Italy is the third most visited country in the world with about 95 million tourists per year. In addition, it is estimated that about 5 million expats live in Italy (about 8% of Italy’s population). History, art and architecture, food and the culture around wine are some of the key reasons for this.
Italy produces nearly 20% of the world’s wine, compared to 15% in Spain and 17% in France, making it the world’s largest single producer, with almost 2 million acres of vineyards! However, in Italy, wine is so much more than just a drink, or a product for exportation; instead, it plays a central role in the society, culture and heritage of the nation.
Recent studies of ancient grape seeds discovered in an archaeological dig, show that Italy has been producing wine for well over 3000 years; which also makes it one of the world’s oldest wine producing nations! The climate, landscape and the diverse range of soils in the country are ideal for growing grapes; and when combined with the long history of winemaking, a cultural passion for quality cuisine and a thriving export market, it’s easy to see what makes Italian wine so special!
The 5 Major Wine Producing Regions In Italy.
Almost all regions of Italy produce wine. The following are the major wine producing regions of Italy:
Piedmont – The Foot Of The Mountain
Piedmont is the land of the mountains. The region borders Switzerland and France and is the second largest region of Italy after Sicily. The capital of Piedmont is Turin. Piedmont produces some of the country’s best red wines, including Barbaresco and Barolo.
The region is extremely varied with the Alps to the north and the Mediterranean to the south and the climate, with frequent fogs, creates the ideal conditions for the cultivation of the Nebbiolo grapes; which produce light red colored wines that are bursting with bold flavors that age well, becoming stronger and richer in time. Other grapes that are grown in the region include Dolcetto and Barbera, both of which produce fantastic, well loved red wines.
Tuscany – Birthplace Of Renaissance.
This is the origin of Italy’s wine growing traditions, dating back to at least the 8th Century BC, and is famous for its Sangiovese grapes, which are usually incorporated in blends with other varieties. One of the region’s top wines is Chianti, which is made using approximately 80% Sangiovese grapes, and the Chianti region covers a large area of the province. The top wine of the region is Brunello di Montalcino which is made from 100% pure Sangiovese grapes and is one of Tuscany’s top exports. The best white wines in Tuscany are made from the Vernaccia grape and are called Vernaccia di San Gimignano. You can enjoy the Tuscan white and red wines in one of the many wine doors of Florence, the most important city in Tuscany.
Veneto – Land Of The Venetians.
This northeastern province is one of the most productive winemaking regions in Italy, which is quite a feat! The most famous wine of the region is the beloved sparkling Prosecco, which is produced in the vineyards north of Venice and is made from the traditional Glera grapes. The cooler northern climate of Veneto creates the ideal conditions for growing grapes that produce crispy white wines, including Soave. In the milder and warmer parts of the province red grapes are grown to produce wines such as Amarone, Bardolino and Valpolicella.
Emilia-Romagna – Home Of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.
This huge region covers most of central Italy and primarily produces Lambrusco, a delicious sparkling red wine which is made from the Lambrusco grape. Incredibly, the Lambrusco grape is claimed to have been first grown by the Etruscans before the Roman Empire, although there is some debate on this matter! The other notable grapes that are grown in the region include Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Barbera.
Sicily – Home To The Valley Of The Temples.
This Mediterranean island has a hot climate and dark, rich volcanic soils and is most well known for its Marsala wines which are usually fortified with brandy and used in a whole range of cooking recipes and sauces. Sicily also produces a sweet wine called Pantelleria, where the grapes are left to ferment in the hot sun! Some of the best drinking wines are grown around the active volcano, Mount Etna, and are made from Frappato, Catarratto and Nerello grapes. The most common Sicilian wine is Nero d’Avola, a full bodied red.
What Are The Major Types Of Wines Produced In Italy?
The following are some of the major wines produced in Italy. It should be noted that Italy also produces French wines in large quantities, particularly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Moscato – This is a sweet and sparkling rose or white wine that has a relatively low alcohol content and is usually paired with an appetizer or a dessert. Made from the Muscat grape, it has a rich orange blossom and peach flavor.
- Chianti – This is an acidic, tart, medium bodied red wine with a hint of cherry flavor and is produced using predominantly Sangiovese grapes in Tuscany. This dry red wine has notes of dried herbs, vinegar with smoky undertones. It’s cousin, the Chianti Classico is made in a very specific region of Tuscany and has a similar flavor profile although it is a little drier and fuller bodied.
- Amarone – This delicious red wine is produced in Veneto from the Valpolicella grapes in the country’s Northeast. It is famous for it’s high alcohol content, which can be anything up to 16%, and has strong full bodied flavors. The wine has undertones of cherry and is often paired with stewed meats or strong local cheeses.
- Prosecco – This fresh sparkling white wine is made using a special process which involves two fermentations, known as the Charmet method; and produces a light, aromatic wine with a crisp taste. The dominant undertones include sweet honeysuckle, melon and a touch of peach.
Classification Of Wines In Italy – Important Things To Know.
Given that wine is such an important part of the life and economy of Italy, it’s only natural that the government takes steps to strictly classify it based on the way in which the grapes are grown and the wine is made.
These categories of wine are known as ‘Appellations’ and have 4 official designations; DOCG, DOC, IGT and ‘Vino da Tavola’; and also 1 unofficial designation, known as ‘Super Tuscan’.
DOCG – Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.
This is the highest classification in Italy and means that the wine is made to strict standards that include every aspect of the wine making process. To achieve this rating is a rare honor for winemakers and, consequently, is a highly prized status for any vineyard.
Wine that is categorized as DOCG must be made from grapes within a specific area of origin that bring out the unique characteristics of the region. The wine must also undergo stringent taste tests by panels of experts, as well as physical and chemical analysis. The wine is usually made using traditional techniques without modern chemicals or machinery.
DOC – Denomination of Controlled Origin.
The regulations for DOC wines are not as strict as DOCG wines however they are still of a very high quality. DOC wine must also be made from grapes in their area of origin and are subject to a single tasting panel as well as chemical analysis. The area included under the DOC is larger than the DOCG rating but it is still made using traditional methods. You can sometimes find both red and white wines from the same DOC location.
IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica.
The IGT classification of wine in Italy falls slightly lower than the DOC wines because they are made in a much larger area which gives the producers of the wine more freedom to experiment and add their own personal touch to the winemaking process.
As a result of this leeway in the production process IGT is linked to a new wave of organic, biodynamically grown varieties of grape. It is worth remembering that even though IGT is strictly speaking classified below the DOCG and DOC some of the best modern wines in Italy are classified as such. However, these IGT wines are not actually subject to a tasting test which means that the flavor can vary significantly from one bottle to another!
Vino da Tavola and Super Tuscan.
‘Vino da Tavola’ literally translates as ‘table wine’ and elsewhere in the world is considered to be poor quality wine, however in Italy it usually refers to wine that doesn’t strictly meet the standards of the DOCG, DOC or IGT. This can be because the wine is made using a blend of grapes from different regions or non-traditional foreign grapes.
Many Vino da Tavola wines are extremely high quality, with some of best loved being known as the ‘Super Tuscans’. Super Tuscan wines are red wines that are made with grapes that are not indigenous to Italy, and include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot.
The Super Tuscan label first emerged in the 1970s because winemakers grew frustrated at the Italian bureaucracy that wouldn’t recognise the blends they were making by mixing non-indigenous grapes, such as Merlot, with their own regional grapes to make superb wines! It was the creation of these wines that eventually led the Italian government to create the IGT classification to allow winemakers to be more flexible and creative but the name, ‘Super Tuscan’, has still stayed and is often a sign of excellent quality wine.
Popular Red Grape Varieties Of Italy.
The following are few of the famous red grapes of Italy:
- Sangiovese – Grown throughout central Italy the Sangiovese grape originally gets its name from the Latin, ‘Sanguis Jovis’, or the ‘blood of Jupiter’; and is a vital component of Chianti, Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino wines, among others. It’s also used in Super Tuscan wines such as Tignanello.
- Nebbiolo – This grape is primarily grown in the Piedmont province of Italy where it is used to make the DOCG Barolo, Roero, Carema and Barbaresco. The name is thought to come from the Italian word, ‘nebbia’, meaning ‘fog’, and refers to the foggy conditions of the regions which make ideal growing conditions for these grapes.
- Corvina – Primarily grown in Veneto in Northeast Italy, the Corvina grapes are used to make light red wines, including the Valpolicella and Bardolino that have soft fruity tastes with subtle undertones of almonds.
Popular White Grape Varieties Of Italy.
The following are few of the popular white grapes of Italy:
- Pinot Grigio – This white wine grape is a clone variety, also known as Pinot Gris, and produces the signature yellowy copper colored wines. The Pinot Grigio grape is now grown all around the world and is used to make a wide range of white wine blends.
- Garganega – Primarily grown in Italy’s Veneto region it is the country’s 6th most common grape and is frequently used in Soave white wine as well as being the major grape in the Gambellara blended white wine.
- Prosecco – Also known as the Glera grape, it’s originally from Slovenia but is now grown in Italy’s Veneto and Friuli regions, and is used to make the sharp, crispy sparkling white and rose wine of the same name.
Italy Is The World’s Leading Wine Producer.
Italy is synonymous with superb scenery, ancient history, culture, heritage, and world class cuisine; but none of it would be the same without the country’s outstanding wines!
With more than 3000 years of winemaking history; there’s a huge range of flavors, aromas and unique regional traditions to explore, and so if you haven’t dived into the fascinating world of Italian wines yet then it’s time to take the leap!