Italian wine glowing reputation is due not only to the fact that it produces and exports more than any other country but that it offers the greatest variety of types, ranging through nearly every colour, flavour and style imaginable.
Italian producers have moved rapidly to the forefront of world Enology, improving techniques to create wines of undeniable class in every Prosecco sparkling wine region, North, Central and South. Their wines derive not only from native vines, which represent an enormous array, but also from a complete range of International varieties.
Italian Wine Guide
Ah, Italy - what a beautiful, hedonistic, disorganised, frustrating country! Italy can provide wine lovers with so many distinctive, unique flavours and styles, bottles full of Italian verve and creativity. It also sluices forth rivers of disgracefully thin, characterless stuff to be sold under its most commercially useful names: Pinot Grigio, Soave, Valpolicella, Lambrusco, Frascati and the like.
Although the key to understanding Italy is to understand that it is a group of regions rather than a single homogeneous country, from the heady, often sweet, ferments of the deep south to the delicate sub-alpine essences of the north, it is possible to generalise about Italian wine styles to a certain extent. Reds have a certain bitterness that is by no means unpleasant. In fact it is so addictive that I find Italy is the one country I come home from positively determined to continue to drink its wines (rather than, as usual, desperate for a complete change). Italian white wines, once distinguished by their lack of aroma and lack of obvious fruitiness (very un-modern), are now generally very well made, offering an attractive combination of fruit and refreshment.
Making an Italian wine guide that covers the whole of the country in just one web page is almost an impossible task. There is hardly an inch of Italy that couldn't ripen grapes suitable for wine, and consequently there are a myriad of classified regions producing a diverse array of wines, some of which are rarely seen outside of Italy. Consequently, this guide to Italian wine focuses just on the country's most prominent wines. I deal with each Italian wine region in turn, from the expensive and age-worthy wines of Barolo in the north, to the bargain glugging wines of the south. But first, a note on the Italian wine classifications.
Understanding Italian labels
cantina means literally 'cellar' or 'winery'. A Cantina Sociale is a co-operative winery.
Classico, usually the original heartland of a wine zone. Something to head for.
cru is, especially in Piedmont, a specially designated vineyard.
DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, Italy's failed attempt at a system of distinguishing its superior wines fashioned in the image of France's appellation contrôlée. Some argue it was imposed too early and too strictly, others that it was too late and not strictly enough. The truth is probably that the Italians do not willingly submit to regulation. For the consumer, DOC means precious little, for in many DOCs the allowed yields are often far too high to concentrate quality in the resulting wines.
DOCG, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, the super-DOC category introduced for the 1982 vintage and to which some DOCs have since been promoted. DOCG wines are reliably among Italy's better bottles though promotions have sometimes been purely political.
frizzante, lightly sparkling.
IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica, a category of wines created in 1992 as an approximate equivalent of the French Vin de Pays.
liquoroso, strong, usually fortified.
metodo classico or metodo tradizionale, bottle-fermented (sparkling wine).
passito, strong (and usually sweet) wine made from dried grapes.
Riserva generally denotes prolonged ageing under carefully prescribed conditions.
Superiore, usually a little higher in alcohol (0.5 to 1%).
tenuta, wine estate or smallholding.
vendemmia tardiva, late harvest.
Vino da Tavola, Italy's supposedly basic table wine category, designed to be on a par with France's Vin de Table. In the 1980s and 1990s it included a significant proportion of Italy's best wines, which didn't conform to any DOC regulations, especially but by no means exclusively in Tuscany (the so-called Supertuscans). Many such wines are now classified as IGT.
Northwest - most famous for the Piedmont region the Northwest also has the regions of Val d'Aosta, Lombardy, Liguria and Emilia-Romagna to its credit. Piedmont is famous for its Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from the Nebbiolo grape. Its Dolcettos and Barbera, both lighter and less expensive, should not be overlooked either. Emilia-Romagna is familiar to many Americans for its sparkling Lambrusco.
Northeast - within this zone are the three regions: Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which are known collectively as the Tre Venezie. Veneto is Italy's largest producer of D.O.C wines. All three regions are affected by the Alps which shield the zone from the cool, damp European weather. Winemaking here is characterized by modern efficiency relative to other Italian regions. This adherence to quality standards has paid off with a booming export market for the Venezie. Like all of Italy a wide variety of grapes are grown here with many native as well as international varietals. Some of the best known regions within this zone are Soave, Valpolicella, Bardolino and Prosecco.
Central - this winegrowing zone contains six regions: Tuscany, Umbria, Marches, Abruzzo, Latium and Molise. The Sangiovese grape reigns supreme throughout this zone. Tuscany is without a doubt the most well known region within this zone with Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the ubiquitous Chianti. Trebbiano and Orvieto are perhaps the most favored white grapes in this zone. Recently international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well as Pinot Noir have been planted with favorable results.
South - this zone contains the regions of Sicily, Apulia, Sardinia, Calabria, Basillcata and Campania. Both Apulia and Sicily compete for the highest volume producing region in Italy. Most of these grapes are used for non-wine products such as industrial alcohol. Quality has been improving recently as yields are reduced, however. Given the South's previous reputation for poor quality there are many good bargains currently on the market as producers focus on a better product for the Italian wine export market.
Italian Red Wines:
Bold, Full-bodied, and Delicious - From lush, deep red Chiantis to light, fruity Bardolinos, Italy produces some of the world's best red wine. Perfect to add extra luster to Italy's rich cuisine, Italy offers variety, quality, and style.
As we already know, Italy has very diverse wine-growing regions. The cool, mountainous northern region of Piedmont produces crisp, austere wines, whereas the sunny, temperate central region of Tuscany yields bold, lusty, full-bodied sensations. Italian wines have a complexity and earthiness that reflects the soil, the unique Italian grape varietals, and Italian winemaker craft. Over sixty percent of the wine grown in Italy is red wine. Chianti, Amarone, Barolo,B or arbaresco: Italy offers a myriad of tasty choices.
Brunello di Montalcino
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Italian White Wines
Have a character all of their own. Crisp, soft, and highly acidic, they are made to accompany food, not overpower it. Even Italian wines made from grapes popular elsewhere, such as Chardonnay, take on a slightly different, richer character when grown in Italian soil.
Italy's best white wines are grown, primarily, in the three regions called collectively, "Tre Venezie" (literally, three Venices:) Veneto, Trentino Alto-Adige, and Fruili-Venezia Giulia, as well as in Piedmont. The cooler northern climate of these areas adds the crisp flavor to these wines.
These white wines offer variety and unique flavors. The next time you visit your neighborhood wine store, think Italian and try something different. Sample one of these outstanding wines.