Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

A pyramid of quality – navigating Italian wine

just like any wine-making country, there can be a marked difference in quality. To the uninitiated, choosing a bottle can be hit or miss, with price not always the best indication of quality. And then there’s the occasion to consider. Sometimes you just want a decent everyday wine to wash down a bowl of pasta on a Tuesday night, others, you want the very best to celebrate a special occasion or impress the in-laws.

Thankfully, there’s a classification system for all Italian wine, which, in theory, should help you work out the right wines for any occasion. There are four main classes of Italian wine, which together form a pyramid, from the huge volumes of table wine produced, to the limited batches of fine wine. From bottom to top we have:

1.    Table wine – a basic wine which can have a blend of different, unspecified, grapes, and can come from any number of regions. Cheap and cheerful, it can be good, or terrible, but chances are you’ll never really know what you’re drinking.
2.    IGT wine – seeing IGT on the label means that a wine must be made with at least 85% of the grapes coming from a known variety and a named geographic region. The year of vintage must also be stated.
3.    DOC – these are perhaps the most commonly seen Italian wines, and DOC is the best-known mark of quality. DOC wines have a controlled designation of origin, with each region having its own strict rules on how a wine from that region should be made. In theory, this should make it easier to compare wines from the same DOC side by side, as they should be similar in style.
4.    DOGC – The very best wines on offer, these began as DOC wines, but have been consistently excellent year after year, so carry a guarantee of excellence from the State. Every vintage is tested to ensure it meets the strict criteria.