Skip to main content

This is what ‘DOC’ and ‘DOCG’ mean on your wine labels

Do you know which is the best?

Wine bottles
Javier Balseiro/Unsplash / Unsplash

Italian wine is truly a thing of beauty. The whole of Italian culture is beautiful, to be sure, but it just isn’t a truly picturesque Italian fantasy without a gorgeous bottle of wine in the picture. There’s something so romantic, so luscious, so sexy, and rich about a perfect Italian wine, and it’s one of our very favorite indulgences. Unfortunately, the nuances of Italian wine are also incredibly complex, and understanding how these bottles are ranked and classified is a whole other – perhaps less sexy – artistic experience.

When perusing the aisles of your local wine store, you may see a few familiar Italian names peppering the shelves. Words like Sangiovese, Chianti, and Moscato d’Asti are all warm in their familiarity, filling us with images of the Italian countryside and romantic gondola rides. But then there are words that may fill you with confusion, letters like “DOCG” or “IGT” marked on the label, making your head spin with all of the possible hidden meanings behind such mysterious acronyms.

If you’re new to the art of Italian wine, or if you’ve been around for a while and have always wondered about these little letters, we’re here to explain these mysterious terms. Because while Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, Geografica Tipica, and Vino da Tavola may simply sound like sexy words, they actually represent the quality and ranking of the wine you’re about to buy. So the next time you find yourself confused in that aisle full of gorgeous, foreign wine bottles, let this guide be your roadmap to buying the best bottle you can find.

Gris and Grigio


Translated from Italian, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) means “controlled and guaranteed designation of origin” and is the highest classification of Italian wine, similar in status to that of “grand cru” in French wines. There are currently 77 designated DOCG wines in Italy that have passed the intense and vigorous requirements and regulations covering everything from grape type, harvest yields, aging requirements, specified region, alcohol content, and yield. To be awarded a DOCG classification, each wine must pass a strict technical analysis and government taste test. These special wines are so coveted that their bottles even contain a numbered government seal across the neck so as to prevent counterfeiting.

DOCG wines are held to the absolute highest Italian standards when it comes to winemaking and are therefore seen as the “best of the best.” Tuscany produces many famous and recognized DOCG wines, such as Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Piedmont also boasts many famous DOCG wines, including Moscato d’Asti, Barolo, and Barbaresco.

Red wine pouring into a glass


More common (and affordable) than DOCG wines, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines are considered second only to DOC. Still held to incredibly high standards, DOC wines are tested and classified based on growing practices, grape variety, alcohol levels, geographical location, and many other factors. Though not held to the same level of quality as DOCG wines, the roughly 330 DOC wines are still wildly impressive and beautiful.

Unlike DOCG wines, DOCs can be made from larger areas of designated growing land and can, therefore, be comprised of different types of grape blends than DOCG, giving the winemakers more room for creativity.

Red wine glass in vineyard

IGT and VdT wines

Trailing behind the DOCG and DOC classifications are Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) and Vino da Tavola (VdT), meaning “typical geographical indication” and “table wine,” respectively.

The regulations for these wines are far more lenient and allow for greater flexibility in winemaking. These wines are not guaranteed to be up to the same quality level as DOCG and DOG, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be exquisite.


IGT wines are considered the third tier of rank in Italian wines. While they are produced within a designated specific geographical and must meet certain standards, they are not required to meet the strict regulations as those wines with a DOC or DOCG ranking.


Vino da Tavola (VdT) wine literally translates to “table wine,” which is essentially a polite way of saying that it is the lowest ranking. To think that all VdT wines are of bad quality, however, would be a mistake. There are plenty of absolutely magnificent VdT wines on the market. In fact, the lack of such strict rules and regulations allows for more possible delicious blending and winemaker creativity. While this, to be sure, can mean some cheaper tasting bottles, it can also mean new methods, a beautiful blending of foreign grapes, and the fusion of winemaking styles, which is often tremendously exciting.

Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul’s competing recipes for National Michelada Day
Smokey, fruity, or spicy - there's a Michelada recipe for every taste
national michelada day modelo x dos hombres hero image 1

Today, July 12, is National Michelada Day, so that's the ideal excuse to kick back with this classic Mexican beer cocktail. Beer cocktails aren't the easiest thing to create as beer has such a low alcohol percentage and high amount of water compared to spirits -- but when you get it right, there are few things more refreshing. As the beloved combination of Mexican lager, lime, and tomato juice proves, there's a great way to mix almost any ingredient.

Another fun aspect of the Michelada is its flexibility. You can use clamato juice in place of the tomato juice, pour in an extra shot of spirit, and add whatever combination of hot sauces or umami sauces that your heart desires. As the drink is traditionally served in a glass with a salt rim, you can also add bonus flavors here like making a chili salt or using salt and pepper. And of course you can garnish with anything from fruit to pickles.

Read more
What is a gruit, and where can you find one?
Gruit, the beer made without hops that you need to try
Beer snifter chalice glass

Most beers you know and love today have four primary ingredients: water, barley, hops, and yeast. That’s largely due to the centuries-old German beer purity law, or reinheitsgebot, which demanded that beer be made exclusively using these ingredients and set the standard for today’s brews. 
But beer is an ancient beverage — historians believe its story stretches back to 5th millennium BC in Iran and went on to be enjoyed by the likes of Egyptian pharaohs and the Greek philosophers. However, if Socrates or Tutankhamun ever enjoyed a pint in their days, the beer was likely missing one of those four critical ingredients: the hop.
In today’s hop-hungry climate of India pale ales (and hazy IPAs, New England IPAs, as well as milkshake IPAs, and others), it seems impossible that beer could exist without hops. The fact is that many other natural ingredients can serve as substitutes for the bittering, aromatic, and flavoring characteristics of hops. Today, if a beer relies on other herbs to fill the "hops" role, the beverage is classified as a gruit.

Gruit is the German word for herb. Instead of depending on hops, these brews use exotic additives like bog myrtle, horehound, elderflowers, and yarrow to offset the sweetness of the malts and create a more complex beverage.
Thanks to the creativity of modern breweries, you don’t have to travel back to the Middle Ages to find a gruit (though if you can, please let us in on your time travel technology). You can try them right now, but you will have to do some detective work.
“Authentic” gruits can be tough to find in the mainstream marketplace. That’s because some laws require hops to be present for a product to be sold as beer. Not having the “beer” title would limit distribution and sales channels for some breweries.  To illustrate how rare gruits are in the current marketplace, there are currently 32,576 American IPAs listed on the Beer Advocate database and only 380 gruits.
But don’t despair — this list will help you get started on the path toward discovering modern versions of the ancient ale. Start your gruit journey here:

Read more
A quick guide to French wine crus
We'll help you understand French wine labels
Person grabbing a wine bottle

A French wine label can seem, well, foreign. As a whole, they tend to be peppered with traits and terminology that are not immediately familiar, sometimes cloaking the contents of the bottle to those who don’t speak the language or understand the hierarchies.
One word you’re likely to encounter a lot — whether you’re hunting for a fine Burgundy, a good sauternes, or a celebratory Champagne — is "cru." Meaning "growth," the word is a viticultural one, pointing to the vineyard where the fruit is grown. Over the years in France, vineyards have been rated based on their ability to create wine. It’s subjective and, like a lot of things in wine, probably due for some reform, but it’s worth understanding if you’re looking to better know what you’re drinking.
Like water rights or celebrity, the cru system is certainly antiquated, based largely on family names and maps or lists drawn up a long time ago. To France’s credit, growers are finally waking up to the many moving parts at play, adjusting dusty old blending rules and considering different cru designations based on an abruptly changing climate. But there’s far more work to do here. With the imbibing masses increasingly focused on transparency over critical acclaim and prestige, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.
In the meantime, here are some basics to get you in and out of the bottle shop a little more confidently, whether it’s an online find or a brick-and-mortar pickup. In addition to being something of a rating hierarchy, the cru system stresses terroir. Bottles designated a certain way should, in theory, demonstrate some type of typicity associated with a specific place. Again, it’s often more subjective than scientific, but there are certainly styles and flavors attached to certain French vineyards (and beyond).
Generally, if you see cru on the label, it’s pretty good stuff. The two most esteemed wine crus are Premiere and Grand. How the two terms are used is a little confusing. In Bordeaux, Premier (or premier grand cru classé) is the best of the best, the topmost of five formal designations (refresh your French vocabulary by looking up how to count from one to five). Unlike Burgundy, where the focus is on the site, the cru designation here is more focused on the production facility itself, or the chateau. 
Elsewhere, as in Sauternes or Burgundy, Grand wears the gold medal while Premiere refers to the silver medal bearer. Burgundy classifies all of its vineyards this way, with lesser-revered sites and labels sporting the “Villages” (bronze medal) and “Bourgogne” markers (honorary mention). Many other regions in France and beyond work under very similar labeling guidelines. Famous spots like Alsace and Champagne place their work on similar podiums.

What to look for

Read more