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How to Read an Italian Wine Label

As daunting as it may seem, Italian wine labels can be read with just a few rules of thumb – even if you don’t speak Italian. Here’s what to look for:

1. Wine name
2. Wine appellation/grape type
3. Winery/Bottler name
4. Region
5. Denomination (DOC, DOCG, IGT)
6. Vintage year
7. Alcohol content
8. Importer (if purchased outside Italy)

Cominciamo! (let’s begin):
1. The wine’s name is usually prominently displayed, as with any wine label, generally in the middle of the label. It may be a fantasia or created name or that of the varietal.

2. Italy has anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 indigenous grape varietals. Some of the most common ones – which may or may not appear on a label -- are Sangiovese, Barbera, Pinot Grigio, Soave, Dolcetto, Negro Amaro, and Trebbiano. The codified “formula” for Chianti has changed over the years but depending on which zone it is from it is a red wine blend of a minimum of 75% Sangiovese and a small amount of other traditional red varietals such as Canaiolo Nero and/or non-traditional varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

3. Generally appearing at the bottom of the label, this may be either the wine producer’s and/or bottler’s name. There are many Italian words for the winery or proprietor. Cascina, fattoria, and tenuta mean the winery, “farm” or vineyard name. Vigneto is the word for vineyard, produttore means producer, azienda is company and cantina is winery.

4. Italy has 20 regions but 37 wine regions, and these have their own sub-regions. The most important ones are Tuscany, Piedmont, The Tre Venezie (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto), Apulia, Abruzzi, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Lombardy, Sardinia and Sicily.

5. The Italian government’s appellation system has four main designations. in “Denominazione d'Origine Controllata” (DOC), of which there are now over 300 categories, is the most common. “Denominazione d'Origine Controllate e Garantita” (DOCG), numbering over 20 categories, is the most highly regulated and “Indicazione Geografica Tipica” (IGT) wines are in the minority of production regulated wines; IGT often refers to non-traditional wines such as Super Tuscans. Vino da tavola or table wine, often found in supermarkets, while considered the most common and generic category, can contain fine and bargain wines that are not classified IGT.

6. Annata or vendemmia signifies the vintage year. A minimum of 85% of the wine must be from this vintage. Imbottigliato means bottled and (les common) invecchiato means aged. Following the year may be an additional aging designation such as riserva for reserve, meaning that the wine was aged longer than usual. Superiore indicates that the wine was made according to higher legal production standards. Classico often means that the wine is made in a venerable style. Vecchio means old, secco is dry, and dolce or amabile sweet.

7. Alcohol or alcool content generally appears on the front label at the bottom or on the side, as with most other wine labels.

8. Importer. The importer’s name can appear on the front or – more commonly – back label. As you develop your wine vocabulary and preferences you may find that the same importer’s name keeps cropping up on your favorite wine labels. This can be an easy shorthand and excellent guide to identifying other wines that fit your favorite flavor profiles as well as budget. Dalla Terra Winery Direct® is a guarantee of both quality and value.