How to Read the Denominations Pages
Each denomination’s page follows the same format, depending on the number and types of wines allowed, the restrictions imposed by the disciplinare (the organizing law for the denomination), and the data available. The name of the appellation (including any variants or alternative names) and the quality level are listed the way they appear in the disciplinare.
The first bits of information are:
- Region: The political region (in a few cases, regions) where the denomination is located (e.g., Toscana)
- History: When the denomination was created and, where available, some of the milestones since then
- Vineyard Area: How many hectares and acres were being used to produce wines for this denomination in the year indicated. The source is indicated by C (consorzio) or V (Valoritalia, an organization that fulfills reporting requirements for many DOPs). The Valoritalia figures are simply calculations based on the actual harvest divided by the maximum legal yield per hectare, however, and therefore always underestimate the actual planted area of the denomination; consorzio figures should be more precise.
- Production: First, how much total wine (in hectoliters) was bottled or sold in bulk in this denomination in the year indicated. Note that this is calendar-year production and may include wine from multiple vintages, especially when long aging requirements are involved. Second, how much wine from the denomination is actually bottled in a year (in nine-liter case equivalents); averages are given in most instances to smooth out vintage variations.
- Principal White Grape Varieties: A list of the white grapes that are (or can be) used to make up 50% or more of the blend in at least one of the types of wines allowed for this denomination. In most cases, these are the most important grapes of the denomination, but sometimes they are relatively obscure blending grapes that are not often a major component.
- Principal Red Grape Varieties: The same as above, except for red grapes
Styles and Wine Composition: The next section lists all the wine styles permitted for the denomination, along with the allowed grape composition for each. For ease of reading, these are grouped into up to five wine types:
- White wines
- Rosato wines
- Red wines
- Sparkling wines
- Dessert and specialty wines
Within these groups, generic wines—wines that typically have no further identification beyond the name of the denomination—are listed first, followed by varietal wines and then any special classifications such as Novello, Superiore, or Riserva (noting which wines are eligible for those classifications). Within the sparkling wine group, wines are listed by color (white, rosato, then red, as appropriate). Dessert and specialty wines include late-harvest (vendemmia tardiva), passito, vin santo, and fortified (liquoroso) styles.
The wine style is followed by a code in parentheses that describes the style a little further. Code elements are:
- Wh = White, meaning anywhere on the color spectrum from transparent to straw to yellow to amber and normally made exclusively with white grapes
- Ro = Rosato, meaning anywhere on the color spectrum from pale salmon to pink to light ruby and normally made exclusively with red grapes with minimal skin contact
- Rd = Red, meaning anywhere on the color spectrum from ruby to garnet to purple to black and normally made exclusively with red grapes and extended skin contact
- Fo = Fortified, meaning with added alcohol
- Ar = Aromatized, meaning with added flavorings
- Fr = Frizzante, meaning slightly effervescent (1.5 to 3 atmospheres of pressure). Wines without this code (or Sp) may sometimes exhibit a tiny bit of fizz (“vivace”), but this is not a primary or necessary feature.
- Sp = Sparkling, meaning fully effervescent (5 to 6 atmospheres of pressure)
- Sw = Sweet, meaning prominently sweet—in Italian, amabile or dolce. Wines without this code can have a noticeable sweetness at times (up to abboccato or demisec), but this is not a primary or necessary feature.
The wine composition shown is the prescribed blend for the wine, giving the legal proportions and grape varieties as specified in the disciplinare. In almost all cases, the disciplinare also gives producers the right to include a percentage of grapes that are not explicitly called for, as long as they are on an approved list of varieties for the region (which is subject to change). This acknowledges the fact that many vineyards were planted in the days before nurseries, when the identity of vines was not always clear, and it also grants winemakers some leeway to make minor adjustments to the wine. This allowance is indicated by OAG, meaning “other authorized grapes,” which may be further restricted by the letters N (nonaromatic), R (red), and W (white)—for example, OANRG is read as “other authorized nonaromatic red grapes.”
Subzones: Some denominations have subzones that may appear on the wine label. Most commonly, this is a Classico subzone, which usually means the area within the denomination that has historically produced a well-known wine. The use of the subzone name may simply indicate that the grapes used were grown in that smaller area, but the subzone name may not be allowed for every style of wine in the denomination; if there are limitations of this sort, they are indicated here. In many cases, there are also additional stricter requirements—and sometimes the subzone wines may be completely different from those of the denomination generally; differences in wine styles and grape components are described in the previous (Styles and Wine Composition) section.
Significant Production Rules: This section boils down the requirements of the disciplinare to a manageable list of rules that may help a wine-knowledgeable person to deduce some of the characteristics of the wine. The disciplinari contain a wide array of restrictions and requirements for a denomination’s wines, from type of vine trellising to font size for label elements, but most of these are transparent to the consumer. Some of the rules that are included for various wines are:
- Minimum alcohol level: Most wines have a minimum percentage of alcohol listed, with higher alcohol levels equating to fuller bodied and more powerful wines. Sweet wines may in addition or instead prescribe the wine’s minimum potential alcohol—that is, the alcohol percentage that would theoretically be reached if all the sugar were fermented to alcohol. The greater the difference between the actual and potential alcohol levels, the sweeter the wine.
- Residual sugar: Sometimes the disciplinare calls for a minimum (for sweeter wines) or maximum (for drier wines) amount of unfermented sugar in the finished wine, which provides a clear indication of its sweetness. Wines with at least 10–15 grams per liter (g/l) or 1.0–1.5% residual sugar will taste noticeably sweet to most people. For sparkling wines, various terms are used to describe the amount of unfermented sugar—from natural (zero dosage or senza dosaggio) through extra brut, brut, extra dry, dry (secco), and semisweet or demisec (abbocato) to sweet (amabile or dolce).
- Aging: Many disciplinari stipulate a minimum length of time a wine must age before it can be sold. This may be stated as a minimum aging period (possibly including minimum periods in wood barrels and/or in bottle) or as the earliest release date (ERD). For those wines with an aging or release requirement, we list the time period and the ERD (or an approximation of one based on the other). Note that the ERD is always relative to the year the grapes were harvested, indicated here by V for “vintage year”—for example, a release date of the March following the harvest would be shown as “ERD = March 1, V+1.”
- Vineyard elevation: Wines from higher elevations tend to be crisper than those from lower vineyards in the same vicinity
- Other important winemaking requirements such as restrictions on the drying of grapes for dessert wines and the production methods for sparkling wines.
Last Disciplinare Modification: The final statistic is the date of the last disciplinare modification to help clear up which changes are current. For many denominations, the date given is November 30, 2011, when a whole new set of disciplinari was issued as part of the shift of control over wine legislation from national governments to the European Union. At that time, many changes, large and small, were introduced into the disciplinari, so all older sources are suspect.