Wine Words: DOC or DOCG — Do You Know the Difference?

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DOC and DOCG are letters that you see on bottles of Italian wine. Do you know what these letters stand for? And what is the difference between the two?

DOCG and DOC are both quality classifications. Under Italian wine law DOCG is the highest designation of quality among Italian wines.

  • DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, DOCG).
  • DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin).

The DOC designation for wines was introduced in the early 1960s. It equates more or less to the French AOC/AC system. The regulations for each DOC wine delimit the production area, wine color, permitted grape varieties and max/min proportions, styles of wine, max/min alcohol levels as well as permitted or mandated viticultural, vinification and maturation techniques There are 330 DOC wines in Italy today.

The DOCG wine designation was created in 1980 to differentiate the top Italian wines, as there was a general feeling that the DOC status was grated too liberally. The regulations for DOCG wines are tighter and more restrictive. For example maximum permitted grape yields are lower. Also each wine must pass an in-depth technical analysis and tasting to receive the official DOCG seal of approval from the Ministry of Agriculture.

DOCG – The First Five

At the beginning just five wines were acknowledged as being sufficiently superior for DOCG status. These were:

  • Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany)
  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany)
  • Chianti (Tuscany)
  • Barolo (Piedmont)
  • Barbaresco (Piedmont)

Today there are 73 wines that have DOCG status in Italy. Quite a significant number and naturally there are some rumblings that some of these were granted too easily or for political reasons.

Are DOC and DOCG always the best indicators of quality?

Unfortunately quality classification systems only tell part of the quality story. They signify that all the boxes have been ticked, and that the rules and regulations have been adhered (though Italy is rife with DOC and DOCG wine scandals – but that is another story for another day).

At the end of the day quality comes down to the individual producer. There are many top quality Italian wines that fall outside the DOC or DOCG system — not because of lower quality, but rather because the producer chooses to make the wine from varieties or proportions of varieties not permitted by the DOC/DOCG rules.

Remember the birth of the Super Tuscans — the celebrated Tignanello, Sassacia, and Ornellaia wines — which had to be labeled as simple ‘table wine’ initially because they did not adhere to the Chianti DOCG regulations. At the time producers choose to make these wine outside the DOCG 'quality' classification because felt that the DOCG rules were too restrictive, preventing them from making the best wines possible.

So, while DOC and or DOCG classifications may be helpful in understanding Italian wine quality classification, they are not always the definitive guides to real wine quality.

→ For more general information on wine laws and regulations here's one of my older posts: Wine Labeling Laws & Regulations: Do You Care?

(Image: Underlying image by Sadovnikova Olga/Shutterstock)

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