DOCG must be aged for three years before release, with one and a half years of that time spent in oak. Meanwhile, Barbaresco DOCG wines spend two years aging before release, nine months of which are in oak. Wines from Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, on the other hand, must be made entirely from Sangiovese and spend five years aging (two of which must be in oak) before release.

It’s impossible to talk about the best Italian wines without mentioning Chianti. Wines labeled Chianti DOCG are made primarily from Sangiovese. “Chianti is divided into seven subzones, the most famous (and arguably the best) of those being Chianti Classico,”  F&W’s executive wine editor Ray Isle explained. “Basic Chianti wines (designated annata) tend to be crisp, fresh, and straightforward, made for drinking now. As you head up the aging pyramid, the wines gain depth and complexity. Rules vary in each subzone, but in Chianti Classico, for example, Riservas need a minimum of 24 months in barrel and then bottle before release; Gran Selezione wines must spend a minimum of 30 months.”

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