Can you read an Italian Label?
Italian wine labels are widely varied in appearance. The many shapes and sizes might be overwhelming but we've created a comprehensive guide for beginners and also for those with experience. Fortunately, there are specific markers and clues that one can seek out to determine location, classification, and variety of a wine. Understanding these indicators can help you single out wines that are perfect for your tastes. Look at an Italian wine label and try to identify the following characteristics:
Wine Type This can be identified through 1 of three ways
Region The region or sub-region will always be located next to the classification level
Classification (DOCG, DOC, IGT, Vino da Tavola)
Wine Name This is never next to the classification and often indicates that the wine is a blend of grapes (Super Tuscan for example).
Producer Name Italian wineries will often use words like Tenuta, Azienda, Castello or Cascina in their name.
3 Ways That Italians Label Wine Types
Italians have 3 different ways of telling you what kind of wine is in the bottle. They’ll either list the:
Grape Variety as in “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo” or “Sagrantino di Montefalco”
By Region or sub-region, such as “Chianti”
By Name such as “Sassicaia”
First things first, whenever a grape variety is mentioned, usually it’s named in association with a region. So, in the instance of Barbera d’Alba, this is probably a grape variety because it’s ‘Barbera’ ‘of Alba’. There are a few instances such as ‘Vino Nobile di Montepulciano’ where ‘Vino Nobile’ is a synonym of Sangiovese. However, most of the time, if you see a di or a d’ it is probably a grape. There are over 350 official grape varieties in Italy, so don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t heard of them all.
If the region is listed on the label, you will always see a classification after the regions name. So for instance, a bottle named by region/sub-region will say Chianti with the words “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita” right next to it. This means, the wine is relying on the classification to tell you what’s inside. So, for instance, Chianti must have a minimum of 80% Sangiovese. As the regional names cover larger areas, the classifications become less strict and the wines are usually a blend of the most popular grapes from the region.
You can always tell if it’s a named wine by where the location of the name is on the label. The name is never next to the wine classification. Just so you know, the most common classification on named wines is IGT. This means that producers can use both Italian and non-Italian origin grapes in their wine (like Merlot). Some named wines have an additional regional name on the label (which would be located right next to the classification level). This will mean it falls under the requirements of that regional name and, in some cases, is a blend of that region’s most planted grapes.
Definition of some common Italian vocabulary
Poggio It is a hill or elevated place. Since Roman times, many vineyards throughout Italy are located on slopes or hills and this is probably where the term originated
Tenuta It is Landholding or property. Usually associated with the vineyard location or wine estate.
Vigneto means vineyard
Castello means Castle, in the sense we say Estate.
Cascina It is a Farmstead
Cantina means Cellar
Fattoria It is a Wine farm
Azienda means Company
Superiore Usually associated with a regional name and indicates a high-quality designation usually with a slight bump in minimum alcohol level (with higher quality grapes).
Classico A classic zone within a particular region. This doesn’t mean the wine is better, just that it’s from a ‘classic’ wine growing area.
Riserva A wine that’s been aged for longer than the normal version of the same denomination. Aging varies from denomination to denomination, but generally, it’s about a year longer.