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Italian Wines – Part Uno

Italian wine at Peter WhieldonThe Greeks named Italy “Oenotria” the land of the vine, and as a consequence of their cultivation prowess and knowledge they along with the “Etruscans” made what was considered at that time in history the finest wines in the world.

If the development of wine production in Italy has to be attributed to the above mentioned, then the distribution and proliferation of wine consumption and eventual cultivation in various countries, must be due to the Romans and their conquering legions!

In Italy we have Table wine known as “Vino da Tavola” which is equivalent to the French “Vin de table”.

The quality wine is known as DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata)

The DOC label on the bottle guarantees that the wine has been produced in the named vineyard area, and that the methods of production in that vineyard have been specified.

Secondly, the next quality is DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)

This classification is for wines which have reached a higher quality based on stricter controls, and each bottle carries a certified government seal. Good examples of DOCG are Barolo and Chianti.

Italian climate

Italy has a mixed climate ranging from temperate and warm/hot in the south to cooler and wet in the north, with the alp mountain range influencing mini climates in the higher vineyards.

Native Italian red grapes include;

  • Nebbiolo
  • Sangiovese
  • Barbera
  • Lambrusco
  • Native White grapes include;
  • Verdicchio
  • Trebbiano
  • Malvasia

There are of course many more grape varieties grown in Italy and we shall discuss those in the next part. However in the mean time let’s look at how and why the Italians identify their wines as they do.

DOC and DOCG wines must always state their place or area of origin. In some DOC cases, the region is supplemented by a named grape as well. E.g. Barbera d’alba

For Vino (vini) di tavola wines the only stipulation is the grape used in the finished product e.g. Lambrusco.

Also on the label or neck collar /foil closure you may find a seal from the local co-operative or “consorzio” who further endorse this quality product over and above normal DOC requirements. A good example of this is the big Black Rooster/Cock on the label for Chianti Classico.

So let’s mention some of the principle growing areas and wines…

Growing areas and Wines

Barolo DOCG – this wine comes from the north west of Italy and can only be described as a full bodied monster of a wine with great ageing potential (one of my favourites!) It is made from the Nebbiolo grape in and around the quaint village of Barolo and aged for a minimum of 3 years. In reality you can find longer aged Barolo if you look hard it is worth the hunt.

Chianti DOCG – a Tuscan tiger of a wine with a classico defined area within the region; it produces both light and heavier versions with fantastic depths of flavour.

Barbaresco DOCG – Grown in Piemonte region the same as Barolo but just a little further north, has the same characteristics and matures a little earlier.

Valpolicella-DOC –  Up north you will find this wine! That’s the north of Italy of course, jokes aside it is a delightful wine and is essentially a blend of wines from vineyards situated around the city of Verona.

Bardolino DOC – this is a light red but very flavoursome,

Lambrusco DOC – a lightly effervescing /sparkling wine from central Italy well known to the British palate.

Frascati DOC – an Italian sparkler from just south of Rome, is usually made dry but sweeter versions are made for supermarket house wines.

Soave DOC – A beautiful white wine, fruity, balanced and some say nourishing! From the town of Soave near Verona in the north of Italy.

Orvieto DOC – made in Umbria north of Rome, interesting vineyards of mixed terrain. The locals mostly consume this wine as a semi-sweet or “abboccato”  version, but the wine version we seem to get in UK is DRY (secco). So you what to do when your in Italy and visiting Rome, get on the train travel north to this area and sample some of the wines, you wont be disappointed.

It is worth mentioning wine production south of Rome, it is concentrated mainly on bulk quantities of lower grade wines mainly used in the production of Vermouth, however later we shall discover some interesting lesser known grapes used, but more importantly what they are used for!

Generally speaking, in Italy the growers in their communes produce some very fine wines, most of which they consume themselves .When on a visit or holiday to a wine growing area , dig deep and find out what the locals “really“ drink ,and then get your hands on a bottle or two of that.

Commercially, yes we in the UK get a range of Italian wines but I do not think we get anywhere near their best as we are mostly dependent on Supermarket buyers who select products based on profit and supply availability. There is however your local wine merchant/wholesaler who might just be able to help, and in addition to that look out for the regional wine fairs.



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