The Difference Between DOC and DOCG
By Laura Fagan Published June 2022
Italy is undoubtedly one of the world’s best, and most diverse, wine producing countries. Grape growing and winemaking are enduring elements of Italian culture and the country’s social heritage. The nation is home to some of the most esteemed wine growing regions and sought-after wines such as Chianti Classico, Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco. So, it should come as no surprise that winemaking is strictly regulated in Italy with a series of laws that are intended to offer transparency and a gauge of quality to wine drinkers. When you are shopping for Italian wines, you may come across these distinctions found on the collar of the bottle or across the cork, which read DOC or DOCG, and wonder what they mean. Like many wine terms, the acronyms may not be common knowledge - but with a little schooling from ABC’s wine experts, Nathan Dale and Paul Quaglini, you’ll be able to spot and shop the difference between DOC and DOCG wines.
What is DOC and DOCG?
Similar to France’s well-known wine classification system, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), DOC and DOCG indicate vinification standards and quality designations for wines made in Italy. And unless your Italian, or wine expert Paul Quaglini, you might find that Denominazione di Origine Controllata doesn’t easily roll off the tongue. Paul simplifies that DOC, meaning controlled designation of origin, is a system of laws implemented in 1963 that regulate all aspects of the winemaking in Italy. “The geographic area where the wine can be made, the permitted grape varieties, the amount of oak aging, the yield that can be taken off the vineyards – everything in the DOC is regulated, by law,” Paul explains. Italy’s wine classifications are meant to indicate the quality of the wine, how it was made and where.
Although Italy’s DOC was created in the likeness of France’s AOC, the Italian system codifies rules and standards for winemaking, but goes a tier above. Similar to the AOC, DOC regulates the growing and production methods, but it can also indicate a level of quality for some wines that pass a taste test. Therefore, the ‘G’ in Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) is an additional guarantee of quality. Nathan elaborates this is established when the wineries have submitted their samples to a testing facility to test for minimal alcohol content, aging requirements and grape quality. The only difference between the two tiers of classification is the ‘garantitia’ or guarantee of quality in DOCG.
Both DOC and DOCG labeled bottles have been made in adherence to the growing and production rules of the appellation – so how did Italy end up with different classifications? Paul explains that when Italy first instituted the DOC laws, there were only a few appellations that were designated. Over time that number grew significantly which resulted in the earliest, and most reputable appellations, appealing for a new distinction to differentiate the quality of the wines that they produced. Following, the government rolled out the country’s highest DOCG classification which was intended to be a grouping of Italy’s most prestigious wine regions. This new ranking, however, has created a bit of a dilemma which can be highlighted in the regions of Chianti and Chianti Classico. Both appellations have been awarded DOCG and yet Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva, a bottle priced around $45, and Fattoria la Ripa le Terre di Monna Lisa Chianti priced around $10 carry the same designation. This can be confusing for a customer; therefore, ABC’s in-store wine consultants are a great option to help steer you through the various labels to find the right Italian wine for your taste or dinner menu.
Is Italian Wine Without the Destination Still Good?
The DOCG classification specifies Italy’s highest tier in wine quality, but that does not mean that wines without it, or below in classification, cannot also be wonderful. In fact, there are actually four different Italian wine classifications - DOCG, DOC, Indicazione di Origine Contrillata (IGT) and Vino de Table (VdT) all of which include fantastic labels. IGT is a catch-all classification that denotes wines not made in DOC and DOCG appellations. Nathan adds that, “There are beautiful wines made outside of these geographic boundaries that are absolutely fabulous, but because they don’t have the governing body – they don’t have to follow the rules for the area that might [bind] their neighbor.” For example, Flaccianello is one of Tuscany’s most revered wines, but won’t be labeled with the DOCG quality stamp because the winemaker uses a grape percentage not permitted by the original law. Ultimately, there are fantastic wines both within and outside of the DOC and DOCG designations – but, as Paul shares, “It is a protection of authenticity for the consumer. You want to know that if you are spending $50, $60, $100 on a bottle of wine, that it actually comes from the appellation [or] that the grapes are all grown in that appellation.” When you purchase DOC and DOCG classified wines, you are offered an assurance of worth.
With Italy growing most of the world’s grapes and producing a spectacular array, and high volume, of varietals – we stock a variety of Italian wines for you to sample and fall in love with. Stop by your local ABC store to browse the shelves for DOC and DOCG wines or shop our full selection of Italian wines online. Delizioso!