Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Reclassifying Italian Wine -- and a triple from Acinum

Just when I think I had this whole Italian wine naming convention down pat, I come to learn that those folks have gone and changed the rules on us.

Actually, this happened a few years ago, but the newly named wines are finding their way to our shores now, so we might as well get ourselves good and caught up. So, what’s the story?

As you might remember from this space previously, there are – or more accurately, were -- four basic classifications for Italian wine, based on how and from where the grapes are sourced. The old designations, which you can find on any bottle of Italian wine were:

·         DOC – short for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which means that the wine is made under a certain set of standards for a particular region, like Chianti. There is some flexibility for wine makers working under a “DOC” label. These are generally the standard wines from an area.
·         DOCG – short for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. These wines are made under stricter rules than DOC wines. They are from particular vineyards, have strict aging standards, and tend to be the highest quality wines from a region, like a Chianti Classico.
·         VDT – short for Vino da Tavola, which translates as “table wine” and is…well…exactly that. Generally inexpensive wine made to be drunk young.
·         IGT – short for Indicazione Geografica Tipica. This designation, technically a subcategory of vino da tavola, was created for wines that don’t fall under the general classification system, but are considered of high quality. “Super Tuscan” wines fall into this category.

When I received a set of Italian samples recently, a couple of the bottles were labeled “DOP” – which reminds me of some sort of hair product. A little research led to the discovery that in 2011, the Italian wine industry had changed these designations. The new ones are:

·         VDT – again, table wine, but the primary grape varietal must be listed on the label.
·         IGP – short for Indicazione Geografica Protetta, and is identical in standards to the old “IGT” designation. IGP is now a separate category from VDT. An IGP wine must pass certain standards for aging and quality -- which differentiate it from VDT.
·         DOC and DOCG wines are now both subcategories of DOP. DOP, or Denominazione d'Origine Protetta, is more often now applied to foodstuffs like tomatoes. DOP is basically a guarantee that, yes, an item is actually produced in a particular area of Italy. DOP and DOC are now used somewhat interchangeably, while DOCG is still the mark of highest quality. All DOP wines must now include a vintage, with the exception of sparkling wines.

Or, if you'd prefer a more visual version (click to embiggen):

Many thanks to Italia Wijn!

The DOP and IGP classifications are also used for other Italian foodstuffs like tomatoes, cheese, meats, etc. In those cases, the designation indicates that the items were actually produced in particular regions, using particular standards of quality. IGP is considered less stringent than DOP. Look at a can of real Italian tomatoes next time you’re at the grocery store and you can see what I mean.

The aforementioned samples,from Maggie at Colangelo, are from Acinum wines – a new producer from the Veneto region. “Acinum” is Latin for “Grape,” and these wines are intended to provide relatively low-cost, high quality Italian juice.
Acinum (NV) Prosecco Extra Dry DOP – Quite a nice Prosecco. Very pleasant flavors. Straightforwardly crisp flavor of lemon at first sip, with a lively carbonation. The flavors settle into a lemon crème and pear palate which smooths nicely into little acidic tingles at the back end. Just a very pleasant sparkler. My sister was visiting the Sweet Partner in Crime and I when we opened this over brunch. We had it with an arugula salad with roasted butternut squash & white sweet potatoes, toasted walnuts, and pomegranate seeds in a citrus and sesame oil dressing. Made easy what would have been a somewhat difficult pairing. Also makes great mimosas! $11.

Acinum 2014 Soave Classico DOP –The Acinum Soave isn’t the lean, acid-driven sipper that many of its Italian compatriots are. A much fuller-bodied white than your Pinot Grigio or Vernacchia, the Soave is a richer, creamier experience. The nose is quite floral, a bit of a “Viognier-lite” in character. The first tastes are quite fruity, but the body is quite silky and elegant, full of honey and pears. The finish does turn slightly acidic, but in a very pleasant manner that makes it quite food friendly. While suggested as an aperitif or with fish, we had this with a braised chicken with fennel and white sweet potatoes (can you guess what we got in the farmshare this week?) and it more than held its own. $11.

Acinum 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG – Amarone is one of the biggest, most expensive Italian wines. Made from raisinated grapes, these wines generally pack quite a punch. This one is dense and full without being heavy. I got leather, plum, and a little raisin on the fragrant nose. Big concentrated dark fruit flavors were followed by a shot of smoke on the palate. Lots of structure with a great balance between fruit and tannin. Certainly a muscular wine, but no one flavor takes over too much. The finish goes on and on with blackberry and smoky tannin. I could easily get remnants of flavor after well over a minute. Strong and elegant. Well done. The pricetag on this one stunned me. Retail on this one is $55, which seems high – but many Amarone will run you that for a half-bottle. Snag for a special occasion.

If you’re a little confused by the shifts in designations, don’t worry. A little extra research turned up the fact that while winemakers must register with the government under the new naming conventions, their labeling can remain basically the same. So, for the most part, don’t worry about IGT/DOC/DOCG going away or referring to new things anytime soon. Keep calm and drink on.

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