Various types of Italian wines
Various types of Italian wines

Italian wine is produced in every region of Italy, home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Italy is the world's largest producer of wine, with an area of 702,000 hectares (1,730,000 acres) under vineyard cultivation, and contributing a 2013–2017 annual average of 48.3 million hl of wine. In 2018 Italy accounted for 19 percent of global production, ahead of France (17 percent) and Spain (15 percent).[1] Italian wine is both exported around the world and popular domestically among Italians, who consume an average of 42 litres per capita, ranking fifth in world wine consumption.

Etruscans and Greek settlers produced wine in Italy before the Romans planted their own vineyards in the 2nd century AD. The Romans greatly increased Italy's area under vine using efficient viticultural and winemaking methods, and pioneered large-scale production and storage techniques such as barrel-making and bottling.[2]

History

A typical Italian vineyard scene, with vines growing together with olive trees.
A typical Italian vineyard scene, with vines growing together with olive trees.

Although vines had been cultivated from the wild Vitis vinifera grape for millennia, it was not until the Greek colonization that wine-making flourished. Viticulture was introduced into Sicily and southern Italy by the Mycenaean Greeks,[3] and was well established when the extensive Greek colonization transpired around 800 BC.[4][5] It was during the Roman defeat of the Carthaginians (acknowledged masters of wine-making) in the 2nd century BC that Italian wine production began to further flourish. Large-scale, slave-run plantations sprang up in many coastal areas and spread to such an extent that, in AD 92, emperor Domitian was forced to destroy a great number of vineyards in order to free up fertile land for food production.

During this time, viticulture outside of Italy was prohibited under Roman law. Exports to the provinces were reciprocated in exchange for more slaves, especially from Gaul. Trade was intense with Gaul, according to Pliny, because the inhabitants tended to drink Italian wine unmixed and without restraint.[6] Although unpalatable to adults, it was customary, at the time, for young people to drink wine mixed with a good proportion of water.

As the laws on provincial viticulture were relaxed, vast vineyards began to flourish in the rest of Europe, especially Gaul (present day France) and Hispania. This coincided with the cultivation of new vines, such as biturica, an ancestor of the Cabernets. These vineyards became so successful that Italy ultimately became an import centre for provincial wines.[2]

Depending on the vintage, modern Italy is the world's largest or second largest wine producer. In 2005, production was about 20% of the global total, second only to France, which produced 26%. In the same year, Italy's share in dollar value of table wine imports into the U.S. was 32%, Australia's was 24%, and France's was 20%. Along with Australia, Italy's market share has rapidly increased in recent years.[7]

Italian appellation system

DOCG and DOC labels on two wine bottles
DOCG and DOC labels on two wine bottles

In 1963, the first official Italian system of classification of wines was launched. Since then, several modifications and additions to the legislation have been made, including a major modification in 1992. The last modification, which occurred in 2010, established four basic categories which are consistent with the latest European Union wine regulations (2008–09). The categories, from the bottom to the top level, are:

A number of sub-categories exist pertaining to the regulation of sparkling wine production (e.g. Vino Spumante, Vino Spumante di Qualità, Vino Spumante di Qualità di Tipo Aromatico, Vino Frizzante).

Within the DOP category, 'Classico' is a wine produced in the original historic centre of the protected territory. 'Superiore' is a wine with at least 0.5 more alc%/vol than its corresponding regular DOP wine and produced using a smaller allowed quantity of grapes per hectare, generally yielding a higher quality. 'Riserva' is a wine that has been aged for a minimum period of time. The length of time varies with (red, white, Traditional-method sparkling, Charmat-method sparkling). Sometimes, 'Classico' or 'Superiore' are themselves part of the name of the DOP (e.g. Chianti Classico DOCG or Soave Superiore DOCG).

The Italian Ministry of Agriculture (MIPAAF) regularly publishes updates to the official classification.[8][9]

It is important to note that looser regulations do not necessarily correspond to lower quality. In fact, many IGP wines are actually high quality wines. Talented winemakers sometimes wish to create wines using varietals or varietal percentages that do not match DOC or DOCG requirements. "Super Tuscans", for example, are generally high quality wines that carry the IGP designation. There are several other IGP wines of superior quality, as well.

Unlike France, Italy has never had an official classification of its best 'crus'. Private initiatives like the Comitato Grandi Cru d'Italia (Committee of the Grand Crus of Italy) and the Instituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità—Grandi marchi (Institute of Quality Italian Wine—Great Brands) each gather a selection of renowned top Italian wine producers, in an attempt to unofficially represent the Italian wine excellence.

In 2007 the Barbaresco Consorzio was the first to introduce the Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive (additional geographic mentions) also known as MEGA or subzones. Sixty-five subzone vineyard areas were identified in 2007 and one additional subzone was approved in 2010, bringing the final number to 66.[10] The main goal was to put official boundaries to some of the most storied crus in order to protect them from unjustified expansion and exploitation.[10]

The Barolo Consorzio followed suit in 2010 with 181 MEGA, of which 170 were vineyard areas and 11 were village designations.[10] Following the introductions of MEGA for Barbaresco and Barolo the term Vigna (Italian for vineyard) can be used on labels after its respective MEGA and only if the vineyard is within one of the approved official geographic mentions.[10] The official introduction of subzones is strongly advocated by some for different denominations, but so far Barolo and Barbaresco are the only ones to have them.[11]

Geographical characteristics

Important wine-relevant geographic characteristics of Italy include:

Italian wine regions

Italian regions
Italian regions

Italy's twenty wine regions correspond to the twenty administrative regions of the country. Understanding the differences between these regions is very helpful in understanding the different types of Italian wine. Wine in Italy tends to reflect the local cuisine. Regional cuisine also influences the wine. The DOCG wines are located in 15 different regions but most of them are concentrated in Piedmont, Lombardia, Veneto and Tuscany. Among these are appellations appreciated and sought after by wine lovers around the world: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino (colloquially known as the "Killer B's"). Other notable wines that have gained attention in recent years in the international markets and among specialists are: Amarone della Valpolicella, Prosecco di Conegliano- Valdobbiadene, Taurasi from Campania, Franciacorta sparkling wines from Lombardy; evergreen wines are Chianti and Soave, while new wines from the Centre and South of Italy are quickly gaining recognition: Verdicchio, Sagrantino, Primitivo, Nero D'Avola among others. The Friuli-Venezia Giulia is world-famous for the quality of her white wines, like Pinot Grigio. Special sweet wines like Passitos and Moscatos, made in different regions, are also famous since old time.

Sannio

Langhe and Monferrato

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi

Franciacorta

Grapes

Vini spumanti


Valtellina

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi

Veneto

Grapes

Vini rossi

The main grape varieties for the production of Valpolicella (Amarone, Recioto, Ripasso and Classico) and Bardolino (Superiore and Classico) are the same: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. They are all native red varieties of the province of Verona. The most important is the Corvina. The Corvina berry flesh has a sweet flavor profile and its skin has a blue violet color with cherry note. Corvina and the other varieties are vinified in different ways to obtain different wines. To obtain Recioto and Amarone, first a drying is carried out. For Valpolicella and Bardolino the vinification takes place immediately after the harvest. The Adige river divides the two production areas on the right Adige towards Lake Garda Bardolino is produced on the left Valpolicella. Many wineries produces both wines. With a particular vinification, Chiaretto (rosé) and Bardolino novello are also obtained, always starting from the same varieties.

Vini bianchi

Prosecco

Grapes

Vini spumanti


Trentino

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi


Collio Friulano

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi

Toscana

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi

Umbria

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi


Irpinia

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi

Puglia

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi


Sicilia

Grapes

Vini rossi

Vini bianchi

Italian grape varieties

Italy's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MIPAAF), has documented over 350 grapes and granted them "authorized" status. There are more than 500 other documented varieties in circulation, as well. The following is a list of the most common and important of Italy's many grape varieties.

See also: List of Italian grape varieties

Bianco (White)

Vineyards around the town of Barolo, Piedmont.
Vineyards around the town of Barolo, Piedmont.

Other important whites include Carricante, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falanghina, Grechetto, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Traminer, Verduzzo, and Vernaccia.

Non-native varieties include Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer (sometimes called traminer aromatico), Petite Arvine, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, and others.

Rosso (red)

Sangiovese vineyards in the Val d'Orcia, Monte Amiata in the background.
Sangiovese vineyards in the Val d'Orcia, Monte Amiata in the background.

Other major red varieties are Cannonau, Ciliegiolo, Gaglioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Refosco, Schiava, Schioppettino, Teroldego, and Uva di Troia.

"International" varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah are also widely grown.

Super Tuscans

Tuscan wine
Tuscan wine

The term "Super Tuscan" (mostly used in the English-speaking world and less known in Italy)[21] describes any wine (mostly red, but sometimes also white) produced in Tuscany that generally does not adhere to the traditional local DOC or DOCG regulations. As a result, Super Tuscans are usually Toscana IGT wines, while others are Bolgheri DOC, a designation of origin rather open to international grape varieties. Traditional Tuscan DOC(G)s require that wines are made from native grapes and mostly Sangiovese. While sometimes Super Tuscans are actually produced by Sangiovese alone, they are also often obtained by (1) blending Sangiovese with international grapes (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah) to produce red wines, (2) blending international grapes alone (especially classic Bordeaux grapes for reds; Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc for whites), or (3) using one single international variety. In a sense, red Super Tuscans anticipated the Meritage, a well-known category of international Bordeaux-style reds of US origin.

Vineyard in Gaiole in Chianti
Vineyard in Gaiole in Chianti

Although an extraordinary amount of wines claim to be “the first Super Tuscan,” most would agree that this credit belongs to Sassicaia, the brainchild of marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who planted Cabernet Sauvignon at his Tenuta San Guido estate in Bolgheri back in 1944. It was for many years the marchese's personal wine, until, starting with the 1968 vintage, it was released commercially in 1971.[22]

In 1968 Azienda Agricola San Felice produced a Super Tuscan called Vigorello, and in the 1970s Piero Antinori, whose family had been making wine for more than 600 years, also decided to make a richer wine by eliminating the white grapes from the Chianti blend, and instead adding Bordeaux varietals (namely, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). He was inspired by Sassicaia, of which he was given the sale agency by his uncle Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. The result was one of the first Super Tuscans, which he named Tignanello, after the vineyard where the grapes were grown. What was formerly Chianti Classico Riserva Vigneto Tignanello, was pulled from the DOC in 1971, first eliminating the white grapes (then compulsory in Chianti DOC) and gradually adding French varieties. By 1975, Tignanello was made with 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc, and it remains so today.[22] Other winemakers started experimenting with Super Tuscan blends of their own shortly thereafter.

Because these wines did not conform to strict DOC(G) classifications, they were initially labeled as vino da tavola, meaning "table wine," an old official category ordinarily reserved for lower quality wines. The creation of the Indicazione Geografica Tipica category (technically indicating a level of quality between vino da tavola and DOC(G)) in 1992 and the DOC Bolgheri label in 1994 helped bring Super Tuscans "back into the fold" from a regulatory standpoint. Since the pioneering work of the Super Tuscans, there has been a rapid expansion in production of high-quality wines throughout Italy that do not qualify for DOC or DOCG classification, as a result of the efforts of a new generation of Italian wine producers and, in some cases, flying winemakers.

Wine guides

Many international wine guides and wine publications rate the most popular Italian wines. Among the Italian publications, Gambero Rosso is probably the most influential. In particular, the wines that are annually given the highest rating of "three glasses" (Tre Bicchieri) attract much attention. Recently, other guides, such as Slow Wine, published by Slow Food Italia, and Bibenda, compiled by the Fondazione Italiana Sommelier, have also gained attention both among professionals and amateurs. Slow Wine has the interesting feature of reporting on several wineries (small and medium) that genuinely represent the territory and on products that are especially interesting for their price/quality ratio (Vini Slow and Vini Quotidiani).

Vino cotto and vincotto

Vino cotto (literally cooked wine) is a form of wine from the Marche and Abruzzo regions in Central Italy. It is typically made by individuals for their own use as it cannot legally be sold as wine. The must, from any of several local varieties of grapes, is heated in a copper vessel where it is reduced in volume by up to a third before fermenting in old wooden barrels. It can be aged for years, barrels being topped up with each harvest. It is a strong ruby-coloured wine, somewhat similar to Madeira, usually drunk with sweet puddings.

Vincotto, typically from Basilicata and Apulia, also starts as a cooked must but is not fermented, resulting in a sweet syrup suitable for the preparation of sweets and soft drinks. Once reduced and allowed to cool it is aged in storage for a few years.

See also

References

  1. ^ Karlsson, Per (14 April 2019). "World wine production reaches record level in 2018, consumption is stable". BKWine Magazine. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Wine". Unrv.com. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  3. ^ The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Brian Murray Fagan, 1996 Oxford Univ Pr, p.757
  4. ^ Wine: A Scientific Exploration, Merton Sandler, Roger Pinder, CRC Press, p.66
  5. ^ Introduction to Wine Laboratory Practices and Procedures, Jean L. Jacobson, Springer, p.84
  6. ^ "Wine and Rome". Penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  7. ^ Mulligan, Mary Ewing and McCarthy, Ed. Italy: A passion for wine. Indiana Beverage Journal, 2006.
  8. ^ "Mipaaf - Vini DOP e IGP". Politicheagricole.it. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  9. ^ "Mipaaf - Disciplinari dei vini DOP e IGP italiani". Politicheagricole.it. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  10. ^ a b c d K. O'Keefe Barolo and Barbaresco: the King and Queen of Italian Wine California University Press 2014 ISBN 9780520273269
  11. ^ Speller, Walter (26 March 2013). "Kerin O'Keefe's Montalcino subzones". JancisRobinson.com.
  12. ^ Novella Talamo. "Il Verdicchio si conferma nel 2015 il vino bianco più premiato d'Italia dalle Guide e nomina sua ambasciatrice l'olimpionica della scherma Elisa Di Francisca - Luciano Pignataro Wineblog". Lucianopignataro.it. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  13. ^ Levine, Allison (12 November 2015). "Aglianico: The Barolo of the South". Napa Valley Register. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  14. ^ D'Agata, Ian (2014). "Aglianico". Native Wine Grapes of Italy. University of California Press. pp. 162–167. ISBN 978-0-520-27226-2.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-09-26. Retrieved 2016-06-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-10-01. Retrieved 2016-06-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "The Wine Doctor". Thewinedoctor.com. Retrieved 2017-03-28. (subscription required)
  18. ^ "Nero d'Avola - Best of Sicily Magazine". Bestofsicily.com. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  19. ^ Anderson, Kym; Aryal, Nanda R. (2013). Which Winegrape Varieties are Grown Where? A Global Empirical Picture. University of Adelaide Press. doi:10.20851/winegrapes. ISBN 978-1-922064-67-7.
  20. ^ "California Cabernet Wine". Streetdirectory.com. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  21. ^ Peretti, Angelo (2002). Vini delle regioni d'Italia [Wines from the Regions of Italy] (in Italian). Novara: Cartografia di Novara. p. 145. ISBN 88-509-0204-2.
  22. ^ a b O'Keefe, Kerin (2009). "Rebels without a cause? The demise of Super-Tuscans" (PDF). The World of Fine Wine (23): 94–99.

Further reading