The Important Thing You Don’t Know About Italian Wine Labels

The last time you enjoyed a bottle of Italian wine was it organic, or produced by natural methods? Biodynamic? Perhaps you don’t know or don’t care. Does making wine without chemicals really make a difference?

Organic agriculture is a hot topic these days owing to growing consumer concern about where their food comes from, how it’s processed, and what’s in the end product. And these concerns are very much spilling into the world of wine today.

This month, the Italian Food, Wine, Travel (#ItalianFWT) talks about this topic. We’re a group of influential wine, food, and travel writers with a passion for Italy. We get together the first Saturday monthly to compare notes on a particular topic. Gwen, our host this month, lists definitions of what various terms mean related to natural wine production here.

Today A Concern Yet Around For Years

Many people growing grapes and producing wine come from families who’ve done so without chemical use for centuries. Way back when, no certifying agency existed, people just farmed utilizing processes passed down and with substances found in nature. When chemicals hit the scene, some said no way, others became users. And when certifying bodies popped up the same; some questioned why it was necessary while others got certified. An obstacle that remains a challenge is the cost of becoming certified whether organic, biodynamic, or other.

How does this affect us today? If ten bottles of Italian wine were lined up chances are at least one, if not two would be organic, biodynamic, sustainable, etc., but would not indicate so on the label. Herein lies the challenge for consumers- how do you know what you are getting? I’m sorry to share this but the only way to really know is by researching the producer! That’s what I did with umpteen photos of Italian wines. It didn’t take long to find five; I kept going for fun.

Italy, Spain and France lead the way when it comes to organic agriculture and viticulture.

According to Monty Waldin (biodynamic, natural, and organic wine expert, author, wine judge, educator, and co-creator of the Italian Wine Podcast)  “…in 2016 over 11% of the Italian vineyard was certified organic or Biodynamic and another 4% was in conversion (making 17% overall). The leading Italian regions for organic wine-growing were Sicily (Sicilia), Calabria, and Tuscany (Toscana).”

I recently heard that figure is now more like 24% but could not confirm.

What I Found Out

Here are some of the Italian wines I researched to ascertain what is behind the label. I’ll start with an example that shows it is indeed organic.

~ Torre dei Beati Giochiaremo con Fiori, Abruzzo AOC Pecorino ~

Fausto Albanese released his first organic wines in 2000. This label above is one of his two Pecorino loaded with pear, white flowers, and rounded with honeyed herby notes but vibrant at the same time. Juicy acidity, a nervous minerality, a balanced beauty of a wine.

Next are wineries you would have to research to know they are organic, biodynamic, etc.

~ Azienda Agricola COS Pithos Rosso ~

Vittoria Italy Sicily wine

Azienda Agricola COS has about 35 hectares of vineyards farmed sustainably.

This winery is in southeastern Sicily in the Vittoria DOC. They are organic using biodynamic principles yet their label does not indicate such. Nancy from Pull That Cork visited COS and has an informative article about the operation. The label does not indicate organic and utilizing biodynamic principles. But what they’re doing is very cool, I encourage you to visit their website!

This red blend contains Nero d’Avola and Frappato. It’s fermented in amphora and contains minimal sulfites. Full of black fruits, violets, prunes, and a savory, earthy side that makes me want to walk in a forest at sunset.

~ Ca’Lustra Zanovello Marzemino Passito ~

Located south of Padua in the Veneto, and organic since 2008, the area they reside (Euganean Hills) is a volcanic Bio-District and UNESCO MaB candidate. This bottle did not indicate organic. It’s 100% Marzemino, a grape indigenous to Italy. Deeply colored, aromas of plum, cassis, and violet with herby undertones, it’s a beautiful, not too sweet wine. Sip it after a meal but caution! It might result in a dreamy state of mind!  Ca’Lustra website.

~ Denis Montanar, Borc Dodon Rosé di Refusco ~

Denis Montanar wine france

Located in Friuli Venezia Giulia, cultivation is via biological management since 1996 for vineyards and 2000 for arable land. The land has been farmed in his family for four generations. Montanar is part of the Triple “A”.  The label did not indicate the wine is organic. However if one knows about Triple “A”, you would know it’s a sustainably wine.

100% Refusco, an indigenous Italian grape. Pink, dry, crisp, and fruity, an anytime joy to drink.

Italian Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Investigate Sustainable Viticulture and Wines

There are many reasons a winery might choose to farm sustainably. And there are reasons they choose to label wines as such, or not. As you can see by the above producers, the important think is you don’t always know when the wine you’re drinking is made sustainably, organically, or by some other natural method!

Join our conversation on Twitter at #ItalianFWT today, March 2nd at 5pm ET / 17:00 in Italy and France. And if you miss it, please enjoy the depth of information in the articles this month!

Host Gwendolyn Alley the Wine Predator: “Organic Orange Procanico paired with a Pasta Bar”

Jill Barth of L’Occasion:  “Gravner: ‘Nature As A Source Of Thought’”

Camilla M. Mann at Culinary Adventures wth Camilla:Dinner in Testosterone Land: Braised Short Ribs + 2016 Nuova Cappelletta Barbera del Monferrato”.

Wendy Klik: “Brasato al Vino Rosso with Montefalco” on A Day in the Life on the Farm.

Lauren Walsh, The Swirling Dervish:The Wines of Alois Lageder: Cultivating Nature as a Habitat of Life.”

Jeff Burrows: “Looking Beyond Biodynamic Certification at Cantina di Filippo” at Food Wine Click!

Nicole Ruiz Hudson is Cooking to the Wine: “Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso with Creamy Eggplant and Tomato Zoodles”.

Jennifer Gentile Martin: “The Organic Wines of Abruzzo with La Valentina on Vino Travels.

Susannah Gold of Avvinare:Chianti without sulfites- the wines of Fattoria Lavacchio”.

Savor the Harvest:The Important Thing You Don’t Know About Italian Wine Labels”.

17 thoughts on “The Important Thing You Don’t Know About Italian Wine Labels

  1. Allison Wallace

    Such great info Lynn! Glad to see more producers moving in that direction and not surprised Italy, Spain and France lead in organic agricultural practices from what we’ve seen in person so far.

  2. Lauren Walsh

    Great breakdown of the various certifications and what they do – or do not – mean. You’ve provided some transparency to an issue that is anything but clear, so a good reference for consumers. And thanks for the tip on Italian Wine Podcast: it’s on my short list!

  3. Nicole Ruiz Hudson

    It really is such a tricky topic. I personally don’t get too hung up on the certifications because it is so hard. At the store I work at the almost all of wines fall somewhere on the sustainable/organic/biodynamic/natural wine spectrum and yet only a fraction of them are certified. As you put it, research is really the only way. Aside, the wine I looked at this month is from the niece of one of the winemakers at COS. 🙂

    1. Lynn Post author

      You’re lucky working at a wine store you get the inside scoop. Sometimes websites don’t share much, thus research results in zero. Cool re COS!

  4. Gwendolyn Alley

    Great explanation! Love your conclusion: “There are many reasons a winery might choose to farm sustainably. And there are reasons they choose to label wines as such, or not. As you can see by the above producers, the important think is you don’t always know when the wine you’re drinking is made sustainably, organically, or by some other natural method!” So true!

  5. Wendy Klik

    Thanks Lynn, I researched and ordered up a bottle that uses the practice but is not certified and then pulled out a bottle I had in my wine fridge and it was certified. I had no idea.

    1. Lynn Post author

      Ha! Yes I read your article Wendy. Unfortunately you don’t always know what you have unless you research. I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion with the #ItalianFWT gang!

  6. Gary Francis

    Nice article and I love the links as well. In the process of trying to grow my knowledge of Italian wine… I feel like I’m just a babe in the woods, but what a great topic to learn about! Salute!

    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks for stopping by Gary. I too am working on Italian wine knowledge. It’s been the most difficult country so far. But it does look like you have your Italian travel down!

    2. Lynn Post author

      Thanks for your comment Gary. Italy is one of the toughest countries to learn, so many autochthonous grapes and regions!


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