Long live Italy especially when it comes to wine. With a brief history of Italian wine making' this article hopes to provide an introduction to the complex world of Italian wine and an homage to early winemakers.
The Roots of Winemaking
The roots (sorry) of grape cultivation in Italy began in ancient Mesopotamia' where evidence of fermented grape juice dates to 6000 B.C. Beginning more than 4000 years ago on the island of Sicily ancient Greeks (or Etruscans) encouraged wine production and cherished it as a drink of the elite. It was with the Romans however that wine truly hit its stride. Credited with many vinification improvements such as trellising barrel aging and micro climate identification' the Roman Empire was responsible for making wine the ubiquitous drink of Italy that it is today.
Too Much of a Good Thing
With 20 dissimilar regions' 110 provinces and over 3000 different registered grapes (some estimates place the number closer to 15000), Italy can be a confusing country when buying wine. To help with identifying quality wines Italy instituted the Denominazione di Origine (D.O.) in 1963. The D.O. is a regulation system with three tiers of quality: Denominazione di Origin (designation of origin) Denominazione di Origin Controlata or D.O.C. (controlled designation of origin) and Denominazione di Origin Controlata Garantita or D.O.C.G. (controlled designation of origin guaranteed). Look for these designations on the label with an ascending level of anticipation. Another designation to look for is Indicazione Geografica Tipica or I.G.T. These are wines considered to be of high quality and typical to the region yet not conforming to the stringent D.O. wine laws. (You will often see Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon for instance blended with traditional' indigenous Italian grapes.)
Here are a few classic regions and grape varietals to look for in Italy (though we&rsquo,re barely scratching the surface.) In the North West of Italy is Piedmont' home of the famous Barolos made from Niebiollo. Full bodied and powerful Barolos are long-lived and iconic. Other common grapes in Piedmont are Barbera Dolcetto and Moscato (of Moscato d&rsquo,Asti fame). South of Piedmont lies Tuscany. Crafted primarily from the indigenous Sangiovese grape Tuscany is famous for the Chianti D.O.C.G. as well as their &lsquo,Super Tuscans&rsquo, (I.G.T.&rsquo,s of renown). The greatest volume of wine production hails from the Veneto in East-Central Italy. Famous for Amarone Valpolicella and their white Soaves the Vento produces some of the most distinct wines in Italy. Be sure to try Franciacorta from Lombardy (a Champagne style sparkler)' and also the white wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Pinot Grigio among them).
A Life Long Joy
With its many grape varietals' numerous regions and a multitude of wine styles Italy is often considered the final frontier in wine. Don&rsquo,t let it intimidate you. With some of the most iconic wines in the world and indeed being the very home of modern wine making Italian wines must be tried by the aficionado. Start slow dip you toe in the Mediterranean but be prepared for a life-long swim.