Jeff Flowers on November 27, 2017 1 Comment When it comes to regions that are currently producing some of the finest wines in the world, Italy always finds itself toward the top of the list. Northern Italian wines have long been revered by wine lovers throughout the world, but the comparatively subtle wines of Southern Italy have gone from overlooked to highly refined and sought-after. One of the biggest hurdles for those who are new to Italian wine, however, is the classification system used to categorize wines throughout the country — particularly, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation. What is DOCG? Short for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, this is a labeling certification method that is used by Italy, by law, to identify and determine the overall quality of the wine. This classification system not only guarantees that the wine is produced in the region, but is also intended to improve the quality of all wines produced throughout the country. If you’ve encountered this term on a label and have been puzzled by it in the past, you can rest assure that you’re not alone. By learning the basics of DOCG and Italy’s denomination system as a whole, you will gain a much better understanding of what makes the wines from this part of the world so special and unique. The Italian Appellation System One of the first things most people discover when digging into the world of Italian wine is Italy’s appellation system. Appellations come in three “steps,” with DOCG being the first and highest. Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG): All wine featuring this on the label must adhere to the strictest rules and regulations, set forth to promote both consistency and quality of product. As of this writing, there are only 74 wines that have earned DOCG status. Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): The second classification is DOC. Any bottles of wine with this designation is still within the appellation system and must be scrutinized for quality assurance, but regulations tend to be a bit more loose than with DOCG wines. At the time of publication, there are only 329 wines that have earned DOC status. Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): The final classification in Italy’s appellation system is IGT wines. As you might expect, IGT wines are the least stringently-defined categorization of appellated wines in Italy, though that’s not to say they’re low in quality. Indeed, many of the country’s finest Super Tuscans are of IGT appellation, commanding extremely high prices and ending up in the collections of the world’s most serious connoisseurs. Appellations & Regions One way of getting to know Italian wine appellations a bit better is to start by focusing on specific regions and styles of wine produced within each. DOCG wines, for example, tend to be found primarily in Piemonte, Veneto and Toscana. Stylistically, Chianti, Barolo and Amarone della Valpolicella are all representative of DOCG wine, while Rosso di Montalcino and Montefalco Rosso are DOC wines (Merlot and Rosso di Toscano represent the IGT sector). Veneto In Veneto, the Valpolicella region finds a great deal of utilization of the Corvina grape, as well as Rondinella and Molinara. Rich white wines called Soave also tend to be commonly found in the region, many of which are made with the grape Garganega. Venetian wines are highly unique, with many people having difficulty describing them upon first taste. Toscana (Tuscany) Tuscany is another region worth paying close attention to for those interested in learning more about DOCG wines. The Chianti region of Tuscany, for example, puts out some of the best food pairing wines in the world, the vast majority of which are made with heavy usage of the Sangiovese grape. Interesting to note is the fact that Sangiovese actually became the required major grape of the region in the 1970s, which left two other noble grapes out of the fold — namely, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These grapes went on to be used in the creation of an entirely new style called “Super Tuscan,” which today is one of the world’s most well-known blends. For Whites in the Tuscany region, Trebbiano and Vermentino tend to take center-stage, both of which show numerous similarities to Sauvignon Blanc. Lombardia (Lombardy) Another region worth paying attention to is Lombardia. The Lombardy region contains Valtellina, which is very close to Lake Como. Primarily found throughout this region is the wine Nebbiolo, which can take years to fully develop in the bottle and tends to wind up in high-profile collections. In Lombardia, however, Nebbiolo is typically referred to as Chiavennasca, characteristic of a lighter, more Pinot Noir-like wine than what is typically found in the Piedmont region. Unsurprisingly, the Pinot Noir produced in Lombardy is of extremely high quality, with bottles often ranging into the thousands of dollars. Piemonte (Piedmont) Finally, the Piedmont deserves some degree of focus as well. Piemonte wines make extensive use of the Nebbiolo grape, which is extremely high in tannins and pale in color. The result? One of the highest levels of acidity one can expect to encounter in a wine, as well as rugged tannins that don’t seem to want to give way throughout the finish. The Nebbiolo wines of Barolo are particularly revered, although there tends to be a lot of love in the wine world for Moscato d’Asti and Dolcetto, too. The Best DOCG Wines to Try Interested in tasting some of the best DOCG wines on the market? The choices are slim, as you only have 74 bottles that qualify. Here are three that you should seek out, each of which represents excellent value at its price point. Crypta Castagnara Cantine Taurasi DOCG Typically found for about $14.99/bottle, Crypta Castagnara Cantine Taurasi DOCG is an absolute must-try for anyone interested in understanding DOCG wine. Showcasing deep tannins and flavors of rugged earth and forest floor, it’s an excellent example of QPR, or “quality to price ratio” and will age for a significant portion of time. Grab two — this bottle may be increasingly difficult to find in the coming years. Mazzeo Taurasi DOCG The wines of Campania are among the finest in Italy, and Mazzeo Taurasi DOCG is no exception. Tasting notes include black pepper, dark chocolate and toasted biscuits, all of which meld together into a beautifully smooth, dry finish. For best results, consider pairing with goat cheese. Salsole Greco Di Tufo DOCG Need a reasonable white for entertaining purposes? Salsole Greco Di Tufo DOCG is your answer. Light-yellow in color and giving off aromas of honeydew melon and citrus, Salsole Greco Di Tufo DOCG. With flavors of yellow plum, the taste is surprisingly rich and tastes far more expensive than what the price lets on. Be sure to give this one at least 25 minutes to breathe after opening to allow the subtleties to shine through. So, don’t be intimidated by the appellation designations of Italy. Dive into the world of DOCG wines, and you’re bound to discover a bottle to fall in love with.