Italian wine labels, just like those from France and Spain, are required by law to show an established set of basic information (producer name, appellation, vintage, alcohol content and bottle volume). Italy began developing its official wine classifications in the 1960s, modeled on the French appellation system. The DOC and DOCG categories were introduced in 1963 (although the latter remain unused until 1982), and the IGT category followed in the early 1990's.

Currently there are 329 DOC’s, 74 DOCG’s and 119 IGT’s in Italy. 

The most concise way to show the differences between these classifications are shown below.

DOCG

Is the highest classification for Italian wines. It denotes controlled (controllata) production methods and guaranteed (garantita) wine quality. There are strict rules governing the production of DOCG wines, most obviously the permitted grape varieties, yield limits, grape ripeness, winemaking procedures and barrel/bottle maturation. Every DOCG wine is subject to official tasting procedures. To prevent counterfeiting, the bottles have a numbered government seal across the neck.

DOC

Is the main tier of Italian wine classification, and covers almost every traditional Italian wine style. There are around 330 individual DOC titles, each with a set of laws governing its viticultural zone, permitted grape varieties and wine style. Those which show consistently high quality earn promotion to DOCG status.

IGT

Was introduced in 1992, to allow a certain level of freedom to Italy's winemakers. Prior to 1992, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status – not because they were of low quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties or wine styles. 

VdT

Means 'table wine' in Italian, and represents the most basic level of Italian wine. The Vino da Tavola category held a certain prestige in the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to experimental winemakers who produced top-quality (but unorthodox) wines under the title. This situation has gradually diminished, however, since the introduction of the IGT category with its more flexible production conditions, and Vino da Tavola has steadily returned to its original status as the lowest rung on Italy's wine quality ladder.

Super Tuscans

This useful but unofficial term emerged in the 1970s, to describe a particular set of high-quality Tuscan wines which were precluded from claiming DOC or DOCG status because they broke traditional Italian winemaking norms (foreign grape varieties were used, and the wines were often matured in small, new oak barrels). Several of these wines earned global recognition and astronomical price tags - hence 'Super Tuscan'. Originally these wines had to be labeled as Vino da Tavola because they contravened the stringent, tradition-focused DOC laws. This situation ultimately led to the creation of the IGT category, with its relatively relaxed production rules.

Nebbiolo - A Snapshot

Langhe Nebbiolo: Usually a declassification of Barolo & Barbaresco wines but can be made all throughout Piemonte, usually younger vines that delivers a fresh, approachable expression of Nebbiolo. Must contain at least 85% Nebbiolo grapes

Nebbiolo d’Alba:  Is made from vines situated outside the Langhe growing areas, must contain 100% Nebbiolo grapes and be aged for a minimum of 12 months. Nebbiolo d’Alba is all about balance and enjoyment. Displaying floral and delicate red fruit sensations alongside integrated tannins and fresh acidity.

Barbaresco:  A lighter, more approachable style of Nebbiolo with less tannin on the mid palate. There is a different climate and soil composition than that of Barolo. Barbaresco must also be aged for a minimum of 2 years and 4 years for the Riserva.

Barolo:  Has a bold mouth feel with rigid tannin and  slightly higher alcohol content. Generally divided into 2 different soil types; limestone based soil in La Morra & Barolo and standstone based soil in Serralunga & Monforte d’Alba. Barolo must be aged for a minimum of 3 years and 5 years for the Riserva.

Chianti - A Snapshot

Chianti:
Aged for 6 months. Young simple tart Chianti.
Superiore:
Aged for 1 year. Slightly bolder wines with smoother acidity.
Riserva:
Aged for 2 years. Usually the top wines of a Chianti producer.
Gran Selezione:
Aged for at least 2.5 years (only used in Chianti Classico). Top wines from Chianti Classico.

Chianti Sub-Zones

Colli Senesi Aged for 6 months
Colline Pisane Aged for 6 months
Colli Aretini Aged for 6 months
Montalbano Aged for 6 months
Montespertoli Aged for 9 months 9 (min.)
Classico Aged for 1 year (min.)
Rufina Aged for 1 year (min.)
Colli Fiorentini Aged for 1 year (min.)

GLOSSARY

 Annata Year of Vintage
Azienda Agricola Estate producing wine from its own grapes
Barrique Small Barrel, usually of new French Oak
Bianco White
Botte  Cask
Brut Dry when referring to sparkling wine
Cascina Farm or Estate, usually in Northern Italy
Charmat Method whereby wine is made sparkling by re-fermenting in sealed, pressure resistant vats
Dolce Sweet
Fattoria Farm or Estate
Frzzante Lightly bubbly, petillant, but not fully sparkling
Liquoroso High alcohol, fortified wine
Metodo Classico Term for sparkling wine made by the classic Champagne Method with a re-fermentation in bottle
Passito Partially dried grapes and the wines - usually sweet, sometimes strong - made from them
Podere Small farm or Estate
Rosato Rose wine
Rosso Red
Rubino Ruby colour
Secco Dry (but medium-dry when referring to sparkling wine)
Spumante Sparkling wine, whether bone dry or fully sweet
Tenuta  Farm or Estate
Vendemmia The Grape Harvest (vintage)
Vigna, Vigneto Vineyard