1. Identifying labels on Italian wine
Story and photos by Dwight Casimere
Miami—“The Italian Wine Masters,” representing the four most prestigious DOCG wine regions of Italy: Brunello Di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Vine Nobile Di Montepulciano and Conegliano Vadobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, continued their multi-year collaboration by kicking off their U.S. tour in Miami. The setting, at the newly opened JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami, followed by a showcase at the New York Hilton in New York City, amounted to a virtual “Supreme Court” of Italian wine.
The grand tasting featured more than a hundred producers sampling their latest releases, including 2006 Brunello di Montalcino and 2005 Brunello Riserva as well as 2008 and 2009 Chianti Classico. These are the ‘crown jewels’ of Italian wine, much coveted by collectors and owners of fine dining restaurants. Many of the wines showcased are in limited supply and only available at the finest wine shops and restaurants. Many others represent a great value for the money.
One of the major objectives of the seminars and tastings was an opportunity to not only showcase the variety and quality of Italian wines, but to also demystify the Italian government’s system of wine classification and identification, which is soon to be adopted by the major wine producing countries of the world.
The Italian Wine Masters included Sir Ezio Rivella, founder of Banfi SpA wines of Italy and President of the Italian Enologist Association, Italian Consul General Marco Rocca, Giuseppe Libertore, Director of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, Elvira Maria Bortolomiol, Vice President of Bortolomiol SpA and Board Member, Consorzio Tutela Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Federico Cartelli, Estate Owner, Azienda Agricola Poliziano and President, Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Deciphering Italian wine labels can be one of the barriers to consumers to appreciating the great wines of Italy. The most important components of an Italian wine label are the place of origin and the grape variety. Knowing the unique grapes of Italy and having a geographic sense of where they come from will get you through the most confusing wine labels.
First of all, Italian wines are named after their place of origin. Next, the law divides wines into three main categories: DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata or protected place name, DOCG, Denominatzione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or guaranteed place name, and IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica or typical place name. About 300 Italian wine growing areas are DOC. Wines pass a strict taste test and chemical analysis to earn the designation. DOCG has a stricter set of guidelines. IGT wines almost most meet grape varietal and geographic standards, but the standards are less strict. About 120 areas are IGT in Italy. In most cases, the designations DOCG and DOC denote a superior Italian wine.
The name of the grape variety is also found on the label. Grapes such as Sangiovese from Chianti and Nebbiolo from Barolo are among the most common names you’ll see. There are also words on the label that will indicate the type of wine produced, such as spumante (sparkling), dolce (sweet), bianco (white), secco (dry), rosso (red), and chiaretto (rose). Other words on the label refer to the winery such as vigna or vigneto (vineyard), tenuta (estate) or produttore (producer). Learning to read an Italian wine label will almost give you a primer on the Italian language. Being able to read a label while entertaining guests at a restaurant will automatically make you seem like a connoisseur!