Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Decoding and understanding how to read Italian wine labels

I once had a conversation and told someone I thought French wines were confusing including their labels. They laughed and found Italian wines and their labels much harder to understand. I think for me I'm fortunate enough to speak the language and have traveled to many regions in Italy so it's easier for me because of this knowledge. Let's face it, Italy has over a thousand grapes and living in the United States we don't always see all these grapes.  Many of them are native to Italy and these are the ones that many people don't truly understand. The best way to get to understand many of those obscure grapes is to sample them when you can and the differences between producers.  Need I twist your arm? Go to tastings and support your local wine shops. Better yet, join me on any of our all-inclusive tours to a number of regions in Italy.

In Italy there are 4 classifications that wine is classified under, but there has also been a 5th addition in the Chianti Classico wine region of Tuscany in particular called the Gran Selezione, which is the highest designation. Since that is the latest edition let's highlight the original top 4 Italian wine classifications from the most strict regulations to the least:

  • DOCGDenominazione di origine controllata garantita – this is the highest classification
  • DOC Denominazione di origine controllata
  • IGT Indicazione geografica tipica
  • Vino da tavola – table wine

These classifications are the standards that Italy holds the wineries to that need to be met in

order to classify the wines they produce for each particular class. Each level is held to different standards that involve the types of grapes being used, the percentage of each grape being used, the aging requirements, yields and alcohol content level.

For now, let's explore a bottle from a producer whom I had a great experience with on my visit to Piedmont that I look forward to writing about soon. This should give you a better understanding of what you're looking at.

Carlo Giacosa Barbaresco Piedmont

Carlo Giacosa = producer
Narin = single vineyard site
Barbaresco = type of wine 
Denominazione di origine controllata garantita = classification DOCG
2006 = vintage
Imbottigliato  all'origine dall'Azienda Agricola Carlo Giacosa di G Maria Grazia = estate bottled by producer Carlo Giacosa
Barbaresco ~ Italia = location of the wine in Piedmont

Now the tricky part about this wine is you may be wondering what type of wine it is if you haven't heard of Barbaresco (although it is one of the top wines of Italy).  Barbaresco is produced from nebbiolo grapes and you wouldn't know that exactly if it wasn't labeled that way unless you knew or asked someone. 

I've also included some common Italian wine vocab if you feel like being a student again and becoming familiar with the Italian wine language. I also feature Italian Wine Word Wednesday on my social media every week so make sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter.  It will benefit you when searching for Italian wine and observing the bottles, but there is always someone in a store to help so never feel intimidated. You could be missing out on some great wine if you don't ask.

  • Azienda Agricola (Az Agr) – estate grown
  • bianco – white
  • bottiglia – bottle
  • classico – the heart of a wine region

  • fattoria – medium wine producer
  • frizzante - semi-sparkling
  • imbottigliatto – bottled
  • imbottigliatto all'origine – estate bottled
  • nuovo - new
  • passito – partially dried grapes
  • podere – small wine producer
  • produttore - producer
  • recioto – made with dried grapes
  • riserva – aged
  • rosso – red
  • secco – dry
  • spumante – sparkling
  • superiore – high level of standards
  • tenuta – large wine growing producer
  • uva – grape
  • valle – valley
  • vecchio – old
  • vendemmia – vintage
  • vigna/vigneto – single vineyard
  • viticolture/vignaiolo – wine grower
What do you find to be the most difficult about reading Italian wine bottles?

Try one for yourself that is a little easier!  Ciao for now!
2011 Feudo Maccari Saia Nero d'Avola
You can lean more about the classification system and where all of the regions are with this beautiful map and index.

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