Before we dive into Tuscan wines, we need to go over a few vocabulary items that will help you understand Italian wine so much better. Wine in Italy is divided into classifications that easily allow the consumer to recognize what’s in the bottle (if you know what they are). Starting from the bottom of the quality pyramid we have table wine (vino da tavola), then IGT (sometimes you’ll see this as IGP, the EU standard), followed by DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or controlled designation of origin) and topped by DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or controlled and guaranteed designation of origin).
DOC and DOCG are two quality classifications, roughly equivalent to the French AC and AOC if you’re familiar with that. These regulations, set out by each area’s consortium, indicate what is permitted in terms of production area, wine color, grape varieties and max/min proportions, styles of wine, max/min alcohol levels as well as permitted or mandated viticultural, vinification and maturation techniques. The difference between the two is that DOCG is more restrictive than DOC; DOCG labelled wines are analysed and tasted by government–licensed staff before being bottled.
DOCG wines may have two additional classifications that can tell you even more about them:
- Classico: is reserved for wines produced in the region where a particular type of wine has been produced "traditionally". For the Chianti Classico, this "traditional region" is defined by a decree from July 10, 1932 and refers to a small, original part of the larger Chianti region.
- Riserva: applies to wines with a longer ageing period than the base wine of the DOCG in question.
But what about “Super Tuscans”? In the 1970s, Tuscan wine producers began to experiment with foreign grape varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. By combining these with the Sangiovese grape, they created Super Tuscan wines, an unofficial category of Tuscan wines that is not recognized within the Italian wine classification system. Some of the most famous labels are: Tignanello, Sassicaia and Ornellaia. These high-quality wines that are marked simply as “IGT” on the quality scale have nonetheless conquered international markets, telling you that being a DOC or DOCG is not the only indication of quality.