The background to Italian wine
Wine Laws
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Grape varieties
Reading An Italian Wine Label
Zones and quality grades
Producers and vineyards
Style and quality
The Language Of Italy
The Essentials Of Italy

Italian wine law is in a state of change as the limitations of the 1963 DOC law become apparent. This law, which was loosely based on the French AOC system, attempted with some success to codify Italy's thousands of wines. It introduced the idea of the DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) zone. This is an area where a certain style of wine is made in a distinctive way. Much weight was placed by the lawmakers on winemaking tradition. A DOC (like an ACC in France) attempts to codify and regulate traditional practice. This works well in, say, Burgundy, where centuries of trial have isolated the best grape varieties and plots of land. But most of Italy is new to high-quality wine production. Many DOCs fossilized an outdated way of making poor wine. Others slanted the tradition away from quality: the Chianti DOC permitted 30% white grapes in this red wine, and (like many DOCs) allowed 10% of the wine in a blend to come from outside the Chianti zone - sometimes a long way outside. Happily, the 1984 upgrading of Chianti to DOCG (see box) tightened the rules.

A new law, passed in 1992, is still being put into effect. This means that any list of DOC wines may be outdated when printed. The new law is known as the Goria law, after Giovanni Goria, the minister who steered it through. The law clarifies the Italian scene considerably. It establishes, or rather tidies up, a pyramid of quality. At the lowest level is simple vino da tavola, basic wine that may be labelled red (rosso), white (bianco) or pink (rosato); but the grape or locality cannot be stated. The next grade is indicazione geograflca tipica, similar to the French vin de pays: this is wine from a locality (not a DOC zone), with the grape name shown on the label.

Then come the DOC and DOCG names, as before. The Goria law makes it possible for under-used DOCs to be scrapped, and for successful ones to be promoted to DOCG. This is in line with the French system in which AOCs are constantly monitored and adapted when and where necessary.

A new departure is the use of vineyard, estate and commune names within DOCs and DOCGs. Previously, one DOCG covered the whole of Chianti, an area making as much wine as the M6doc and Graves combined. There was no official provision for showing that a wine came from a given vineyard or commune, just the maker's name. The new law allows the mention (in diminishing order of size) of sub-zones, communes, localities, micro-zones, estates and even specific vineyards. An enormous exercise is going on to define and list all these areas. The restores the importance of location
(or terroir) to the legal quality system.

Finally, the law allows wines to be assessed at harvest time. If they fail to meet certain standards they will be downgraded - for example from a specified sub-zone to the broad DOC name. On the other hand, a vino da tavola made to very high standards may qualify as an individual estate or vineyard DOC or DOCG wine.

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