Sunday, May 03, 2015

Italian Wine Appellations that are Downright Confounding

After having spent most of April crisscrossing Texas in my covered wagon to teach hundreds of people about Italian wine, there were a few moments when I was scratching my head, wondering why I was teaching some of this stuff. The scores of DOCG wines, hundreds of IGT (P) wines and even more DOC (P).

It was a simple comment in passing that started this. I was talking to an Italian and he said, “This Toscana IGT is a disaster. How can anyone make sense of it when you can have one for $4 and one for $400?” I noted the comment and moved back to my class presentation. But it stuck with me.

Let’s take a look at a few of the denominations that cause me their fair share of agita.

Terre Siciliane IGT

Red, white, rosé, dry, sweet, still or sparkling. Blends or single varietal. Oh, and novello too. Whites from Ansonica to Zibbibo. Red, from Aglianico to Syrah. This looks like it came from kitchen-sink legislation, allowing for virtually anything from Sicily to fall under this denomination. Why? It’s not as if getting into this classifiaciton is going to get you more status. Look, Sicily produces a lot of wine, some say as much as Australia. And a lot of it is just good (better than it used to be, at least) everyday drinking wine. But Terre Siciliane is a small step for mankind. It looks more like it was intended for politicians to say back home to their constituents, “Look, I am protecting your investment. See what I did for you!” Yeah, right.

Delle Venezie IGT

This one wins the Trifecta. 17 million cases a year from three zones: Friuli–Venezia Giulia and Veneto, plus the entire province of Trento in Trentino–Alto Adige. White, rosé, red, and novella. Scores of white grapes, from Bianchetta Trevigiana to Welschriesling (Riesling Italico). Red too, from Ancellotta to Vespaiola.

It’s the kind of denomination that master sommelier candidates would get as a “gotcha” question- question being “Which denomination carries over into three regions?”

Not to be confused with the Veneto IGT (Sorry, no Veneta IGT allowed). The Veneto IGT is fed by almost 13 million cases a year, with virtually the same grapes and types of wines allowed. I can’t make this stuff up. It’s the law. Look it up. And if that's not enough there is also a Veneto Orientale IGT. They make up a paltry 140,000 cases.

30 million cases, though - that's a lot of buying power.

Toscana IGT

The one that started me down this rabbit hole with that brief (but memorable) conversation had last month. Also known as Toscano IGT, one and the same as Toscana IGT. Allowed wines are white, rosé, red, dry and sweet. And novello. White grapes allowed from Albarola to Welschriesling (Riesling Italico). Red grapes, from Aleatico to Vermentino Nero, including Teroldego. That’s right, you read correctly. Oh and, Nero d’Avola, Barbera, Muller-Thurgau and Roussanne. How terribly catholic of Tuscany, to include the little bastards from France, the Sicilians from the south and the Teutonic hordes from the north. An absolute mosh-pit of “anything goes.” Look on the bright side. If you are a creative type with sociopath tendencies and you like them dark and sweet, then Toscana IGT is the denomination for you. And if you want to make a $4 “Super Tuscan”, hey, guess what? You’re in luck too? And if you just couldn’t get into the Bolgheri DOC club and Val di Cornia just ain’t sexy enough for you, there you have it – Toscana IGT – to the rescue. And you can charge $400, why not? What a boon for winemaking.

Piemonte DOC

The powerful ones in Piedmont stopped the IGT movement at the borders of Lombardia and Liguria. Only DOC and DOCG’s allowed in their land. But, not to worry, the politicians there are busy at work devaluing their lofty denominated wines with the latest DOC – Piemonte. A catch all for wines that aren’t worthy of being called Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera or even Nizza (the latest DOCG - #74 if you’re still counting). Someone must like it, because around 3 million cases a year call themselves Piemonte DOC, with grapes from Chardonnay to Sauvignon Blanc in the white grape category and red grapes Albarossa ( not to be confused with the white Albarola grape allowed in the Toscana IGT denomination) to Syrah (just like the one allowed in Terre Siciliane IGT). Lots of attention to terroir in this category, I guess. While it is a catch-all category, at least it hasn’t had to grovel down to the IGT category like Terre Siciliane IGT or Toscana IGT. The moral of the story? If you are going to be Syrah in Italy, it pays to grow up in Piedmont - at least you can grow up to be a DOC, or a DOP, if you are going to grow up to be an internationaliste.

Chianti DOCG

The whoopee cushion of all appellations – the Mother lode of swagger and pomposity. The “We were here first and we are not abdicating – not now – not ever” denomination. Oh and up until recently, to prove their provenance, they wouldn’t allow cork-closure alternatives, citing that it would cheapen the brand identity of Chianti.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of Chianti wines I like. It’s just that most aren’t DOCG caliber. Chianti doesn’t need to cry wolf over screw tops, they’ve already shot themselves in the foot with any number of inferior red wines masquerading as one of only 74 DOCG wines allowed. While it should stand for higher quality, we all know this was also a political maneuver, driven by the wealthy and influential Tuscan oligarchy. Good on ‘em, I say. If you can’t please ‘em, squeeze ‘em. Squeeze ‘em dry.

Yeah, that’s what has been occupying my rancid mind this past week. It ain’t pretty. But it’s better I talk about this than to really let my hair down.

Don’t let your hair catch on fire over this one. This is just the tip of the DOCG/DOC/IGT iceberg. “It’s Italy, we’re used to it.”

At least that’s what they say in Italy... in 2015.

further reading:
Terre Siciliane IGT
Delle Venezie IGT (and Veneto IGT)
Toscana IGT (or Toscano IGT)
Piemonte DOC
Chianti DOCG

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Christian said...

and, do we want to talk about the DOC Prosecco?! Two regions, nine provinces....

vinotravels21 said...

I love your sense of humor and the numbers presented in this article are mind blowing, especially the ones from the Delle Venezia IGT. It's all true though. Some of these are just catch-alls for wines of the region and having to decipher one bottle from another for the average consumer when there are millions can be a feat.

Clement said...

I always wondered why I kept getting mediocre wine when buying Chianti DOCG bottles. Thank you for the enlightenment!

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