an introduction to the
Italy is the world’s largest wine producer, accounting for around one-fifth of global wine production, and it is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. With over one million vineyards, growing over 800 grape varieties, Italian wines are known for their diversity of styles, food-friendliness and, often, great value.
Tuscany and Piedmont represent Italy’s superstars in terms of regional recognition and production, with Tuscany producing some of the most inspiring and complex reds available, including the finest Chiantis.
Italian wines are made for Italian food; the two go hand in hand and each is typically enhanced by the other.
Chianti, Italy’s most exported variety, is the wine to pair with everything from pizza or spaghetti al Ragù (Bolognese) to alfresco barbecue fare.
Tuscany’s wines are predominantly based on the Sangiovese grape and come in various levels of quality and price. For reds, Tuscany’s most famous Sangiovese-based wines are the Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino DOCGs. For whites, the most famous appellation is Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG.
Many wines are labelled as Toscana IGT because the producers choose not to conform to traditional production rules. Tuscan IGTs are comprised mostly of Sangiovese, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Syrah.
The finest of these are the so-called ‘Super Tuscans,’ (see below) and brands like Tignanello, Sassicaia, Ornellaia and others have become the darlings of wine critics.
The first official Italian system for the classification of wines was released in 1963.
The latest modification, in 2010, to bring Italian appellations into line with EU standards introduced the previous year, has created the following categories:
DOP (wines with protected designation of origin) is a new EU-wide category that includes the Italian sub-categories DOCG and DOC and is aimed to guarantee wine standards across Europe.
You will sometimes see wines of the Italian DOC classification labelled with the new EU DOP designation. However, because Italian DOCG status is so prestigious, it is rare to find a DOCG labelled as DOP.
If a wine is labelled DOCG, then the grapes are grown and the wine is made in one of Italy’s best wine-producing areas. There are strict rules permitting the grapes varieties used, the yield per hectare, the percentages in which they can be blended and the length of time for which the wine must be aged before release.
Whilst a wine labelled ‘DOCG’ will, more often than not, be top quality, the ‘Garantita’ doesn’t guarantee that the wine itself will be excellent. It simply guarantees that the wine is from the specific region, is made from the approved varieties of grape and has followed all the rules.
As of 2020, there are 74 DOCGs in Italy – 11 of which are Tuscan and 2 of which are Umbrian.
These are wines specific to an area and made with particular grape varieties under particular rules.
A DOC is, in theory, superior to the next category IGT, but many winemakers choose to ignore their local DOC because the rules are inflexible and use the less stringent IGT appellation instead (see IGT, below).
A DOC wine can be promoted to DOCG if it has been a high quality DOC for at least 10 years.
As of 2020, there are 329 DOCs in Italy – 33 of which are Tuscan and 14 of which are Umbrian.
A much looser category that many wine makers prefer for their wines as they are not constrained by grape variety. If a grape makes up 80% of the total, the IGT wine can be labelled as being of that variety. Its equivalent in France is VDP (Vin de Pays).
Originally introduced as a way of classifying quality wines that fell outside the DOCG and DOC categories, IGT wine is widely produced across Italy and often includes international varieties of grape. IGT wines are often excellent value for money.
Although IGT production rules are not as stringent as those applied to DOP wines (DOCG and DOC), there are famous examples of IGT wines commanding more respect (and higher prices) than their DOP counterparts. This is particularly true in Tuscany.
Toscana IGT is the most famous – and the most commonly used – of Italy’s IGT titles, not just because it produces more IGT wine than any other region, but also because it was the famous ‘Super Tuscan’ wines made here that led to the creation of the category. Toscana IGT wines can be made in any village in any of Tuscany’s 10 provinces (Arezzo, Firenze, Grosseto, Livorno, Lucca, Massa Carrara, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena).
IGT is equivalent to the European-wide ‘IGP‘ label and you will sometimes see the IGP appellation on wine labels.
Vino da Tavola describes very basic wine. The label usually only denotes that the wine is made in Italy. It does not indicate what grapes are used or where they are from. Vino da Tavola does usually not get exported.
In addition to these categories, there are three additional terms in Italian wine legislation, regulating certain aspects. These terms can only be found on bottles labeled DOC or DOCG.
Wines that have been allowed to age at least two years longer than others of the same appellation.
Indicates that the wine is made from slightly riper grapes and has a higher ABV (alcohol by volume).
Distinguishes wines from the oldest wine-producing areas, like the Chianti, from others of the same appellation.
The ‘Super Tuscan’ movement began in the late 1960s when a few forward-thinking wine makers in the Chianti region broke with tradition to create wines that skirted the regulations of the time by using non-indigenous grape varieties and non-traditional oak barrels for ageing.
The resulting wines attracted international attention and are recognised as some of the finest wines produced in Italy.
The reaction to ‘Super Tuscans’ had a profound impact on winemaking in the region, and during the next decade a number of Tuscan wineries began experimenting with their own Super Tuscans.
Isola e Olena,
Colli Toscana IGT
Tenuta di Masseto
The province of Arezzo has been shielded from the popularity and exposure which other Tuscan provinces like Firenze (Chianti) and Siena (Montepulciano) have attracted.
But wine-lovers who appreciate the wines of Tuscany are beginning to discover the wines of Arezzo – the ‘quiet’ cousins of their better known relatives, often made of the same grapes (notably Sangiovese).
Proof that the potential of the province was recognised is that two of Tuscany’s most distinguished wine producers, Antinori and Avignonesi, now have large vineyards in Arezzo and Cortona (both offering tours and tastings).
Appellations of Arezzo include DOCG Chianti Colli Aretini, the Cortona DOC, the Valdichiana DOC, the Val D’Arno di Sopra DOC, Colli dell’Etruria Centrale DOC and Vinsanto del Chianti dei Colli Aretini Occhio di Pernice DOC.
Cantina Il Palazzo
Rosso Toscana IGT
Val d’Arno di sopra DOC
Tenuta Sette Ponti,
Relais La Torre,
Bianco Toscano IGT
Fattoria di San Leo,
Bianco Toscana IGT
Fattoria il Muro,
Chardonnay di Toscana IGT
To carry Cortona D.O.C. on its label, a red wine must be made of one or more of the six permitted grape varieties (Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Gamay and Pinot Noir). To have the grape name on the label, the wine must be made from at least 85% of that grape, with the rest coming from the other five varieties.
The Cortona D.O.C. also includes white grapes (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto and Italian Riesling) and all of the grapes must be grown in the limited zone below the hill town of Cortona itself, planted at altitudes between 250m and 500m above sea level.
IGP Toscano Bianco
Chardonnay Toscana IGT