And in case you are still not impressed, here are more gee-whiz facts. Wine was introduced to the Italian peninsula by Greek colonists. By the 2nd century B.C.E., wine began to flourish throughout the country. Italy accounts for an impressive 19 percent of the total world production.
There are 350 grapes authorized for the production of wine. When most people think of Italian wine, though, red wine gets the nod more often than white wine. Yet, of the hundreds of authorized wine grapes, there are 17 white and 12 red grapes that are the most common and important.
For a closer look at the presence today of wine in Italy, here's a brief look at key wines, through a region-by-region wine tour, starting in the northwest and zig-zagging south through the country, to the island regions of Sardinia and Sicily.
|Italy 's 20 wine regions|
Valle d'Aosta: Italy's smallest wine region, stands at the foot of the Alps, bordering France and Switzerland. Emphasis here is on Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Pinot Grigio, but indigenous grapes like Petit Rouge are seeing a revival.
Piedmont, one of Italy's most important wine regions. The Piedmontese stars are Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Barbera and Asti Spumante. Piemonte is the world-famous home of the Nebbiolo grape and boasts a dozen Nebbiolo-based DOC and DOCG wines.
The Italian wine classification system, enacted in to law in 1966, is known commonly as "DOC." Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) applies to hundreds of wines throughout the country. DOCG (the "G" for guaranteed) is for a small number of select wines of "particular esteem." DOC also includes Vini da tavola and Vini tipici wines.
Lombardy, a large region that includes sparkling Franciacorta, Lugana (dry white) and the ubiquitous Lambrusco, a popular wine it shares with Emilia-Romagna. Lombardy has 22 DOCs, five DOCGs and...the city of Milan.
Trentino-Alto Adige, an alpine region along the Adige River, noted for Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, sparkling wine and the red Lagrein, all in Trentino. Alto-Adige is better known for international varieties such as Pinot Noir, and the local red variety Schiava.
Veneto, a productive region best known for Soave, Amarone, Bardolino, Valpolicella and the wildly successful Prosecco, of which the wines of the twin villages of Coneglino-Valdobbiadene have attained DOCG status.
Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, a northern region bordering Austria and Slovenia, is noted for the white Tocai Friulano and red Refosco, as well as a string of varietals made from international grapes like Merlot and Sauvignon (Blanc).
Emilia-Romagna stretches across north-central Italy and is known primarily for Lambrusco in all its many styles. Pinot Noir and Cabernet blends are also popular.
|Castles of Tuscany|
Tuscany, the most important region in central Italy, counts Sangiovese as its main grape. Brunello di Montalcino, Bolgheri (reds), Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are Tuscany's world class red wines. Tuscany boasts 48 DOCs and DOCGs.
Umbria, a landlocked region, Umbriia shares a lot of similarities with neighboring Tuscany. Orvieto is Umbria's most noted (white) wine, with the red Sagrantino gaining interest.
Marche, an east-central region with coastal and mountainous vineyards is best known for the white Verdicchio. Sangiovese is the most widely grown red.
Abruzzo is south of Marche on the Adriatic sea. The best red is Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and top white, Trebbiano d'Abruzzo.
Latium is the site of Rome, Italy's capital, as well as the Castelli Romani wines. Frascati and the modest Est! Est!! Est!!! are the best known white wines.
Local Lore: Bishop Fugger, a German cleric traveling through Italy, supposedly sent his servant Martin ahead to find an inn serving good wine. When Martin got to Montefiascone, in Latium, he found a white wine he liked so much that he excitedly marked Est! Est!! Est!!! (Here! Here!! Here!!!) on the inn door.
Molise is Italy's second smallest region. Very little wine is produced in this mountainous area of southern Italy, with the two most prominent being Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Trebbiano d'Abbruzzo.
Campania is home to the wines of antiquity, championed by a group of wineries, Mastroberardino the most prominent. The region is noted for native wines such as Falanghina and Lacryma Christi. Campania boasts three DOCGs: Taurasi, Greco and Fiano.
More Local Lore: Lacryma Christi ("tears of Christ") is a wine from the volcanic soils of Mt. Vesuvius. There are many fanciful versions of how the wine got its name, but the best known says that when God cast Lucifer from heaven, the fallen saint fell to earth forming the Bay of Naples. Grape vines miraculously sprouted on Vesuvius where God's tears fell.
Puglia, on the heel of Italy, is known for wine and table grapes. It is the second most productive wine region behind Sicily. Sangiovese is the most planted variety, with Primitivo a leading local grape.
Basilicata is a land-locked region in southern Italy with only four DOC wines and one DOCG, Aglianico del Vulture. Also popular are international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Aglianico is the red grape--Vulture is named for the volcano Mount Vulture.
Calabria, the toe of the boot of Italy, is a rugged region, just a short distance from Sicily with wines more of local interest. The DOC wine Ciro is the most important.
Sicily, one of Italy's most dynamic wine regions was settled by Greek colonists in the 8th century B.C.E. Sicily has a thriving wine culture, with a mix of international and local grapes. Popular wines include whites from Cataratto and the red Nero d'Avola.
Sardinia is an island region about 125 miles off the coast of mainland Italy. Spanish Catalans were among the early settlers and today the Spanish grapes Garnacha (Cannonau) and Carignan (Carignano) are the most important Sardinian varieties.
What is evident from this brief look at the wide range of Italian wine is there is a wine for every taste, from the light and crisp whites of Trentino to the world-class reds of Piedmont and Tuscany, to the modern versions of ancient grapes like Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo.
|Traditional foods of Basilicata|
There are as many food choices that marry well with Italian wines as there are Italian wine choices. Just as versatile are the many styles of cuisine. In general, the northern regions feature more rice than pasta, while further south, pasta is more commonly seen gracing the Italian table. Southern regions, Sicily and Sardinia concentrate on seafood and shellfish dishes, while poultry and meat are more often seen further to the north. These, however, are only generalities. No region in Italy is that far from the sea, the wheat fields of the central and southern plains and the rice patties of the north.
Although you will find Italian wines made from international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the true flavor of Italian wine is best experienced from the many local or indigenous grapes such as Sangiovese, Aglianco, Nebbiolo, Trebbiano and Cortese.
Exploring Italian wine can be a life-long journey. Start anywhere in the country, then proceed as the Italians do, leisurely and with gusto. Salute!
Next Blog: Merlot Essentials
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