Italian DOCGs – Too Many?

I saw the news the other day that Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella had become DOCGs. Like many wine geeks worldwide, I began to try to count all of the DOCGs and list them from memory. Thank goodness for people like Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy out in Texas who put a full posting on his lovely blog.

When I saw that Verdicchio di Matelica and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi had made the list earlier this year, I began to think more precisely about what DOCG actually means. Yes, it is quality controlled of a higher standard but does it actually mean the wine is better? I’m not sure. I have begun to see these wines as purely a marketing ploy and the value of the DOCG label, like everything that moves from being a rare commodity to being more common place, somewhat diminished.

I am not casting aspersions on any wine in the list I just think that perhaps there wines aren’t any better qualitatively but are just an expression of territory and tradition. I haven’t fully worked out what I think they should use instead of this labeling but I do think a fuller explanation and perhaps a new category should be created. Something whereby the quality is actually judged and defined in terms of its tasting profile as well not just restricted viticulture and vinification techniques.

Italian wines are quite complicated for even the most expert of wine enthusiasts and of course this system helps to guide people towards choosing one wine over another. That said, I am afraid that DOCG system has lost its shine. Perhaps it always was all about marketing and I just was in denial about it.

It’s the holiday season and it is nice to keep some illusions but in my humble opinion, the list is growing too long and has mutated into something totally different than the original intent of this system. I miss the days of 30 DOCGs when I began the Italian sommelier school in 2000. Every new DOCG was a huge event. No more….


  1. I think this gets back to the heart of what the DOC/DOCG system really means. With so much of the original Italian wine law following that of the French, I always thought the DOCG status was a bit peculiar. Why did this happen? What is it trying to accomplish? Why separate some appellations from others?

    Of course, the Italian government has created a set of rules to be followed to obtain DOCG status. Fine. But the DOCG has taken on so much more of a meaning in the marketplace.

    We wouldn’t the Italian government’s bureaucrats telling us which wine regions are better than others, would we? But that’s kind of how we’ve been behaving all of these years anyway.

    So with almost all of the important (from an export perspective) DOCs elevated to DOCG status, does this mean that DOC was just like a “more frequently used” version of the French VDQS status – a stepping stone to full-fledged recognition as a proper appellation?

    Or can the two-tiered, appellation and appellation+, system work? Spain seems to be doing well with the DO/DOCA (or DOQ) system, but some regions like Ribera del Duero have no interest in moving up from DO.

  2. Susannah:
    A very thought-provoking post.
    And now that there are 47 (or its is 48, Alfonso?) DOCGs, the DOC/DOCG system is affected (somehow I’m sure, but I haven’t quite figured it out) by the labeling changes being mandated by the European Union. The DOCG change for Prosecco may be symptomatic of changes being made because of competition from other regions also making Prosecco, the new DOCG/DOC being a way primarily to preserve the tradition of winemaking in Conegliano and Valdobiaddene and secondarily to assure quality, although you’ll hear different stories from different winemakers.
    Does Alfonso really remember when there were but 6 Italian DOCGs? Sorprendente.

  3. Dave-
    purtroppo I do remember. It was exciting news. I even have the Civilta del Bere magazine trumpeting the news. A future post there, I am sure (if Andy Blue doesnt beat me to the punch).

    We’re holding @ 48. Or is it 49?

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