Dievole's blog

How to read a wine label in Italy

When faced with a myriad of wine choices in a store, what influences you to decide which one to bring home? How do you know what you’re buying if it’s an unfamiliar brand or type of wine? The label is of course the number one source of information in this case, but different countries have different regulations about what the label should say. Bordeaux labels are very specific and unique, while the EU in general has its own regulations to follow – and these differ from what you’d see in say, California. So let’s look at what you will find on and how to read a wine label in Italy.

 

Obligatory information on the wine label

Some basic information needs to be written on the wine label in the EU and in the USA: here’s what to expect.

  • Where is it from? The geographic area must clearly be stated, along with any sub-denominations – so Tuscany, and possibly Chianti or Chianti Classico.
  • Italian category classification: It must say what type of wine it is according to the classification: table wine, IGT, DOC or DOCG (or vino frizzante, spumante). Sometimes these are written out in full, other times the abbreviation is used. These classifications are determined by the region or specific location of production as well as by regulations that apply to these areas – the more specific the classification, the more stringent the rules become.
  • The name of the producer and their address.
  • The percentage of alcohol contained.
  • The volume contained in the bottle.
  • Recycling information.
  • The presence of sulphites must be declared.
  • A warning not to drink during pregnancy must be present: in the EU it’s a symbol while in the USA it is written out as a government warning.

Additional information on the wine label depending on category

The obligatory information for all types of wine, as you can see, is pretty basic, and while you can know quite a bit already by knowing where the wine was produced and by whom, some essential data is missing here – surely you’ve noticed that the year of production, for example, is not indicated amongst the obligatory data. That is because this depends on the category of wine in question.

  • Date of the harvest is obligatory for most Table wine, liquors and spumante do not indicate date.
  • IGT, DOC and DOCG wines must be bottled at the source and indicate this on the back of the label. In Italian this is written “imbottigliata all’origine”.
  • IGT, DOC and DOCG wines may mention the main varieties of grapes used, though this is not obligatory.

This information gives more specificity and accountability to the wine. Which in fact brings us to another point: each denomination has its own regulations, not only about what goes into the wine and how it’s made, but also what it can be called. In our area, Chianti Classico, for example, amongst the DOCG options you can have a vintage (annata), reserve (riserva), or gran selezione, and this is information that you will find on the label.

Any other information might be of the more descriptive type, and that’s entirely up to the wine maker. You’ll see the brand name, likely in logo form, and be influenced by the graphic design of the label itself, which may tell you something about the values of the winemaker or at least its target market. Some winemakers choose to add a few lines on the back label describing the wine and its pairing, which is a very helpful, though not at all obligatory, bit of information.