Italy has a million grape growers,
hundreds of grape varieties, and an amazing number of wine regions and
styles. Arguably, the country provides greater diversity than any other
wine-producing nation. Native grape varieties are still Italy's
strength, but some notable success has also been achieved with
international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah
Italian wines tend to be best appreciated
with food. This is a nation where regional food and wines are enjoyed
together, a natural evolution that has developed over centuries.
Cultivation of the vine was introduced by both the Greeks and the
Etruscans. The Greeks named Italy 'Oenotria', land of the vine.
Although Italy's wine laws have come in
for some criticism, they broadly follow the French model, with DOCG (Denominazione
Origine Controllata e Garantita) being reserved for a few 'top' wines,
which are subject to strict rules of control. DOC (Denominazione di
Origine Controllata), introduced in 1963, guarantees that the wine has
been produced in the named vineyard area (e.g. Valpolicella DOC).
Methods of production are also specified.
The newest category is IGT (Indicazione Geographica Tipica), which
mirrors the French Vin de Pays. The removal of restrictions has led to
winemakers making the most of blending opportunities and at best, making
truly exciting and innovative wines. Vino da Tavola (table wine)
represents not only the simplest wines, but also super-premium and
expensive wines made from non-indigenous grape varieties, such as
Sassicaia, a pioneering Cabernet produced in Tuscany, which was promoted
to a special sub-zone status in the Bolgheri (DOC) in 1994.
Italy's climate tends to be more
consistent than northern France's but there is quite a variation from
north to south. The best grape varieties, in terms of the quality of the
wines produced, are Nebbiolo (northwest Italy, Piedmont), which reaches
its greatest heights in Barolo and Barberesco, both of which are DOCGs.
In central Italy, the principal grape in Chianti DOCG is Sangiovese,
which in its various clones also appears in Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG)
and VIno Nobile di Montepulciano (DOCG). This trio make up some of
Tuscany's most impressive wines.
Veneto, home to Valpolicella and Soave, is
found in the north. Some of Italy's best white wines are produced in
Trentino and Friuli, in what is often referred to as the varietal
northeast. The south has made great strides in improving its wines, and
evidence of success can be seen in wines such as Salice Salentino (DOC)
Understanding the Label - Italy
- Amarone - dry Passito wine from
- Classico - Wine made from dried
or semi-dried grapes.
- Recioto - sweet passito wine
- Riserva - should be the best
wines, from the better vintages, which are held back or aged for longer
- Superiore - wine with higher
alcohol than usual.