Understanding the terms used on Italian wine labels can be somewhat intimidating for those who are neither in the wine trade nor serious "cognoscenti" of Italian wines. The Cardinal's Cellar has written this guide to the most commonly used terminology in order that its customers can use this knowledge to be able to order a bottle of Italian wine with more confidence whether from our website, in a wine shop or whilst dining in an Italian restaurant at home or on holiday in Italy.

Under EU Law Italian wine bottles are required to display the producer's name, the geographical region of production and its hierarchical classification, the vintage (where applicable), alcohol content and the volume of wine in the bottle. The DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) can be likened to the AOC (Apellation d'Origine Contrôlée) regulations of France. Enshrined in the wine regulations of Italy, however, is a further level, the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) whose increased quality is guaranteed by official tastings and by the bestowal of numbered government seals designed to prevent fraudulent practices.

One particualarly interesting feature of the Italian system is the way in which a new generation of Italian wine makers in the 1970s looked outside of Italy for their inspiration regarding grape varieties and production methods choosing to release their very high quality wines as humble Vini di Tavola (table wines) the lowest designation but one without the DOC's restrictive rules. Some of these produced in Tuscany earned the unofficial title of Super Tuscans, a term coined by wine guru Robert Parker, and soon commanded eye-watering prices on the world market. Italian wines such as Tignanello, Sassicaia and Solaia are amongst the most sought after in the world never mind Italy. Such innovation, one might even say defiance, led to the introduction of IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) which allowed greater freedom to winemakers in terms of grape varieties, methods of production and wine styles whilst still conferring a guarantee of geographical origin.


Italian Wine Label Terminology

  • Abboccato - Slightly sweet, off-dry wine.
  • Amabile - Medium sweet wine.
  • Amarone - Dry red wine made from dried and shrivelled grapes, e.g. Amarone della Valpolicella from the Veneto region of N.E. Italy.
  • Amaro - Bitter in the sense of very dry.
  • Azienda - Wine estate - often followed by the word "Agricola" and the family or company name, e.g. Azienda Agricola Adanti.
  • (Vino) Bianco - White wine.
  • Cantina - Winery.
  • Cantina Sociale - Wine producers co-operative.
  • Chiaretto - Light red or dark rosé wine.
  • Classico - Supposedly higher quality, traditional area within a DOC(G), e.g. Chianti Classico.
  • DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) - Controlled geographical area of origin but there are also controls on the grape varieties, methods of production, style of wine and alcohol content. There are approximately 330 DOCs. Consistently high quality levels can lead to promotion to the higher level of DOCG.
  • DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) - As DOC above but with additional quality guarantees by means of lower yield requirements, stipulated grape ripeness levels, application of specific winemaking procedures inclusing those governing barrel and bottle maturation, testing by a panel of tasting experts and a full chemical analysis.
  • Dolce - Sweet wine.
  • Frizzante
  • Imbottigliato all'Origine - Estate bottled wine.
  • IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) - Wines from a specific region of production but which allow for a certain degree of imagination and cretivity on behalf of the winemaker. With the history of Super Tuscan wines it is not surprising that IGT Toscana is the most active producer in this category.
  • Metodo Classico - Sparkling wine made by the original méthode champenoise.
  • Novello - New wine; light and fruity wine made for immediate drinking.
  • Passito - A wine made from grapes dried on straw mats, although usually sweet it can refer to dry wines.
  • Recioto - Specifically a sweet dessert wine, either red or white, that is made from "passito" (dried) grapes, e.g. Recioto della Valpolicella.
  • Ripasso - A method by which basic Valpolicella wines are fermented a second time by the addition of "amarone" grape skins to impart greater complexity and depth of flavour to produce a style where between between Valpolicella and Valpolicella Amarone.
  • Riserva DOC(G) (Riserva Speciali) - Wine matured for a number of years specified by its governing DOC(G) regulations e.g. Chianti Riserva DOC.
  • (Vino) Rosato - Rosé wine.
  • (Vino) Rosso - Red wine.
  • (Vino) Secco - Dry wine.
  • (Vino) Spumante - Sparkling wine, e.g. Vino Spumante Prosecco.
  • Superiore - Wines made from riper grapes as a result offering greater concentration and higher alcohol levels.
  • Vino da Tavola - Table wine. Since the introduction of the IGT category in 1992 it has reverted to offering mostly very basic quality wines.
  • Vendemmia - Vintage.
  • Vigneto - Vineyard.
  • Vin Santo - Literally translates as holy wine. It is a traditional Tuscan white dessert wine made from Trebbiano Toscana and Malvasia Bianco grape varieties which are dried on reed mats through the winter before being pressed and fermented naturally until the alcohol kills off the yeast. The casks in which it is stored are not kept topped up lending an oxidative character to the wine similar to that of an Oloroso sherry.


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