How To Read Wine Labels And Recognise a DOC Wine

Those who are new to the world of Italian wine are often overwhelmed by the sheer choice that is available to them. There are hundreds of producers in the country who have created literally thousands of wines, which can often make it difficult to discern which are of the highest quality, which are the most representative of their regions and which will offer the best possible wine tasting experiences to those who purchase them.

Couple that with the fact that there are thousands of wine producers around the world and the process of finding a good wine can be made even harder.

This is where the DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) comes in. The organization was founded to regulate the wines produced in Italy, with wines only being granted the label if they meet a strict set of criteria that includes coming from a particular region and featuring a specific blend of different grapes.

However, novices may not be aware of how to properly read wine labels and recognize that a wine has received the DOC mark of approval. With that in mind, we have created a quick list of useful pointers for the novice to ensure that any Italian wines are up to the standard you would expect from one of the best countries in the world.

*Before we begin, we would like to point out that, while the DOC certification is a mark of quality, there are plenty of Italian wines that do not have it that are of excellent quality. Usually marked as IGT, these wines don’t conform to the strict regulations of the DOC, but many still have plenty to offer. As such, this guide should be considered useful for those who want to make sure they experience classic Italian wines in the intended format, thus equipping enthusiasts with the tools they need to also be able to select some of the highest quality IGTs as their palettes develop.

Look For The Country

The first thing you should do when examining a bottle of wine is to try to determine the country of origin. The only wines that will carry the DOC label are those produced in Italy, so wines from anywhere else in the world will not have been examined by the organization.

This tip is particularly useful if you are not sure of the legitimacy of the bottle of wine you are examine. If the wine carries the DOC – or the Denominazione di origine controllata label – but the bottle does not come from Italy, there is a good chance that it is either a forgery or a bottle that is being misrepresented.

Research The Producer

Upon closer examination of the label you should be able to find the name of the company that has produced the wine. This will offer you something to research if you are still unsure of whether or not the wine carries the DOC label. While most will have the certification displayed prominently on their labels, some may not. Furthermore, if the label has been torn, the name of the producer and the wine will allow you to do some research.

Most Italian wine producers now have their own websites where you can examine their products, plus sites like Xtrawine can offer more detail on hundreds of vintages from the country. Unfortunately, the Denominazione di origine controllata does not maintain its own website that could provide a database, so you may have to get a little more in-depth with your research to confirm the origin of the wine.


In examining the wine label you may notice that it has DOCG – or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – displayed. Novices may look to this as a potential sign of a forgery, or an effort to use the DOC certification to the advantage of a less scrupulous producer.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. The DOCG label actually exists to earmark wines whose origin has not only been certified as controlled by the DOC, but has also received a guarantee from trained testers that confirms that the wine has all of the characteristics that you would expect from that type of wine.

As such, if you see the DOCG label you can take it as a definite mark of quality and should snap the wine up immediately if you are able to afford it.

A Word on IGT

We spoke about the IGT label earlier, but it is worth expanding on here. If the wine is from Italy and does not carry the DOC or DOCG certification, it will usually carry the IGT – or Indicazione geografica tipica – label.

This designation was created in response to the exceptional high quality of the Super Tuscans, which are a type of Chianti that differs markedly from the classic variety that received the DOC or DOCG designation.

Since then it has been used as a mark of quality, but also as an indicator that the wine in question does not meet the specific criteria that the DOC has in place for the region or type of wine that the bottle is.

Again, this should not be taken as a knock against the quality of the wine and online research will usually tell you everything you need to know, however, not bottle that is designated IGT will be DOC or DOCG unless the organization makes major changes to account for the specific type of wine.

The Final Word

Hopefully you now have a slightly better idea of what the DOC stands for and what those initials mean in the context of Italian wine. Searching for either DOC or Denominazione di Origine Controllata on a bottle of wine is a recommendation for those who are new to Italian wine because this certification acts as a guarantee that the wine you are about to purchase reaches a certain level of quality. As you gain more experience and start to understand the complexities of grape combinations and your own palette, you may start to feel more comfortable exploring outside of the DOC confines.


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