Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin) or DOC is the third tier in Italy’s appellation pyramid, above Indicazione geografica tipica (IGT) and below Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or DOCG.

The bureaucratic and legal requirements in order to use the DOC label for a bottle of wine are complex and the law is so strict that failing to meet just one parameter determines the loss of the DOC status. The Italian Ministry of Agriculture maintains a database of vineyards and of each DOC wine status. The DOC was instituted in 1963, and is modeled after France’s AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controllée). It refers to a specific wine production zone. In order to benefit from the DOC word on the label, all the wines made in that area have to be produced following a very detailed set of requirements (according to some, too detailed, hence limiting) such as the precise origin of grapes, alcohol degree, length of time in wood, oenological, chemical as well as organoleptic parameters such as the maximum yield per hectare, the minimum naturally developed alcohol content and more. Therefore, a DOC wine producer is strictly bound by the so call Disciplinari regulations (protocols) approved by a ministerial decree. Further norms are provided in case of production of special kinds of wine such as the so called Passito (dessert wines made from air-dried grapes), Vendemmia Tardiva wines (late harvest wines), Spumante (Method Charmat or Champenoise sparkling wines) and Frizzante (a simply made sparkling wine).

During the vinification process, DOC wines are subject to chemical and organoleptic analysis to be obtained by technical committees controlled by local trade chambers. So DOC wines are certified only if all necessary legal parame- ters are satisfied. As we have seen, though, the committees do not always exert their power logically, or fairly, at times. Within the DOC category it is possible to find wines with a geographic indication of a sub-area such as, for example, ‘Colli Senesi’ wines in Chianti. It is also possible to define an even smaller sub-area such as names of municipalities, hamlets, or the name of specific vines or farms. In theory, such precision should express the maximum quality in a wine, but this may not always be the case for the reasons mentioned above. A DOC label is reserved for wines that have come from an IGT area for five previous years and in which at least 35% of the area’s total producers have made wines in the pre- vious two years representing at least 35% of the total wine volume produced. A government committee, though, can exceptionally create a DOC area on other merits as well.

The DOC ideally tries to remain faithful to the wine style that was historically made in that area, but some complain that it curtails expressive freedom on the winemakers’ part. For example, you cannot name Barolo a Nebbiolo wine made in the Barolo area if you decide to add even 1% Merlot, since Barolo has to be by law a 100% Nebbiolo wine. If one chooses to do otherwise, the name must be different. Likewise, the precise geographical delimitation of the DOC area allowed to make DOC wines can be very trying for some producers, who may be unlucky enough to own vines just outside the official production area for that wine. In other words, if you own vines immediately outside the area, even if by only a few feet, that wine cannot be labeled as a DOC wine. The first DOCs date back to 1966, and the first Italian wine to have had the honour of being named DOC was not Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino, but Vernaccia di San Gimignano (now a DOCG).