A good glass of Italian wine is the perfect cure for a stressful day and the increasing popularity of so many vintages in international territories shows that people outside of Italy are coming to understand something that Italians have known all along.
However, for some people there may still be a little bit of confusion about what some of the more important terms in Italian winemaking actually mean. To call yourself a true connoisseur you need to understand these terms and what they mean in relation to the wine that you are going to drink.
Here we aim to take a look at some of the more commonly confused terms in an effort to shine a light on their meaning and help our customers make the right choices for them when it comes to buying Italian wine.
This is a term that is used essentially to classify a wine by the DOC. It means that the wine that you hold in your hands was made using grapes grown in a vineyard that is recognised as an original part of the territory where the wine was first formulated or popularised.
Perhaps the most famous modern-day use of the Classico label is with Chianti. Following the rise of the Super Tuscans, many traditionalists rallied against the modern methods being used by some winemakers to make Chianti.
This led to a distinction being drawn between newer Chiantis, such as Tignanello, and the more classic variety that had already reached a level of acclaim both domestically and abroad.
Today, any wine that is made in the traditional Chianti region and is made using the older style of crafting the wine will generally be given the Classico designation. This is helpful for those who want to experience a wine that is as close to the original as possible, with the application of the Classico label often being vetted by the DOC first to make sure that it is used correctly.
Riserva can carry a number of meanings depending on the wine being spoken about, as a slightly different definition exists for older wines when compared to newer vintages.
When used in the context of older wines you should note that the Riserva label is generally an indication of superior qualities. For amateur enthusiasts, you can usually feel assured that the wine you are buying is amongst the best in its particular classification before you even buy it. As you can imagine, the DOC will play a large part in determining whether or not a wine deserves the Riserva classification as a result.
Staying with older wines for a moment, the label also offers a vague indication of the amount of time that has been spent aging the wine when compared to others. A Riserva wine will have generally been aged for a longer period of time than a wine that doesn’t carry the label, with the logic being that so-called superior wines have a greater capacity for aging and increase in quality over time.
In relation to what are known as ‘New World’ wines, the term means something a little bit different. While it is still an indication of the quality of the wine, with newer winemakers using the label to designate a vintage of particular quality, use of the term is far less regulated than that for the ‘Old World’ wines. As such, it is usually up to the winemaker themselves to use the label and thus it becomes something of a marketing tool as compared to an officially recognised seal of quality. Still, you can usually feel assured that a ‘New World’ wine that carries the Riserva label will be of a higher quality than the equivalent from the same winemaker.
It is easy to assume that a wine labelled Superiore is simply better than its competition, especially for English speaking countries where the term conjures thoughts of the word ‘superior’, which essentially means it is better than everything else.
However, the official definition is actually a little bit different than that. In fact, the label has more to do with the alcohol content of the wine and the minimum time that it can aged for, rather than being an objective signifier of quality.
To be classified as Superiore a wine must be made using grapes that have a minimum alcoholic volume of 12%. Anything lower and the wine is instantly unable to use the classification. Furthermore, the wine must reach a minimum alcohol volume of 12.5% after a designated aging period, though a Superiore will generally exceed these minimum figures quite substantially.
Speaking of aging periods, this is also something that plays a large part in whether or not the wine can receive a Superiore classification. Any wine that is to have the label must have been aged for a minimum of one year, starting from the first day of the year after the grapes were originally harvested. Furthermore, the wine must spend a minimum of six months of that year in an oak of chestnut cask before being bottled.
While Supriore does not instantly denote better quality, this mandatory aging period implies that any wine that achieves the label is of a particularly high quality. After all, as mentioned previously, wines are generally considered to be of a higher quality of they have the capacity to improve with age, which is something that all Superiore wines must be able to demonstrate.
So there you have it! Three commonly used terms in Italian winemaking that can be somewhat confusing for novices. Bear in mind that, at least in Italy, a wine will need to meet rigid standards to achieve any of these classifications, which means that they all act as a mark of quality in one form or another. Hopefully with these information you will be able to approach your wine purchasing with a little bit more knowledge, which should in turn allow you to make better choices for you or whoever you are buying the bottle of wine for.