Italian wine, understanding the label and regions. -

Italian Wine

Two questions I am always asked by friends and acquaintances regarding Italian wine are:

  1. How are the wines in Italy and
  2. How do you know which wines are better than others?

The answers are really quite simple. I find the wines in Italy are fantastic and it’s up to you to find out which ones are best suited to your taste. I could give suggestions as I received years ago on the HOT or TRENDY wines to try but instead, I’d rather tell you to try for yourself and find out what tastes best to you.

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How it all Started

My love of all things Italian started at an early age and of course coming from an Italian family it was simple. My love of Italian wines started at the age of ten with the first sip I took of my Grandfather’s (Pop) homemade vino. Sometimes Pop would add a little to my glass of Coca-Cola. It was pure heaven and it became better and better as I grew older. When Pop died and nobody in the family continued the winemaking tradition, I grew away from not just Italian wines but wines in general.


US Marketplace

One of my favorite markets in the USA is Total Wine, I love this place. I was reintroduced to wine there but more importantly Italian wines. Ilene and I would buy three or more bottles at a time of wines we never heard of or tried before. We kept a little notebook and put the labels of the wines we tried and liked in it and included a few notes about each bottle. We would record the price and a sentence about how it tasted. This became known as our Wine Bible.

You could find me at Total Wine searching the aisles of Italian wines looking for new bottles to try almost every payday. The most important criteria for me was that none of the wines cost over $15.00. I found out that good wine – even outstanding wines don’t have to cost a small fortune. I still follow this rule today. Today I even shop at Trader Joe’s and I have a new price rule there. I do not buy any Italian wines for over $7.99 and there are plenty to choose from.


When in Italy

In Italy, we do our wine shopping at the local supermarket. Believe it or not, we average €2,99 for a good bottle of wine. That’s right I said €2,99 per bottle! Some are as inexpensive as €0,99  on sale and once in a while, we splurge and spend €7,99 for a bottle we really want to try. Our wine budget in Italy is €125,00 a month and I have no trouble staying at or below this budget. My point is what tastes good to Ilene and I may not suit your taste, but you have to try to find out what does.

Italian wine, understanding the label and regions. -

Wine Rating System

One of the most confusing ways to pick a wine is by selecting one with the highest classification in the Italian wine rating system. These classifications are DOCG, DOC, IGT, and VdT. Just because the label says DOCG doesn’t make it the greatest thing since sliced bread. Here is a simple explanation to decipher what these classifications mean:

Italian wine, understanding the label and regions. - – Designation of Origin Control and Guarantee

in Italian: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita

This simply means that these wines are held to specific manufacturing procedures and go through two tastings and chemical testing before they qualify as DOCG wine. Other factors relate to the area the grapes are from, the type of grapes being used, and how long they are aged in oak barrels before being bottled and aged again. Only after this process can they be sold to the public.

There are 73 approved DOCG wines in Italy. Here are a few:

  • Brunello di Montalcino
  • Prosecco
  • Montepulciano di Nobile
  • Chianti Classico
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Sagrantino
  • Barolo
  • Barbarescociano

Italian wine, understanding the label and regions. - – Designation of Origin Control

Demoninazione di Origine Controllata

Like the DOCG designation except the growing areas is somewhat larger, they only go through one taste test and one chemical test. The DOC wines are generally not aged as long as the DOCG wines before being sold to the public. This doesn’t mean that the DOC wines are not as good as the DOCG wines at all. They just go through different rules and regulations before being approved for sale to the public.

There are 329 approved DOC wines in Italy. Here are a few:

  • Bolgheri
  • Lambrusco
  • Valpolicella
  • Dolcetto
  • Primativo (Zinfandel)
  • Montefalco
  • Morellino di Scansano
  • Vermentino
  • Nero D’Avola
  • Aglianico

Italian wine, understanding the label and regions. - –  Typical Geographical Indication

Indicazione Geografica Controllata

Basically, these wines come from a much broader growing area than the DOCG or DOC wines and they can be made using foreign grapes blended with Italian varietals. A good example of an IGT wine would be the Super Tuscans. These wines are usually blended wine varietals like Sangiovese 80% Cabernet 15% and Merlot 5%. Don’t be fooled by the IGT designation, these wines are every bit as good as the DOCGs and DOCs and can bring surprisingly high prices.

There are 125 approved IGT wines in Italy. Here are a few:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Chardonnay
  • Super Tuscan’s

VdT – Table Wine

Vino da Tavola

Sometimes labeled as just Vino it is the most basic wine made in Italy today. The growing areas are the largest of all of the wines made. There are no restrictions on what grapes can be used or what the percentages are. There are no regulations on aging or bottling. Each family has its own family recipe and rules. These are truly the poor man’s wines but don’t underestimate their taste and quality. Some of the best wines we had in Italy were VdT wines. These wines remind me of my Pop’s wine.

Italian wine, understanding the label and regions. -



Some of our favorite wines in Italy (below) – we always take a photo with our phones so we remember when at the store!

Italian wine, understanding the label and regions. -

There are approximately 2,000 grape varietals in Italy. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Sangiovese
  • Nebbiolo
  • Primitivo
  • Sagrantino
  • Nero D’Avola
  • Gavi
  • Prosecco
  • Grillo
  • Marsala
  • Montepulciano Vino di Nobile
  • and all local and homemade wines!



So I guess what I’m saying is don’t pay attention to the designation of the wine you are drinking. Of course, there are Wine Connoisseurs and Sommeliers that will tell you differently but no matter what anyone says, drink what you like, enjoy and savor every sip. Salute…
Italian wine, understanding the label and regions. -


  1. Hi Gary! Would you like to join me in a glass of vino?!! When we were kids we had some wine in cream soda and 7-Up! My grandfather made homemade wine too. My father would go down to the cellar and drink the wine directly from the hose and it would spill all over his shirt. When my grandfather asked, “did you drink any wine?” my father would respond “no!” He was busted! Thanks for the memories and the post!!!

  2. Yes Pat, let’s enjoy a glass of vino! I love your story and memories. Thank you so much for sharing and commenting! Gary appreciates it when he does a post and gets some responses.

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