For thousands of years, the Italians have always been a highly creative and progressive people. However, when it comes to weaving through the maze of Italian wine labels, their wine label creativity can frequently be a hindrance as opposed to a help.
There are two parts to any Italian wine label that consumers should pay particular attention to. These include the producer or winery name and the geographic origin of the wine. These two indicators alone should make the buying experience less of a crapshoot once you take the time to learn a little about your favorite Italian wines.
By law, every Italian wine label must show the producer or winery name. This can be the name of the winery owner or the name of the winery itself. It can be in small letters on the back of the label or in large, bold letters on the front of the label. Either way, it will be found somewhere on the label. Learn the names of your favorite producers and it's usually a safe bet that any wine they produce, regardless of type, will be well within your drinking wheelhouse. Over time you will notice that the best producers won't bottle wine that is not worth your drinking pleasure or your purchasing dollar. That is why following vintages too rigidly can be a mistake. Great winemakers make good wines even from vintages that are considered bad.
The Italian wine label will also always include a geographic origin of production. This is where it can get a little tricky. You will see one of four indicators on the Italian wine label, which in decreasing order of "importance" will tell you something qualitatively about the wine: DOCG, DOC, IGT, or Vino Da Tavola. These indicators will be followed on the label by a geographic location that can represent as large an area as an entire region itself or as small an area as a tiny vineyard. In theory, an indication of DOCG, connotes an Italian wine of the highest possible quality, followed by DOC of slightly lesser quality than DOCG. Then an IGT designation is offered of even lesser quality than DOC. Finally, a wine labeled Vino Da Tavola, which of course is supposed to indicate a very basic wine, usually even non vintage. Unfortunately, when it comes to Italian wine labels, these legal terms indicate very little about the actual quality of wine in the bottle. That is why I recommend learning the best producers' names as opposed to trying to learn and follow the ever increasing number of qualitative indicators. Many of Italy's finest wines are labeled as mere IGT.
Learning the very basic Italian wine label rules makes sense but following one rule in particular is paramount: always follow the producer.