Why - and what happens if - a wine loses its DOC
It happens sometimes that a wine that has had a DOC label for many years suddenly loses its appellation. Here I explain the bureaucratic mysteries of Italian DOCs, and why producers must re-classify their wines in order to be able to sell them.
Let’s start from the beginning: Italian DOCs are collective trademarks used to classify and protect quality wines that are produced in defined areas of Italy.
Each DOC should comply with regulations approved by Government’s Law, and must fulfill these minimum requirements:
• They identify the specific terroir where grapes are produced,
• Specify the maximum yield’s per hectare,
• Define the allowed winemaking practices (fermentation, refining),
• Describe the wines’ tasting profile (aromas, color, taste).
In order to use the DOC that represents their terroir, wineries must undergo bureaucratic and technical inspections by the control bodies of the Consorzio di Tutela – aka Protection Consortium - related to the DOC.
Simplifying to the maximum - otherwise, I will end up writing a wine legislation’s book - the main controls involve the following areas:
1) In the vineyard: vines’ location, planted varieties, yields per hectare;
2) At the winery: winemaking techniques, minimum aging, chemical-physical analysis, and organoleptic tastings.
After having produced their wines according to the DOC rules, producers should submit a sample of each to the Consortium.
Every sample will first be tested by authorized labs, in order to verify that it matches the analytical data requested by the DOC (min/max alcohol level, dry extract, residual sugar, acidity, sulfites).
Once its analytical correspondence has been verified, the sample will be tasted by a special commission to assess that the wine is "typical", which means it is connected with terroir.
Only if all the controls are positive the wine can legally adopt the DOC. However, this not always happens.
CASE 1: the wine does not overcome lab analysis.
In this case, the winery can do a few things to have the analytical data comply with the DOC’s limits:
- Blend: some DOCs allow producers to blend their wines up to a 15% with different grape varieties without mentioning it on the label;
- Use authorized winemaking techniques.
After processing the wine, the winery can re-submit the batch to the lab and, if the second control is positive and the tasting is ok, he/she can use the DOC.
CASE 2: the wine is OK according to lab controls but does not overcome the tasting.
Also in this second case, the producer can do something:
- Blend, as discussed above;
- Use authorized practices: for example, a bland filtration is often sufficient to solve the “problem" of a cloudy wine;
- Cross his/her fingers and hope the next commission will have less to say (which is what I generally do).
The winery can submit the wine to a second tasting. If the second tasting goes smooth, no problem. Otherwise, the wine is definitely rejected and cannot use the DOC.
What happens next?
There is the possibility of appealing to a special National Commission, but unless you are a Barolo producer who sells his wine for hundreds of euros, you usually want to skip more bureaucracy and take other routes.
One way is to re-classify the wine to IGT: you can obviously do that only if there is an IGT available in your territory and if your wine complies with the requirements of that IGT. This is usually the most common solution, because there are no mandatory tastings for using an IGT. And this is the reason why many wineries just do not plan on making any DOC wines and prefer to stay with their lower rated appellations.
The second way is to give up any appellation (and therefore also the possibility to write the grape variety on the label) and to re-classify the wine to simply WINE - since the definition TABLE WINE can no longer be used in Europe.
Which is what I did with Microcosmo [Perricone] 2015.
The 2015 was a very good vintage for the Perricone.
It was hot, but not insanely hot as in 2017.
Alcohol content is about 13.5%, and the color is inkier-than-ever because high daytime temperatures favored the anthocyanins and tannins extraction.
Plus, an excellent acidity compensates a rounder mouth feeling.
This wine will probably have a much longer life than previous vintages, it is very pleasant right now and it will for sure improve for the next 3-5 years.
But, there always is a but, the tasting commission did not like it. To tell you the truth, they never like it: since when I started to make Perricone, they have always rejected it at first tasting, and always passed it at the second round. But not this time.
After the first bewildering moments, and my evaluation of whether to re-classify it as IGT or not, I decided that Microcosmo 2015 will be, simply a "RED WINE".
It makes no sense for me to unlink my wines from their terroir: MENFI.
Always and proudly will I say and write MENFI when I think about my wines, when I harvest my grapes, when I plunge my hands into the fermenting must. If someone who has not harvested, who has not walked the vineyards during the warmest days and who has not rested for at least a few minutes smelling the ocean breeze decides that my wines are not terroir, that’s the law. But to say that Microcosmo is just a RED WINE makes much more sense than to say that it is a generic "TerreSiciliane" wine, at least it makes sense for me.
And maybe something good has happened, no matter what: I just understood that if Perricone can be grumpy and stubborn sometimes, I am pretty much the same.