In Italian wine, what’s the difference between DOC and DOCG?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

In Italian wine, what’s the difference between DOC and DOCG?

—Chris, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Dear Chris,

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) are the top two tiers of Italy's four-tiered wine-quality classification system. The base category is vino da tavola (table wine), and above that is Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT).

DOCG is the highest designation for Italian wines, while DOC's qualifying guidelines are less strict. Both have multiple criteria designating which grapes may be included in the wines, how and where the grapes are grown, barrel and bottle aging regimens, the alcohol level in the final product and more.

The rules for DOCG wines include stricter limits on harvest yields, longer aging regimens and the wines must be submitted for technical analysis and tasted for approval by a government committee. DOCG wines even have a numbered government seal around the neck of the bottle to help deter counterfeiting. That’s the extra garantita that the wines are of high quality.

Some of Italy's best-known DOCGs include Barolo in Piedmont and Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico in Tuscany.

While these designations might be a helpful place to start when looking for Italian wines, keep in mind that there are plenty of Italian wines that don’t carry either seal. The DOC system was introduced in the 1960s, and the DOCG designation was created in the 1980s, but they only tell part of the story of Italian wines. Some producers prefer to make wines outside of these regulations, with different grape varieties or winemaking practices. The movement of the super Tuscans is probably the best example of Italian winemakers thinking outside the system.

—Dr. Vinny

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