Introduction to Italian Wines

Italy is home to some of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. It dates back earlier than Romans, to the Etruscans and Greek settlers in 800 BCE. In the 2nd century BCE, the Romans defeated the Carthaginians, who were master wine-makers, which lead to a massive expansion of wine production. This was primarily accomplished using extremely large, slave-run plantations. However, many of these plantations were converted to farms in 92 AD when Emporer Domitian need more land for food production. Italy is now not only well known for making wine, but also drinking it. They lead the world in wine consumption at a rate of 59 liters per capita (The US sits at under 8 liters).

Italy has consistently proved to have an excellent climate for wine production. With a wide latitudinal range, grapes are grown from the Alps to the southern tip of the country. It has the added bonus of being a peninsula. This gives it a large amount of coastal area which helps ensure a moderate climate year round. With the coasts, mountains, and everything in between, Italy has a variety of altitudes, climates, and soil conditions that have proven effective for a variety of grapes.

Italy features 20 regions that are dictated by the 20 political regions. This means that each wine region can have a large variety of grapes. It is important to remember that a majority of the wines are located in both the Piedmont and Tuscany regions. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has been able to document 350 different grapes that have “authorized” status and more than 500 additional documented varietals.

To help guide you through Italy, here is a quick look at 10 varietals that are considered the most important and are often the most common.

White Wines

1. Trebbiano

Trebbiano is consistently the most widely planted white varietal throughout Italy. These wines are primarily pale and easy to drink, however some producers, most notably Valentini, will age this wine for 15 or more years.

2. Pinot Grigio

The Pinot Grigios’ from Italy have proven to be extremely consistent and successful wines that are light and crisp. It has become mass produced to be a mild wine, however many local wine makers will create a very complex and full bodied Pinot Grigio. Unfortunately, because the demand of this grape is so high, it is often harvested too early in order to meet the global demand. This diminishes the overall depth of the wine.

3. Malvasia Bianca

The Malvasia Bianca is another very popular white wine that can be found in almost every region of Italy. It has bred a large number of similar clones and various mutations. With all of the different “types” of Malvasia Bianca gapes in Italy, it is hard to know what to expect from each label. In total, this varietal has a variety of flavors and aromas available.

4. Vermentino

Vermentino is found throughout Sardinia, Tuscan, and Ligurian regions. While this wine has not become extremely popular worldwide, it has proven to be a great compliment to any light seafood dish, especially fish.

5. Fiano

Fiano has proven to be a very unique grape that is found primarily on the southwest coast of Italy. It is often described as herbal or dewy. Some even carry notes of pesto or pinenuts.

Red Wines

1. Sangiovese

The Sangiovese is definitely Italy’s claim to fame and is the pride of Tuscany. Sangiovese have a cherry, earth, and cedar flavor profile and is responsible for creating Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino and many more. It is also the foundation of newer “Super-Tuscans” which are a blend of Sangiovese and a variety of Bordeaux varietals such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. They are similar to a typical California styled Cabernet. They are very jammy and the flavor profile is primarily composed of fruits and sometimes chocolate.

2. Nero d’Avola

Nero d’Avola is a newcomer on the international market and is slowly gaining in popularity. It is a native vine from Sicily and is known for having a plummy flavor with sweet tannins. As its popularity has risen internationally, the quality of the wine has risen as well.

3. Corvina

Corvina has become a key grape is many of the famous wines around Vento. The wine is traditionally a dark cherry fruit as well a variety of spices. Some Amarones, made with Corvina, have been aged for more than 40 years.

4. Dolcetto

Dolcetto is a grape that grows in Piedmont. The name means, “Little Sweet One”, and refers to how easily it can be grown, not necessarily the flavor. Since it is so easy to grow, it has become a foundation for many of the wines that are created to be drunk on a daily basis. It normally will posses a flavor profile that includes a concord grape, blackberries, and several herbs.

5. Sargantino

Sargantino is native to the Umbria region and is currently planted on only 250 hectares. The wine produced from it is rich and tannic.

Remember, these are only 10 of the over 800 different grapes and varietals that are produced in Italy every year. With such variety throughout the regions, You could spend years in Italy and still be tasting a new wine every day.

Photo Credits

Photo by francesco sgroi

Photo by francesco sgroi

Photo by filtran

Sonya Lee

Since a child, Sonya has been traveling from the corners of Canada to the far east Asia. Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she led a normal family life with her brother, mother and dad. A well received job opportunity in Hong Kong for her father put the compass in action from a young age. Sonya loves good food, and I mean GOOD simple food. She loves an occasional drink, be merry and enjoy the good times. Having recently healed herself from a large ruptured cyst, her favorite foods include fresh carrot juice, grilled vegetables, sauteed portabello mushrooms and truffle french fries. Her philosophy? Healthy food makes a healthy body. Read more on the Editor page. When she's not fretting over WAFT, she runs a small design agency called mowie media and shares the good times with her dog, Monster and 3 cats Sabi, Kaeli & Misty.

  1. hello~it is our precious to read such a great essay!:)
    we are an Italian wine Global enterprise,Tiamo!

    If u are free, we have a discussions in facebook.
    May u attend the discussion with u ,
    we will be so glad to meet u in facebook.

    have a good day!!^_^

    sincerly Tiamoglobal

  2. hello~it is our precious to read such a great essay!:)
    we are an Italian wine Global enterprise,Tiamo!

    If u are free, we have a discussions in facebook.
    May u attend the discussion with u ,
    we will be so glad to meet u in facebook.

    have a good day!!^_^

    sincerly Tiamoglobal

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