Italy is a land of vines -- after all, the Greeks did indeed call it “Enotria” (the land of wine) -- so it’s not surprising that Italians have so many terms for their vineyards. Part of the key to solving the puzzle that can be Italian wine labels is learning how Italian vineyards get their names.
It seems as though each Italian vineyard has been analyzed and cataloged, yielding a slew of terms that help to distinguish the best Italian vineyards from all the rest. Some of these names are so similar to other commonly used words that it might be confusing (but we’re going to fix that), while others seem rooted in a specific region’s dialect. Don’t worry, we’ll have all the Italian vineyard designations sorted out in due time. Let’s begin with the following list of Italian vineyard designations.
Vigna is the Italian term for “vine.” Vigne is the plural. Vigna or vigne is often used as a casual way to refer to a vineyard, or part of a vineyard. Sometime you might see Le Vigne del XXXX as a reference on a wine label, referring to the vines of XXXX as the source of the grapes used for said wine, though this is not an officially recognized term.
Vigneto is the standard Italian term for “vineyard.” It refers to a specific parcel of land used to cultivate grapes, usually for the production of wine. It is often found on the label of an Italian wine, followed by the name of the vineyard.
Vigneti is the plural form of vigneto. It is rare to find this term used on an Italian wine label, and when you do it generally refers to a winery, which is named, as in this case, the vineyards of Massa.
Vitigno refers to a specific variety of vine. It’s a hard phrase to translate into English. It roughly translates into “variety," but is used exclusively with grape vines. In common usage it can be translated as “varietal," although when used correctly in English, varietal is an adjective used to describe a wine made from a specific grape variety.
Bricco or Bric
Bricco, or bric, is one of the most common terms found on Italian wine label, primarily on Piedmontese wines. The terms are somewhat interchangeable and generally refer to the top of a hill. For various reasons this may not equate with the warmest pockets on a hillside, but they certainly benefit from great sun exposure.
The bricco were historically identified as the piece of a hill where the snow first melted away. I have heard that bricco is also an Old Italian term for “kettle” or “cast iron cauldron,” which would lend credence to the idea that is denotes a warm spot.
Ronco also means hilltop or hillside vineyard, and is used in Friuli. In Trentino, the term ranga has the same meaning.
Sori, on the other hand, refers to the top of a hill. It’s not a common word but is quite famous since the Piedmontese producer Gaja features it prominently on his labels. In fact, the wines that Gaja once labeled as Barbaresco are now named after their respective sori.
Unlike sori, bricco, and ronco, conca means a depression or shallow in a hillside, and generally refers to an area that captures the warmth of the day and is shielded from winds.
Poggio is a very common word, primarily found on Tuscan wines. In common parlance it has come to mean hillside, and literally means “hill.” But, as is frequently the case, there may very well be more to the story. Appoggiare in Italian means "to support"; many top hillside vineyards in Tuscany are planted on terraced vineyards. Large terraces are called poggione. So, it may very well be that a poggio was a terraced vineyard, and not just any old hill, though that is how it is commonly used.
In Trentino, maso are self-contained homesteads. A maso or mas will include a home and farm outbuildings, as well as the surrounding lands that are used to support the farm. In Piedmont, the term cascina has approximately the same meaning.
Tenuta is a common word in Italy and is used to signify a particular land holding. Tenuto in Italian is literally translated as “held." It’s an older term and refers to the lands held by nobility.
Similar in use to the term tentuta, but with an added level of power. In contrast to the rather static implication of “holding” land, the word podere shares its root with the Italian words for “power” and “ability." The implication is that while you may have enjoyed the benefits of a tenuta, with a podere you had additional rights. In any event, both are rather neutral terms today, and used most frequently in Tuscany.
A sodi is a piece of land that was historically very difficult to work. It's valued today because, as we have learned, poor soil is ideal for producing premium quality wines. Back in the day, these parcels were tended as penance or punishment!
Literally, località means “locality” in Italian, though in wine labeling usage it translates more closely to "surroundings." This common usage harkens back to the days when plots of land were associated with individuals and family groups that lived in borghettos and other small settlements. The usage of località referred to the lands that surrounded and supported those settlements.
To view the photos for this article, go to Italian Vineyard Terms Explained.