The Italian DOC/G system does (and doesn’t) matter

Photos by Tracie B.

A number of folks have posted recently about the Italian appellation system, bemoaning the fact that there is no “official” comprehensive list of DOCs and DOCGs. Back in NYC, my friend and colleague James Taylor posted at the VinoNYC blog: “as is the case with most things governmental in Italy, the system for classifying its wines can be apparently simple but deceptively complex, and can oftentimes cause a headache.” (In case you are not familiar with the Italian appellation system, see the note following this post below.)

Out here in Texas, Italian Wine Guy recently updated his list of DOCGs. His is the most comprehensive list that I know of. (Considering how much Italian wine he “touches,” as he likes to put it, as the Italian wine director for behemoth distributor Glazer’s, you’d think the Italian government would give this dude a medal. He certainly deserves one.)

It’s remarkable to think that neither the Italian government nor its Trade Commission, nor the Agriculture Ministry, nor the Italian Wine Union publish an online, comprehensive, definitive, exhaustive, up-to-date list.

But does a list really matter? Especially now?

IWG notes that while some might wonder why such a list is really necessary, it is important “because sommeliers studying for their tests want and need this information [and] anyway, it is kind of fun trying to figure a way through the labyrinth of Italian wines on that (or any) level.”

The point about sommeliers studying for their exams is a valid one: as Franco and I reported the other day at VinoWire, none of the three finalists in the recent AIS sommelier competition recognized a Langhe Bianco DOC (and one of its producers is no less than the Bishop of Barbaresco, Angelo Gaja!). Needless to say, the award was conferred to one of the contestants despite this glaring lacuna. The fact of the matter is that in the U.S. we perceive these regulations in an entirely different perspective — one that reveals our pseudo-Protestant and quasi-Progressivist tendencies and predilections for precision and accuracy.

One of our (American) misconceptions about the Italian appellation system is that it was designed to protect the consumer. In fact, as Teobaldo Cappellano pointed out in last year’s Brunello Debate, the DOC/DOCG system was created to protect “the territory,” i.e., the production zone and the people who live there and make wine.

On August 1, 2009, the DOC and DOCG system was essentially put to rest by newly implemented EU Common Market Organization reforms. August 1 was the deadline for the creation of wine appellations by EU member states and from that day forward, the power to create appellations passed from member states to the EU. The deadline created a mad rush to create new DOCs and DOCGs in Italy. Beginning with the current vintage, all wines produced in the EU will be labeled as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). The new designations will recognize and allow labeling using the members states’s current appellation classifications. But from now on, no new DOCs or DOCGs will be permitted.

It’s important to note that the DOCG does denote a higher standard of production practices: generally, lower yields, longer aging, and a second tasting of the wine by local chambers of commerce (after bottling but before release), thus conferring the “G” for garantita (guaranteed). But even though the DOCG classification has been used historically as a more-or-less deceptive marketing tool (like this pay-to-play press release on the just-under-the-wire new Matelica DOCG), it does not necessarily denote higher quality. Think, for example, of Quintarelli’s 1999 Rosso del Bepi Veneto IGT, his declassified Amarone. A few years ago, when I called him to ask him about this wine, Giuseppe Quntarelli told me that he thought it was a great wine and wanted to release it but he felt it wasn’t a “true Amarone” and so he declassified it. (Yes, I hate to break the news to you, Bob Chadderdon, you’re not the only person in the U.S. allowed to speak to Quintarelli. He complimented me, btw, for my Paduan cadence!)

The rush to create new appellations (and in particular, new DOCGs), has created a great deal of confusion and in some cases commotion. I’ll post more on the subject later this week: self-proclaimed xenophobe, racist, and separatist agriculture minister Luca Zaia truly stirred the pot with the creation of a Prosecco DOCG. Stay tuned…


Currently, the Italian appellation system has three basic classifications for fine wine: DOCG, DOC, and IGT.

Acronymic articulations and translations:

DOCG: Denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita (Designation of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin)

DOC: Denominazione d’origine controllata (Designation of Controlled Origin)

IGT: Indicazione Geografica Tipica (Typical Geographical Indication)

There are wines still labeled VdT, i.e., Vino da Tavola or table wines but few of them make the Atlantic passage. In other words, few cross that body of water otherwise known as the “great misunderstanding.”

More pizza porn…

Here are some of the pizza pairings suggested in the wake of last week’s post, Pizza, pairing, and Pasolini. I’ve also posted some more pizza pornography just for the fun of it…

Haven’t found great pizza in Austin yet but I’m still looking!

I’m trying to get Tracie B to make me my favorite pizza: alla bassanese (the way they make it in Bassano del Grappa), with white asparagus and a fried egg in the middle. I bet that Texas Espresso’s Italian has had it that way (he’s from Monselice in the eastern Veneto, not too far from Bassano).

Thanks, everyone for the pairings! And special thanks to Dr. V for getting the whole thing cooking…

A16 (San Francisco)

I know that only Italians (and only a very small bunch of them) will follow me….try CHINOTTO (the best alternative to coke in the world).
Francesco (Vinonostrum)

I am partial to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Zinfandel, Brindisi, and Salice Salentino with pizza.
Thomas (Vino Fictions)

A16 bis (San Francisco)

I’m Italian and live in Italy, but I don’t have a PhD in Italian. Like Big Moz said, going to the pizzeria is the normal get-together- not only for young people. I’ve never seen anyone order wine with pizza unless it’s someone who doesn’t drink beer at all (in which case of seen them order the house red wine). No doubt about it, beer is usually drunk with pizza.

One of my first loves with pizza back in my ‘tator days was Renato Ratti Dolcetto. The play of the Dolcetto fruit and acidic tomato sauce was awesome! These days I have fallen in love with well-made lambrusco, and that for me is the best mach I can think of at the moment. Try “Acino” Lambrusco from Corte Manzini, or even their base level Lambrusco Secco… PERFECT!
Wayne (The Buzz)

Da Vinci (Bensonhurst, Brooklyn)

I know it’s not so Napolitano but old fashioned Barbera sound pretty good to me. On the other hand, some Frappato is not so bad.
Alice (Appellation Feiring)

The combination of pizza with wine is endless, as both can carry such a broad range of subtle flavors, textures and aromas. From Chianti to Amarone, and the Ribera del Duero mentioned [below]. Even when it’s not a perfect match, there is still chemistry, like a relationship that doesn’t work, it still has much to offer.
Global Patriot

Lucali (Carrol Gardens, Brooklyn)

When we make pizza, as we are going to tonight since we are freezing out posteriors off, I like to drink a Nero d’Avola or a Puglese red with some stuffing. My significant spouse usually goes with Zin or a red Rhone. Try a decent red Rioja or Ribera del Duero sometime.
Marco (Anima Mundi)

My preference for a perfect pizza partner is either Piedirosso or Précoce d’Espagna.
Alfonso (On the Wine Trail in Italy)

La Pizza Fresca (Gramercy, Manhattan)

You can pair pizza with many Italian white wines (like Falanghina, or Lacrima Christi, or Soave), and overall with some good rosé wines from Apulia (Negroamaro grape) or Abruzzo (Montepulciano grape).
Franco (Vino al Vino)

Ok, cold nastro azzuro on draft aside, you musta to dreenk a frothy gragnano (all of you northerners are suggesting lambrusco, how about its cugino meridionale? doesn’t it just make more sense? this is the pairing of tradition with the panuozzi of the eponymous city). Or, agreeing with franco, a crisp and fruity falanghina would be my second choice.
Tracie B

Personally the only thing I ever want with my pizza is a cold European beer (preferably Menabrea), though if the wine in question was Lini’s Labrusca Rosso I could perhaps be swayed…
James Taylor (VinoNYC)