This Week on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© Understanding Italian Wine Labels Part 1

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Good Sunday morning and welcome to the WineGuyMike Radio Show.  In recent weeks we have had the opportunity to have many terrific guests on the show.  This morning though it is time to get back to what we love most and that is wine.

Today we are going to talk about Italian Red wine and how to better understand what’s on the label.  For many wine lovers this is one of those areas of the world that can be a bit daunting to understand, and that’s where I come in.  It’s my job to help you better understand challenging wine topics so you can enjoy the wine that we talk about here on the show.

Okay let’s get started; Italy has been producing wine for 3,000 years.  It is said that Italy is not a country, just a gigantic vineyard from North to South.  There are over 2 thousand labels of wine in Italy, that’s a lot of bottles to know about.  Did you know that since 2008 Italy reins as the largest producer of wine in the world?

We are not going to tackle all of Italy in one week.  When it comes to red Italian wine there are three main regions to concentrate on first, Tuscany, Piedmont, and the Veneto regions.

There are literally hundreds of indigenous grape varietals planted throughout Italy, many which we have not ever heard of in America.  The main grapes that a person needs to know about to get started with Italian wines from these three regions are; In Tuscany the Italians grow Sangiovese, in Piedmont they grow Nebbiolo, and in the Veneto region a grape known as Corvina is what is grown.

Many grape growers in Italy now are growing Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.  Many American viticulture areas of America likewise are growing Italian varietals of grapes too.  Just to name a couple; In the Napa Valley some grape farmers are growing Barbara grapes, in Walla Walla some farmers grow Sangiovese grapes.  Grape varietals know no boundaries; the worlds grape farmers now better understand ideal geography, weather, and soil composition that grape varietals thrive in.

Let’s take a look at how the Italian wine laws dictate what ends up in your Italian bottle of wine.  Just like there are three Red wine regions to pay attention to first begin to understand Italian wines there are three Italian wine law designations one should understand as well.

Grape growers are governed by Italian law or what is known as the DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata and DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.  You will see this printed on the label of Italian wines.  There are many Italian wines that do not adhere to wine specifications within particular regions and these wines will be designated on their label as IGT – Indicazione Geografica. 

IGT Label

IGT Label

DOC designations on a win bottle are much like that of French AOC wine laws, you will also see this designation on bottles of French wines.  The biggest difference between the DOC and AOC is that the Italian DOC has aging requirements.

The DOC governs:

  • Geographical limits of each region
  • Grapes varieties allowed in wines
  • The percentage of each grape used (Classico must be 80% Sangiovese) If the varietal is specified it must contain 85% of varietal
  • The amount of grapes that can be grown and harvested per acre
  • The minimum percentage of alcohol in a wine
  • Minimum aging requirements.  How much time a wine is aged in barrels or bottles
  • These wine laws became effective in 1963 in Italy

The difference between the DOC and DOCG is that the G in DOCG indicates that a wine is stylistically guaranteed to meet the standards set forth in Italian wine laws for specific regions.

DOCG Label

DOCG Label

Currently there are 35 DOCG wines in Italy, 7 from the Tuscany region and 9 from the Piedmont region.  There are over 300 DOC wines from Italy and many more wines that are designated IGT which just means they do not adhere to the standards set forth for a given region in which they are grown.  There are many great examples of all of these wines and you typically pay for the guarantee.  There are great IGT wines that do not adhere to the wine laws in the region or area in which they are grown, you just have to know what you are buying, but hey that’s why you keep me around.  

Arrivederci for now wine friends, enjoy these great wine selections especially priced at Liquid Planet, in the heart of Downtown Missoula.

The wines reviewed today all receive the WineGuyMike™ Seal of Approval™

The wine selections from today’s show are available today, all especially priced at Liquid Planet, in the heart of Downtown Missoula, Missoula’s ultimate wine shopping experience and the very best of beverage.

From my table to yours,

"from my table to yours"


Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2008 D.O.C.G.

Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2008 D.O.C.G.

Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2008 D.O.C.G.

Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2008 D.O.C.G.

Perfume of fresh peach, pear and aromatic white flowers. A gentle sparkle brightens the friut and a tingle of sweetness hints of candied fruits.

This wine is perfect as refreshing aperitif or a light finish to a meal.
Saracco has perfected the balance of acid and residual sugar to make an incredibly light and floral sperkling wine

Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2008 D.O.C.G.

Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2008 D.O.C.G.


The Saracco Moscato d’Asti wine is made by fermenting the juice in sealed, pressurized and temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. This method of fermentation keeps the natural effervescence in the wine. The must is held in pressurized tanks for 60 days, then filtered repeatedly to stop fermentation.The tank method allows the naturally sparkling wine to be kept fresh until it is ordered, only then is it bottled to ensure the best possible wine in the glass.Moscato d’ Asti is highly aromatic with notes of fruit and white flowers, Paolo Saracco keeps tight control of the harvest to ensure a perfect acid balance to the natural sweetness of this grape. A slight sparkle is traditional for Moscato d’Asti, it lifts the fruit and guarantees a wine that is light and refreshing.

The land of Moscato

Special lands for the white Moscato, extraordinary in quality and personality, the original growing area for Asti D.O.C.G. was officially delimited as from 1932. An extensive region made up of 53 Municipales in the Alessandria, Asti and Cuneo provinces has almost 10.000 hectares of vineyards dedicated to the white Moscato and is worked on by 6,800 wine growers.
In the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato hills, the vine is king and thrives in orderly, well looked after rows, making the southern Piemonte landscape unmistakable and unique.

Moscato D.O.C.G grape growing area

Moscato D.O.C.G grape growing area


Saracco Moscato Grapes

Saracco Moscato Grapes

Grapes were first cultivated in the hills surrounding Castiglione Tinella in the 1600’s. Throughout history many different grape varieties were planted but Moscato d’ Asti proved to be the perfect grape for this appellation.The vineyards belonging to the Saracco family are in a perfect microclimate for the grape Moscato d’ Asti, the soil is comprised of limestone mixed with sandy veins and the elevation provides just the right temperature and humidity balance. Vineyard management and strict control over the winemaking process all contributes to Paolo Saracco being referred to in the press as the “The Maestro of Moscato”.Just one valley away is the Monferrato ridge where Saracco started planting his Pinot Nero. The soil on this hill changes distinctly from the vineyards surrounding Casiglione Tinella, where Paolo grows his Moscato d’ Asti. It turns out that the site in Monferrato produces a lovely expression of Pinot Nero with just a hint of Piemontese.

Paolo Saracco

Paolo Saracco

Luigi Saracco, the great grandfather of Paolo began growing Moscato grapes in the early 1900’s. With each generation the legacy and commitment to quality continues.Paolo Saracco grew up in the vineyards and even at an early age he had a desire to make a wine with the family name. Upon completion of his Enological studies, Paolo began experimenting not only with new winemaking techniques, but also a more modern vineyard management style. The result has been consistent acclaim from the press, and more importantly his loyal customers.

The original Saracco logo had a portrait of a wolf because Luigi Saracco was known in the village of Castiglione Tinella as il Lupo or, The Wolf. He got the name when he was a young man. He would come home hungry after a hard day of work in the vineyards. If dinner wasn’t ready as soon has he arrived, he would walk around outside the house. He couldn’t stand being inside the house smelling the aromas and not be able to eat and he was too hungry to socialize. When the other villagers saw him pacing around smelling the air, they said “Look, there’s Saracco, the wolf.”

Every Saracco after Luigi has been known as “Lupetto” or son of the wolf.

Paolo decided to change his labels to reflect the delicate quality of his wines, but in his heart, and in his village, he is still known as “Lupetto”.


This is such an enjoyable wine to start a dinner off with friends or as a light dessert after dinner. When I think of Spring I think of something light and refreshing, this wine is it. Give it a try I know you will love it, from my table to yours.