Italian Wine Buying Made Easy: Tips from an Expert

"There’s an abundance of refreshingly quaffable bottles at great prices. Chianti, Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella, Nero d’Avola, and many more."

Chris Waters, editor of Vines Magazine and author of the weekly wine column, “Waters & Wine”, gives us the breakdown on buying authentic, Italian vino.


If there is one single, unifying force that ties Italy together, from the Alps in the north to the islands in the extreme south, it’s wine. Grape vines inhabit every corner, every crevice of the country, which ranks as the world’s largest producer of wine.

This results in a dizzying array of styles — from cheerfully fizzy Prosecco to robust Amarone to lusciously sweet Vin Santo. There’s an abundance of refreshingly quaffable bottles at great prices. Chianti, Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella, Nero d’Avola, and many more.

But it’s the distinctive and dramatic reds that take centre stage for wine lovers and connoisseurs. Must try wines include Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (Veneto), Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG (Piedmont) and Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and the super-Tuscans (Tuscany).

The key to understanding the richly rewarding diversity is to embrace the enigma that is the Italian wine label. Forget the Da Vinci Code: embrace the codice del vino.

Pyramid Power

The label is your guide to drinking in the whole Italian wine experience. Like many European countries, Italian wine is subject to an appellation control system that can help consumers understand the individual personalities at play.

Typical Geographical Indication (TGI aka Indicazione Geografica Tipica), represents the base of a three-tiered quality wine pyramid. Maverick winemakers in Tuscany, who used grape varieties and techniques not permitted by local regulations with delicious results, inspired this classification. The IGTs delle Venezie, Puglia, Terre Siciliane, Toscana and Veneto represent some of the finest Italian wines on a quality versus price ratio.

Controlled Designation of Origin (CDO aka Denominazione di Origine Controllata), represents the middle tier. It’s a wine of origin scheme governing more than 300 regions, explaining how each wine comes from these specific grapes and this particular place.

Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (CGDO aka Denominazinoe di Origine Controllata e Garantita), is the designation for Italy’s best bottles. The top classification covers 74 regions, including global favourites Amarone, Barolo and Brunello. A blind tasting is the final quality check to ensure the wine lives up to the region’s reputation.

Label Language

Here are some other terms savvy shoppers should know:

Classico, indicates that the wine is produced in the heart of a particular wine region, usually the prime growing area. Take special note of Chianti Classico and Soave Classico. (Check out our recipe for risotto with rosemary meatballs and Chianti Classico.)

Riserva, means the wine enjoyed extended aging under specific conditions to deliver more complexity and character.

Superiore, typically denotes a little higher in alcohol (0.5 to 1 percent), meaning riper fruit was used, which makes for more powerful expression.


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