"Le Legge"- Italian Wine Laws

"Le Legge"  Italian Wine Laws

As Americans, we tend not to think too much about the laws that affect our wines. We buy a wine because we enjoy it or want to try it. In Italy, however, wine laws have more of an impact on the product. The laws establish controls as to the quality of the wine in the bottle. At the same time, there are a few winemakers in Italy who have decided to work outside the wine laws (which, oddly, is perfectly legal).

The Italian wine laws establish four "levels" of quality. The basic level is Vino da Tavola, or literally "table wine." This is your everyday drinking wine. If you think of the wine levels as a pyramid, Vino da Tavola would be the ground level of the structure. And, like a pyramid, this level has more wines in it than higher levels.

The next level is the Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or IGT. This would be the second level of the pyramid. There are slightly fewer wines in this category. The third level is where significant quality appears, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or DOC. The wines in this category must be made from grapes within a specific DOC area. For example, if a wine is labeled as a Chianti, all of the grapes must come from the Chianti region. In addition, the DOC regulations dictate what kind of grapes must be used for the wine to carry the DOC designation.

The fourth and final level is the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or DOCG. This level is somewhat poorly named since it suggests a guarantee of quality. In fact, a DOCG wine is no more guaranteed to be a great wine than any other bottle of wine. The DOCG wines, however, must be made from grapes grown within the specific DOCG region, and like the DOC wines, only certain grape varietals can be used.

So, what does all of this really mean? Most of the wines we will find in our wine shops are DOC wines, made from grapes within a specific appellation. The Italian authorities have given some of these appellations the DOCG designation based upon controls and merit.

Some winemakers have opted to work outside the Italian wine laws, finding them to be too restrictive. In the second half of the twentieth century, Italian winemakers visited France and the U.S. and found wines being made that defied conventional definitions. The Italians wanted to do this as well, but couldn't release the wines with the DOC or DOCG designation on the bottle. So, they decided to not worry about it.

The most notable example of these wines is what we call Super Tuscans. Most wines made in Tuscany must come from the Sangiovese or other native grapes. The renegade winemakers wanted to make wines using the classic Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. So, they planted these grapes and made them into stunning wines. Because they do not fall within the DOC or DOCG definitions, they carry the humble designation IGT Toscana, but they command hefty prices.