Italian Wine Classifications and the Pinot Grigio Misconception

denominations, wine -

Italian Wine Classifications and the Pinot Grigio Misconception

Italian Wine Classifications, id est the little part of the label that says DOC, DOCG, IGT or VdT, is not as hard to interpret as it may appear at a first glance... what might prove harder to grasp is the actual denominations, since Italian wines are not always named after the grape they're made from. 

We'll get back to that.

What's really important about the classification system is that, if you know how to read the label properly, it can be a very important clue as to the quality of what's inside that bottle. This is very much the case with Pinot Grigio, Italian clone of Pinot Gris and one of the most misunderstood Italian wines on the export market. 

The vast majority of the Pinot Grigio you can find in New Zealand and in many other countries is classified as "IGT Veneto" or "IGT delle Venezie". This means they're made in the Veneto Region or in the three north-eastern regions, which together are known as the Tre Venezie or Triveneto (the "Three Venices"), outside of the DOC or DOCG areas. DOC and DOCG are the highest tiers of the classifications system; they basically mean that a wine of a certain area has very strict production regulations that must be implemented in order to guarantee quality.

These regions, Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, are often named together because they share a common history and a similar culture. Most of their territory was within the Most Serene Republic of Venice for many centuries, local variants of the Venetian language are spoken, and they were not part of Italy when it was first created, but were annexed later. Alto Adige is a partly german-speaking region which was disputed between Italy and Austria and later combined with Trentino. Venezia Giulia is a vast area which goes from Trieste to Fiume including Istria and the Quarnaro Islands, the largest portion of which became part of Croatia after World War II; the remaining Italian province was then joined with Friuli. 

All of these fascinating frontier area, which was also theatre of the Italian front during the Great War, has in common the making of exceptional wines. Besides hundreds of very well known Venetian reds (Valpolicella's, Bardolino, Raboso, Conegliano, Montello to name a few), whites (Soave, Lugana, Custoza), sparkling (Prosecco) and sweet (Recioto, Fior d'Arancio), Alto Adige is especially renowned for buttery, full-bodied and aromatic whites and Friuli makes some of the best dry whites in the country, famous for their mineral character, not to mention a wonderful Pinot Nero

Pinot Grigio is certainly grown very extensively in many zones within this area, but with very different results. Since we are originally from Veneto, we can safely tell you we've never had a glass of Pinot Grigio "Delle Venezie" in a single bar or restaurant of our region. Whenever we've wanted to purchase a few boxes of this wine, we inevitably drove to Friuli or sometimes to Alto Adige, where the good stuff is. Very few producers of Pinot Grigio "Delle Venezie" sell this wine on the local market, simply because it would not be well received. Because it's not that good. It's mostly destined to the export, where it can make the happiness of careless importers and price-oriented markets. You probably have tried it before: aromatic and immediate on the nose, extremely light and with a crisp and very forward acidity, it vanishes completely after just a few moments on your palate. And even though it may resemble some new world's Pinot Gris in regard to style, it's just not a good wine.

What you want to look for is either one of the many great DOC Pinot Grigio from Friuli like Carso, Collio or our favourite, Isonzo, if you like cleanness and minerality; or a DOC Alto Adige if you like something a bit riper and fuller. But make sure you double check the label because, to make things more complicated, in the future the IGT delle Venezie will also become a DOC classification! A good Pinot Grigio will always tell you its provenance: if it's Delle Venezie, you can leave it where it is without regret. If it says Alto Adige or Friuli, pick up a bottle and enjoy a taste of true Italian Pinot Grigio!