Wine night is going to Italy in May. In researching our trip a question came up on DOCG or DOC – what’s the difference. Basically DOCG is the premium wine. I’ll let the Italians expain…

Classifications — In 1963, Italy’s wine fell into two classifications, table wine and DOC. DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wines are merely those a government board guarantees have come from an official wine-producing area and meet the standard for carrying a certain name on the label. A vino di tavola (table wine) classification merely means a bottle doesn’t fit the pre-established standards and is no reflection of the wine’s quality .

In 1980, a new category was added. DOCG (the G stands for Garantita) is granted to wines with a certain subjective high quality. Traditionally, DOCG labels were merely the highest-profile wines that lobbied for the status (getting DOC or DOCG vastly improves reputations and therefore sales, though the costs of putting up the wine annually for testing are high). In 1992, the laws were rewritten and Italy’s original six DOCG wines (three of which were Tuscan) jumped to 15. Six of these are Tuscans (Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Vernaccia di San Gimignano) and two are Umbrian (Sagrantino di Montefalco and Torgiano Rosso Riserva).

Though vino di tavola usually connotes a quaffable house wine from some indeterminate local producer, in recent years this classification of table wine was the only outlet for estates that wanted to experiment with nontraditional mixtures. Many respectable producers started mixing varietals with French grapes like cabernet and chardonnay to produce wines that, though complex and of high quality, don’t fall into the conservative DOC system. Such a wine could, by law, only be called a lowly vino di tavola. These highbred wines became known as Supertuscans or super vini di tavola. There’s no guaranteeing the quality of these experimental wines, yet most self-respecting producers won’t put on the market a failure or something undrinkable. If you come across a $30 bottle with a fanciful name marked “table wine,” it’s probably a Supertuscan.