There was an article recently in the New York Times talking about how wine is a joy. There is nowhere where this is more true than in Italy.
Italy produces more wine than any other country. From the Alpine provinces of the far north to sun baked Sicily, Italy’s wine country regions produce some of the worlds finest bottles.
The Italian peninsula and her Islands have been producing wines since the time of the Etruscans. When the Greeks arrived in what is now Italy, they brought seeds from across the Adriatic sea and wine production flourished under the Roman empire. Under Roman law, during this time, growing and producing wine outside of the borders of Italy was prohibited
There are nineteen wine producing regions in Italy’s wine country. From North to South – here is a list.
With this many wine producing regions that covers thousands of kilometers, there is incredible diversity and certainly something for every taste. Choose from a light and sparkly franciacorta and prosecco or the rich Barolo from the north. Or, what about a crisp Orvieto Classico after a Umbrian tour?
Italian Wine laws
In 1963 legislation was created to legally classify and define Italian wine production zones. There are four classifications and they are overseen by Italy’s minister of agriculture.
VDT – Vino da Tavola This is most generic of the classifications. Wine labeled at VDT can be from any region, grape or combination of grapes. One important note must be made about the original “Super Tuscans”, regarded as some of Italy’s most important wines, are produced from grapes not allowed under the stricter DOC and DOCG classifications and are thu labled as Vino da Tavola.
IGT - Indicazione Geografica Tipica – This classification is one step up from table wine. There are approximately Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) 200 wines. IGT only indicates that the wine comes from a particular region. Production methods are not monitored the way they are with the next two more restrictive classifications.
DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata – There are more than 300 DOC wines produced in Italy. This classification controlls both the grape varieties, including specific percentages, that can be used and the region where the wine is made. The first DOC wine and region was Vernaccio di San Gimingano in Tuscany. Wine producers must send samples of the wines to special tasting committees to be able to receive the DOC certification.
DOGC - Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – Some of the most historic wines in Italy are classified with the strictly controlled DOCG category. There are currently only 73 DOCG wines and come from only 15 of the 19 regions. Some names you might recognize are Franciacorta from Lombardia, Barolo from Piedmont, prosecco from the Veneto, Frascati Superiore from Lazio and Chianti from Tuscany.
These classification do not denote quality – only where the wine is gown and the exact grapes and composition of grapes used.
How to read an Italian Wine label
Here is what to look for in an Italian wine label.
DOC indication (This is where you will see wether the wine is VDT – Vino da Tavola, IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica, DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOGC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita )
Grape variety – often this is only the DOC name and not an individual or combination of grapes name.
Alcohol volume – how strong is the wine.
A few additional words that are useful to know when reading and Italian wine label
Riserva – The rules for what makes a Riserva vary from place to place. When you see Riserva on the label it means that the DOC(G) wine has been selected longer aging.
Classico - This term is referring to the original geographic region of the wine, usually a historic area, like Chianti. A Chianti Classico is from the very center of the generally larger Chianti wine growing area.
Superiore – This is a DOC wine that is of a higher standard. It can also, and often but not always, mean a higher alcohol content.
There are over 800 grape varieties that are found in Italy, but there are only few that you really need to know to help with your wine selection when you are in Italy.
Sangiovese – This grape has a smokey or black cherry note. You will find this grape used in wines in Umbria Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. It is the base of Chianti Classico (look for the newly designed black rooster logo) and Brunello.
Nebbiolo – With records dating back to the 1300’s this is one of Italy’s most nobel grapes. You will find it in wines from Piedmonte and Lombardia. It has lots of tannins and a licorice taste.
Barbera – This is the second most planted grape in Italy and is found in wines from the northern regions. It’s flavor is softly tannic and hearty.
Negroamaro – This word means black-bitter and has a big and spicy taste. It comes form sunny Puglia at the bottom of the Italian peninsula.
Montepulciano – This grape produces a deep, jammy wine. Look for it in Abruzzo and the Marche.
Primitivio – If you love California Zinfandel, look for the Puglian grape Primitivo. These two grape variety are genetically the same.
Nero D’Avola – Grown in Sicily, the strong and rich wine can be similar to new word Shiraz and Syrah’s
Dolcetto – A soft delicate wine from Piedmonte
Pino Grigio – A delicate tastes from the northern regions of Trentino and Alto Aldige
Vermentino – from the Island of Sardinia, this wine is good with seafood
Fiano – a crisp, spicy full flavored grape from Camapana
Greco – full bodied flavor from Campana
Malvasia – thought to originate from greece, a dry aromatic taste, this grape is commonly found in wines produced near Rome.
Vernaccia – aromatic and delicate from the Tuscan hills near San Gimingano
The most widely grown grape in Italy, comprising about 10% of the vineyard areas, is Sangiovese.
Of course a beautiful wine is not just about the grapes. The Terroir – meaning the soil, weather, altitude, producers process are all part of the alchemy and magic that go into a great tasting wine.