> Italian Wine
of Italian Wine
following survey of the wines of Italy's 20 regions follows a
geographical pattern which divides the country into four sections:
Northeast regions; Northcentral and Northwest regions; Central
regions; The South and Islands.
often exist within these sections in terms of climate and geography,
as well as in grape varieties and viticultural and oenological
practices. But the divisions are rather arbitrary, designed more to
aid the reader's orientation than to point up clear distinctions.
Italian wines are most accurately perceived region by region.
of the 20 regions is a political entity with certain powers of its own
in balance with national laws. Every region is further divided into
provinces which take the name of a principal city or town.
three northeastern regions, known collectively as the Tre Venezie or
simply the Venezie, set the pace in Italy in the crafting of modern
wines. Together they produce more classified wine than any other
section of the country - more than a third of the DOC, the more
remarkable when you consider that they account for less than a sixth
of the nation's total production. The Veneto is first in volume of DOC
and Trentino-Alto Adige leads in percentage of its total, while
Friuli-Venezia Giulia enhances the classified ranks with its stylishly
contemporary white wines.
technology of winemaking overall is more sophisticated and better
organised here than elsewhere, thanks in part to the continuing demand
from neighbouring Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as more
distant markets such as the United States and United Kingdom. Two of
Italy's leading wine schools are here (at San Michele all'Adige in
Trentino and Conegliano in the Veneto). The world's largest vine
nursery is at Rauscedo in Friuli. The nation's most important wine
fair, Vinitaly, is held each spring in Verona.
determinant quality factor in all three regions is the climate
influenced by the Alps, of which the Venezie are on the sunny side,
protected from the damp cold of northern Europe. Vineyard conditions
range from cool at high altitudes to warm in the plains near the
Adriatic Sea and along the valleys of the Po, Piave and Adige rivers.
of Soave, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Tocai and other popular whites are
often surprised to learn that the Venezie make more red wine than
white. But, as elsewhere, the worldwide demand for white wine is
rapidly changing that pattern. Friuli and the Veneto have reversed
earlier patterns and now make more white wine than red under DOC.
the culture of the Venezie, like the name, was determined by the
ancient Venetian Republic, strong influences can be felt from Austria
and Slovenia. One result is a cosmopolitan mix of vine varieties.
Growers here work with an amazing assortment of native and imported
vines to produce what are indisputably a majority of Italy's finer
white wines, a number of the better rose's and a multitude of reds,
ranging from the young and simplistic to the aged and complex.
Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino are the best known of the many DOCs.
They derive almost entirely from native varieties. But in the central
and eastern Veneto and Friuli imported varieties - such as Merlot,
Cabernet, the Pinots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon - are vying
successfully for vineyard space against the local Tocai, Prosecco,
Verduzzo, Refosco and Raboso.
Trentino-Alto Adige red wines prevail, dominated by the ubiquitous
Shiava or Vernatsch, though the more distinguished Teroldego, Lagrein
and Marzemino hold their own against Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Nero.
The emrging favourites, however, are the white Chardonnay, Pinots and
so many varietal wines are produced in all three regions the practice
has been to group the wines under a single DOC name for a geographical
area, such as the Veneto's Piave, Friuli's Collio Goriziano, and the
provincial apellations of Trentino and Alto Adige. Though the lists
may be long, this geographical identity seems to aid consumers in
connecting places with grape varieties.
North by NorthWest
five regions of north-central and northwest Italy cover much of the
great arc of the Alps and Apennines that walls in the Po as it flows
east through its broad valley to the Adriatic. The types of wine -
like the topography, soil and climate - vary to extremes in these
regions, which are grouped rather loosely as neighbors but, in true
Italian style, maintain their own proud identities.
most affluent part of Italy comprises the "industrial
triangle" between Milan, Turin and the Mediterranean port of
Genoa and the agriculturally fluent flatlands of the Po and its
tributaries. Since property is valued and mountains take up a major
share of space, vineyards are confined and wine is a commodity that
must be either financially or spiritually rewarding. Yet between the
cool terraces of the Alps and the often torrid fields of the Po basin,
contrasts abound. Along with some of Italy's most revered bottles can
be found some of its most frivolous. But whether the label says Barolo
or Lambrusco, the producer probably takes his work seriously.
them, the five regions produce about 20% of Italy's total wine and
account for about 30% of the DOC. Emilia-Romagna contributes heavily
with the fourth largest output among regions after Apulia, Sicily and
the Veneto. Piedmont stands tall in the quality field with the most
DOC or DOCG zones of any regions, as well as the most classified
vineyards, even though it ranks only seventh in overall production.
dwarfs its neighbours of Valle d'Aosta and Liguria which, by Italian
standards at least, are mere dabblers in wine. Valle d'Aosta, the
smallest region, produces by far the lowest volume of wine from its
rocky slopes. Its DOC output is surpassed by some single wineries in
other regions. Liguria, with little space for vines between the
mountains and the Mediterranean, is second from the last in
production, offering wines that are rarely more than esoteric.
the proximity of France, whose vines have been warmly welcomed
elsewhere in Italy, growers in Piedmont, Valle d'Aosta and Liguria
prefer their own vines and tend to make wine in their own style.
Piedmont's host of worthy natives includes Barbera, Dolcetto,
Grignolino, Freisa, Cortese, Arneis, Brachetto, the Canelli clone of
Moscato (for Asti Spumante) and the noblest of them all in Nebbiolo
(source of Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara). The vines of Valle
d'Aosta often have French names - Petit Rouge, Gros Vien, Blanc de
Valdigne, for instance - due to the Savoyard history of the region.
Liguria favours the local Rossese, Pigato and Vermentino, while
working with its own version of Dolcetto, known as Ormeasco.
the most populous region, ranks only twelfth in wine production, but
it does boast the nation's largest spread of Pinot vines in the
southern Oltrepo` Pavese and a major concentration of Nebbiolo vines
for the DOC reds of the mountainous Valtellina.
is a prolific region that had been a leading exporter with shipments
to America of sweet and bubbly Lambrusco, whose vines spill over the
fertile plains of Emilia. But lately growers have been concentrating
on distinctive wines from the hills. Best known are the Alban and
Sangiovese of Romagna, but gaining notice are Barbera, Cabernet,
Chardonnay and Sauvignon from the Apennine foothills of Emilia.
historical hills at the heart of the peninsula, favoured by ample
sunshine and moderate temperatures, boast what seem to be the nation's
most extensive natural conditions for fine wine. In the past
winemaking methods were often rustic. The practices of overproducing
grapes and undervaluing scientific techniques too often squandered the
excellent potential. But today the central regions, led by Tuscany
with Chianti and other noble reds, are rapidly moving to the forefront
of Italian enology.
them, the six regions produce less than a quarter of the nation's
wine, yet they account for about a third of the DOLC or DOCG. The
conflict between progress and tradition persists in places, but
overall the renaissance in Italian wine has generated unrivalled
momentum in the heartland. There is no doubt that greater things lie
ahead. The regions of central Italy are divided physically, and to
some degree culturally, by the Apennines. To the west, on the
Tyrrhenian side, lie Tuscany, Latium and landlocked Umbria. To the
east, on the Adriatic side, lie the Marches, Abruzzi and Molise.
Viticulture on the Tyrrhenian side is dominated by the dark-skinned
Sangiovese (whose various clones include some of Italy's noblest
grapes for red wine) and the lightskinned Trebbiano and Malvasia
(designed chiefly for quantities of tasty if rarely inspiring whites).
realm of Sangiovese is Florence's region of Tuscany, where it prevails
in Chianti - the nation's archetypical wine - as well as in Brunello
di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and most of the noteworthy
classified and unclassified reds. White Malvasia reigns in Rome's
region of Latium. It is prominent in Frascati and the wines of the
Alban hills, and combines with the ubiquitous Trebbiano in
Est!Est!!Est!!! and most other whites of the region. Umbrians have had
the chance to pick and choose, favouring Sangiovese for their reds and
the Procanico strain of Trebbiano for their prominent white Orvieto.
trend, though perhaps more evident in Tuscany and Umbria than
elsewhere, is to introduce noble outsiders - Cabernet Sauvignon,
Merlot, the Pinots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon. But efforts are also
being directed at upgrading such worthy natives as Vernaccia di San
Gimignano, Umbria's Sagrantino and Grechetto and Latium's Cesanese.
Adriatic regions have a rather neat and straight-forward structure of
vines and wines. Vineyards are almost all planted in hills running in
a tortuous strip between the sea and the mountains, where the climate
is tempered by cool currents.
native varieties stand out along the Adriatic coast, the white
Verdicchio in the Marches and red Montepulciano, which originated in
the Abruzzi and is now widely planted in all three regions. The
influences of Tuscany and Romagna can be tasted in Sangiovese
(especially in the Marches) and Trebbiano (planted nearly everywhere
that worthier varieties are not). Montepulciano can be remarkable on
its own, though it also has a natural affinity for blends with
Sangiovese, in such fine reds as the Marches' Rosso Piceno and Rosso
six regions of Italy's south take in the sunwashed vineyards that
prompted the ancient Greeks to nickname their colonies Oenotria. From
Hellas they brought to Magna Graecia vines which are still planted
today, under such names as Aglianico, Greco, Malvasia, Gaglioppo and
Romans in their turn recognised the potential of the slopes that gave
them Falernum, Caccubum, Mamertinum and other heady wines that were
eulogised by poets from Horace to Virgil. Pliny the Elder and
Columella were among those who recorded methods of viticulture and
oenology that included descriptions of how to age and preserve wine
and even to make it bubbly. But wine had its ups and downs under the
Romans, too, reaching a low point when the Emperor Domitian ordered
vines removed and restricted trade to combat excess production.
outsiders left their marks on these Mediterranean shores. Foremost
among them were the Spaniards, who dominated until the Risorgimento
and brought vines into Sardinia, Sicily and other places centuries
after the Arabs and Phoenicians planted what may have been the first
"foreign" vines in Italy.
might be argued that at times in the past the vineyards of the Italian
Mezzogiorno were put to better use than they have been in recent
times. Apulia and Sicily vie for leadership among the 20 regions in
volume produced, much of it in the blending wines shipped to northerly
places or in bulk wines distilled into industrial alcohol. Though the
six regions produce about 40 per cent of Italy's total wine, they
account for less than 7 per cent of the DOC. Yet, after decades in
which the emphasis had been steadfastly on quantity, producers in all
regions have become increasingly convinced that the future lies in
quality, as the volume steadily decreases.
notion that Italy's south is suited only to the production of
hot-blooded wines is neither fair nor accurate. Studied techniques of
grape growing and methods of temperature controlled fermentation and
storage in oxygen-free conditions have permitted production of dry,
balanced wines that can be attractively light and fruity. Several of
Italy's most impressive red wines for long ageing originate in the
south. And there has been a welcome trend to upgrade the quality and
status of the traditional sweet wines from Moscato and Malvasia, as
well as Sicily's fortified Marsala and Sardinia's Vernaccia di
unfortunate misconception has it that the Mezzogiorno has a torrid
climate, when in fact much of the territory is temperate and parts are
downright chilly. Conditions depend on altitude and proximity to the
Tyrrhenian, Ionian or Adriatic seas. Some good wines are made in
relatively hot places: the slopes of Vesuvius, the isle of Ischia,
Apulia's Salento peninsula, Sicily's western coast and Sardinia's
Campidano. But many wines of scope come from higher, cooler places -
the hills around Avellino in Campania, Basilicata's Vulture, Sicily's
Etna and central highlands, Apulia's interior plateau and Sardinia's
eastern coastal range.
of the six regions has an abundance of hills with conditions
considered ideal for modern viticulture. The challenge is to put them
to their best use.
Situation of Italian Wine as of End of 1994
Italian wine, together with French wine, is
among the most requested and therefore most exported in the world. In
Italy export of wine has passed from 14,667,147 hectolitres in 1989 to
18,249,941 hectolitres in 1994, with an average decrease in price of
quantity of wine exported from 1989 to 1994 has increased by 31% while
the value has increased more than 25%.
importers of Italian wine are:
Great Britain: 9%
United States 7%
1994 Germany imported 5,834,531 hectolitres of wine with a value of
892,212,594,000 Lire, at an average price of 1,529 Lire per litre.
imported during the same year 4,627,547 hectolitres with a value of
292,265,598,000 Lire with an average price of 632 Lire per litre.
Great Britain 1,619,761 hectolitres were imported with a value of
324,569,624,000 Lire and an average price of 2,004 Lire per litre.
United States imported 1.245,171 hectolitres of wine for a total of
the past ten years many Italian wine producers have concentrated on
producing a higher quality of wine resulting in a lower quantity, with
the result of an increase in the value of the wine exported.
Copyright 1992 Italian Institute for Foreign Trade/ICE,
Italian Trade Commission, Wine Center
499 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10022
Laws and Labels
over the centuries have pioneered laws to control the origins and
protect the names of wines. The ancient Romans defined production
areas for dozens of wines. In 1716, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany
delimited the zones for important wines, setting a precedent for
only since the mid-1960s have controls been applied nationwide to
wines of "particular reputation and worth" under what is
known as "denominazione di origine controllata" or, by the
initials, as DOC. At last count there were 240 DOCs, all delimited
geographically. Wines from nine zones have been further distinguished
as DOCG (the G for "garantita" or guaranteed authenticity). These
are Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti (in seven
subzones), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti (in seven subzones),
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Albana di Romagna, Gattinara, Carmignano
(red only) and Torgiano Rosso "riserva".
the DOC and DOCG zones more than 900 types of wine are produced. They
may be defined by colour or type (still, bubbly or sparkling; dry,
semisweet or sweet; natural or fortified). Or they may be referred to
by grape variety (e.g. Trentino DOC with 17 varietals in its 20
subcategories). Or by age (young as "novello" or aged as
"vecchio, stravecchio" or "riserva"). Or by
special subzone as "classico" or "superiore",
though the latter may also apply to a higher degree of alcohol or a
longer period of ageing.
Sweeping changes in the
wine laws of 1992 opened the way for DOC and DOCG wines to carry names
of communities, areas of geographical or historical importance in the
zones and names of individual vineyards of established reputation.
Such wines may also carry the European Community designation of VQORD
or VSQPRD (for "spumante:), VFQPRD (for "frizzante") or VLQPRD (for
"liquoroso" or fortified).
in recent times DOC and DOCG have accounted for only 12 to 15 percent
of Italy's production. Some unclassified wines may be referred to a
"spumante" or "frizzante" or as
"amabile" or "dolce" (for sweet) or as
"liquoroso", but the majority of dry, still wines had to be
labelled as "vino da tavola". In its simplest version such
tablewines could specify colour but no vintage, grape variety or place
name. More specific were table wines with geographical indications,
such as Rosso di Toscana or Barbera del Piemonte.
But now, thanks to the new
laws of 1992, much of the better "vino da tavola" is expected to
qualify under the category of "Indicazione geografica tipica" (IGT),
designed to officially classify wines by colour or grape varieties and
typology from large areas. IGT will be the Italian equivalent to the
French "Vin de pays" and German "Landwein".
aim is to increase the proportion of classified wines to a majority of
national production, but it is important to remember that many good to
excellent Italian wines are still not classified. The reason might be
that vineyards are in a non-DOC area or that the wine has been made
under a new formula or that the producer chose to retain an individual
identity. In the end, the most reliable guide to the quality of any
wine from anywhere is the reputation of the individual producer or
estate. Certain names are worth getting to know.
Labels must carry the
wine's generic name and status (DOCG, DOC, IGT, Vino da tavola), the
producer's name and location, alcohol by percentage of volume, as well
as the net contents in millilitres (with an "e" as an EEC approved
measure). DOCG wines must also carry a paper strip seal of guarantee
at the top of the bottle.
Copyright © 1992 Italian Institute for Foreign Trade/ICE,
Italian Trade Commission, Wine Center
499 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10022