In Italy, wine is the center piece of the culinary and the gathering experience along with family and good food. A popular Italian tradition is the belief that the pleasure of eating is essential to the pleasure of living as captured in the saying ―di mangiare bene e’ una cosa sacra‖ to eat well is a sacred thing. It is not surprising therefore that in every season, the tradition of food, family and wine is heartily experienced.
The history of Italian wine is the history of Italy; the ancient Greeks called the peninsula oenotria the land of trained vines. Grapes are grown in every corner of the country, and its regional landscapes, cuisines and even cultures are intimately linked to traditional wines. During the Roman Empire, wines from Latium and Campania, not far from the capital, were considered the highest quality, praised by poets and historians. During the Renaissance, Tuscan wines achieved the preeminence they still enjoy today; in terms of quality, ageability and price, Tuscany’s Chiantis and Brunellos di Montalcino are rivaled only by the Nebbiolo-based Barolos and Barbarescos of the Piedmont region. Despite their historical abundance in the past Italian wines rarely achieved the refinement and international renown of the best French or German wines. Wine was simply the beverage that accompanied meals and, reflecting the amazing diversity of regional cuisines, was produced from an astonishing number of indigenous grape varieties. Most were made to be drunk in the year or two after harvest, and were rarely even bottled. More recently, the extraordinary diversity of Italy’s wines can provide pleasure for every taste and budget, the onslaught of new appellations, unfamiliar grapes and confusing regulations makes it difficult to sort out the true hierarchy of quality. Not until the late 20th century did vintners truly focus on improving quality. The result of this progress has been the achievement of cleaner, more distinctive wines. An improved reputation has lead to world renowned greatness in the 3 B’s (Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello). Italy makes unique, terroir-driven wines that no other wine region in the world can replicate. It also produces superb international-style wines that can compete with the best the world has to offer.
Many wine makers are producing sleek and well-structured Sangioveses from Tuscany, bold and powerful Nebbiolos from Piedmont and opulent and muscular Aglianicos from Campania are just a few of the unique wines available from Italy, not to mention all the super Cabernets, Merlots, Syrahs and blends of all of these.
Key regions in Italy for wine production are the Veneto, Tuscany, Abruzzo and Sicily. The Veneto is located in northeastern Italy and one of Italy’s top four regions wine producing regions. The best known wine areas also known as DOCs are Bardolino, Soave and Valpolicella all of which are located around Verona. The popular red grapes grown in the Veneto include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Corvina. Among the white grapes cultivated are Pinot Grigio , Prosecco and Trebbiano.
Tuscany, located in central Italy has been well known for centuries as a major producer of Chianti. In addition to Chianti, this region includes the wine growing areas of Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepuliciano. The dominant red grape is Sangiovese although Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are also important while Trebbiano is the major white grape.
The mountainous region of Abruzzo is located East of Rome on the Adriadic Sea about midway down the coastline. The major wine growing areas are Trebbiano D’Abruzzo and Montepuliciano D’Abruzzo. The main grape variety is Montepuliciano for Rosso and Rosato as well as Sangiovese. The main white varietal is Trebbiano along with Malvasia and Pinot Grigio.
Located off the tip of the toe of Italy’s boot shaped land mass and the biggest Mediterranean island lies Sicily, Italy’s largest wine growing region. The most widely cultivated red varietal is Nero D’Avola also called Calabrese with Barbera and Sangiovese becoming more popular. White varietals include Catarratto Bianco and Trebbiano.