DOP - Denominazione di Origine Protetta: or ‘Protected Denomination of Origin’. This is the top tier of Italian wine classifications. Wines that are assigned the DOP denomination must be produced exclusively in very limited and strictly defined areas.
Their quality and properties are significantly or exclusively determined by their environment, in both natural and human factors. The category is named Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) in French, Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) in Italian and Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) in Spanish. The goal of the new DOP Classifications are to guarantee consumers that the products they buy and serve on their tables are exactly the ones specified on the label, including their regional origin.
The first official Italian system for the classification of wines was released in 1963. Since, several modifications and additions to the legislation have been made. In 2010 the four wine levels / categories were established, which are consistent with the last EU regulation in relation to wine, launched in 2008-2009.
Vini DOP (Wines with Protected Designation of Origin): This category includes two sub-categories, Vini DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and Vini DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin).
DOC wines must have been IGP wines (Protected Geographical Indication) for at least 5 years. Typically they come from smaller regions, within a certain IGP territory, that are particularly planted for their climatic and geological characteristics and for the quality of the local winemaking traditions. They also must follow more strict production regulations than IGP wines.
A DOC wine can be promoted to DOCG if it has been a high quality DOC for at least 10 years. In addition to fulfilling the conditions for DOC wines, before the introduction of a new DOCG wine, they must pass stricter analyses, along with including a tasting by a specifically appointed committee. As of 2014 there currently exists: 332 DOCs and 73 DOCGs - for a total of 405 DOPs.
A number of sub-categories also exist regulating the production of sparkling wines (e.g. Vino Spumante, Vino Spumante di Qualità, Vino Spumante di Qualità di Tipo Aromatico, Vino Frizzante).
Within the DOP Category, 'Classico' is a wine produced historically in the oldest part of the protected territory. 'Superiore' is a wine with at least 0.5 more Alc% than its correspondent regular DOP wine and produced using a smaller approved quantity of grapes per hectare, yielding a higher quality. 'Riserva' is a wine that has been aged for a minimum period of time before release, depending on the typology (red, white, Methode Traditionnelle, Charmat-method sparkling). Sometimes, 'Classico' or 'Superiore' are themselves part of the name of the DOP (e.g. Chianti ‘Classico’ DOCG or Soave ‘Superiore’ DOCG).
Unlike France, Italy has never had an official classification of its best wine 'crus'. Private initiatives like the Comitato Grandi Cru d'Italia (Committee of the Grand Crus of Italy) and the Instituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità-Grandi Marchi (Institute of Quality Italian Wine - Great Brands) each gather a selection of renowned top Italian wine producers, in an attempt to unofficially represent the excellence of Italian wine.