Introduction It would be difficult to overemphasize the significance of Italy as a wine-producing country

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  • It would be difficult to overemphasize the significance of Italy as a wine-producing country.

  • It has played a vital role for thousands of years in the development of effective viticultural practices, cultivation of new varietals, perfection of techniques, and the shipping and selling of wine.

  • Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine.

  • Italy’s government and vintners are both working hard to increase the country’s presence in the global marketplace while maintaining tradition.

Italian Wine—Historical Perspective

  • For almost as long as there have been people in Italy, there has been winemaking.

    • Evidence of wine consumption in northern Italy dates back to 4000 BC.
    • Central and southern parts of the Italian peninsula were colonized by the Greeks starting in 1000 BC as part of the expanding Greek Empire.
    • With the colonizing forces came increased knowledge of viticulture and winemaking.

Italian Wine—Historical Perspective (continued)

  • By the fifth century BC a true wine industry had evolved in Greece, and trading became prevalent throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

    • So successful was the production of wine in Italy that the Greeks called their colony Oenotia, or “the land of trellised vines.”
    • In northern Italy the Etruscans already had a long history of vine cultivation.
    • The Etruscans, like the Greeks, came to consider consumption of fine wine one of the sure signs of a civilized people.

A new empire began to control Southern Italy when the Romans emerged as the dominant force in the region between the third and second centuries BC.

  • A new empire began to control Southern Italy when the Romans emerged as the dominant force in the region between the third and second centuries BC.

    • The Romans’ interest in wine is proven by the many mentions of wine in their writings.
    • As the population of the city of Rome grew, it became the single most important market for the wine.
    • Romans were consuming so much wine that in AD 92, the emperor of Rome decreed that too much arable land was devoted to the wine grape.

Viticulture persisted, and the Romans continued to develop their vineyards, and to trade with wine in all parts of the known world.

  • Viticulture persisted, and the Romans continued to develop their vineyards, and to trade with wine in all parts of the known world.

    • Evidence of Roman wine vessels has been found in England, the Iberian Peninsula, and northern Africa.
    • The Romans also introduced viticulture to any colony where climatic and soil conditions were appropriate.
    • It is under the Romans that vineyards were planted throughout modern day France, reaching into Bordeaux by the first century AD, and into Alsace and Burgundy by the third century.

When the Holy Roman Empire fell in approximately AD 300, wine production in Italy came to a standstill.

  • When the Holy Roman Empire fell in approximately AD 300, wine production in Italy came to a standstill.

    • Although wine continued to be produced in former colonies, within Italy virtually the only wine produced was for the Christian Church.
    • Wine’s integral role in Christian (and Jewish) religious ceremonies was a strong factor in its survival of Europe’s Dark Ages.
    • In Italy, as elsewhere in Europe, monasteries became the center of wine production.

As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages into the later Middle Ages, wine once again became an important commodity for trade.

  • As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages into the later Middle Ages, wine once again became an important commodity for trade.

    • As trade increased, a wealthy middle class of merchants and businessmen developed, with an interest in wine.
    • From throughout Italy came wine to fill the demands of markets in Europe.
    • Merchants soon found new markets for their product in Paris, the British Isles, and as far away as Eastern Europe and the Baltic area.

Winemaking techniques were improved during the nineteenth to early eighteenth centuries.

  • Winemaking techniques were improved during the nineteenth to early eighteenth centuries.

    • Tuscany became the center of Italy’s wine trade, establishing their first wine laws in the early 1700s.
    • During this time, Italy was still fractured into many small competing provinces, some independent states, some under the control of Austria’s Hapsburg Empire.

By the 1800s, the provinces of the Italian peninsula began their steady emergence into the modern wine trade.

  • By the 1800s, the provinces of the Italian peninsula began their steady emergence into the modern wine trade.

    • Most Italian wine at this time was of average quality and was marketed locally.
    • But certain wine regions—Barolo, Barbaresco in Piedmont, Valpollicella in Veneto, and Chianti in Tuscany—became known for superior wine.
    • When Italy finally united as one country in 1860–1861, progress toward a modern wine trade gathered momentum.

In the late nineteenth century, Italy, like the rest of Europe, suffered a serious setback when phylloxera and powdery mildew arrived.

  • In the late nineteenth century, Italy, like the rest of Europe, suffered a serious setback when phylloxera and powdery mildew arrived.

    • The process of replanting vines on American root-stock was expensive, and many small vintners ceased operation.
    • Also lost were many of Italy’s indigenous varietals.

Italy acquired a reputation as a producer of large quantities of undistinguished, affordable wines.

  • Italy acquired a reputation as a producer of large quantities of undistinguished, affordable wines.

    • This continued on into the 1970s, and only recently has this perception changed.
    • Important factors were the adoption of quality control laws in 1963 and the leadership of vintners determined to put the emphasis on quality.

The Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (DOC) Laws

  • After the Second World War, Italian vintners agreed that if they were to continue their progress, there would need to be standards set for production.

    • Regions that had already acquired a reputation for quality wanted to protect their authenticity.
    • Regions that were struggling to improve the quality of their wines needed guidelines to ensure progress.
    • Italian leaders worked closely with the French who already had a system of quality control laws in place.
    • In 1963 the Italian Parliament passed the Denominazione di Origine laws.

The Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (DOC) Laws (continued)

  • The laws, which became effective in 1966, created the Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (DOC) designation.

    • DOC designation guarantees the place of origin of any wine bearing the name of a region.
    • The laws also established basic standards of quality for DOC regions.
    • The first DOC was granted in 1966 to Tuscany’s white Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

The wine laws included a top category of classified wines, the Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).

  • The wine laws included a top category of classified wines, the Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).

    • This level not only regulated the production of wine in regions so designated, but further guaranteed they would be of high quality.
    • The laws specified varietals, yields, and minimum alcohol and acidity levels.

From the time the DOC laws were first enacted, there was resentment from many vintners to the government control.

  • From the time the DOC laws were first enacted, there was resentment from many vintners to the government control.

    • Some vintners reverted to cheaper methods of grape growing and winemaking.
    • Other innovative producers began to make wine outside the parameters of the new laws, bypassing the DOC designation.
    • The legitimacy of the wine laws was further eroded after 1980, when the authorities began elevating to the DOCG level inferior regions.

In 1992, Italy’s wine laws were revised setting legitimate guidelines to be a reliable indicator of quality.

  • In 1992, Italy’s wine laws were revised setting legitimate guidelines to be a reliable indicator of quality.

    • In the overhaul of the laws, new designations were created, and existing regulations were tightened.
    • The tougher, fairer laws earned support within the wine industry.
    • With government and vintners and corporations now working together, Italy has improved the quality of its wines considerably.

Quality Designations

  • The new DOC laws encompass all of Italy’s many wines, even those that do not meet any specific standards.

  • The laws divide all of Italy’s numerous wine regions into four levels of quality.

    • Vino da Tavola
    • Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
    • Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (DOC)
    • Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

Vino da Tavola

  • Vino da Tavola: “Table wine.” At this level no geographic place of origin can be named.

    • There are essentially no regulations imposed on producers except those required for health and safety standards.
    • If the wine is bottled, only the color of the wine, alcohol content, volume per bottle, and producer is shown on the label. The vintage date is not required.
    • Approximately 77 percent of wine produced in Italy is in the vino da tavola category.

Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)

  • The Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) category was newly created to include wines that were made in a DOC region, but not according to the laws of that region.

    • This way some of the wines that had been made previously by vintners like Piero Antinori who blended Sangiovese with Bordeaux varietals, could have a designation higher than just vino da tavola.
    • An IGT label cannot, however, show a smaller sub-region or specific village or an individual vineyard.

Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) (continued)

  • Since 1996, when some of the first Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blends from Tuscany, the so-called Supertuscans, were granted IGT status, the number of IGT wines has steadily increased.

    • These wines, most of which are made in Tuscany, cover a wide range of styles from solid, good-value blends to fine proprietary wines.
    • These are among the most expensive wines produced in Italy and have had tremendous success in export markets.

Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (DOC)

  • As in the original 1963 law, a DOC wine must be made from specified grape varietals grown within a delimited geographic area, according to prescribed methods of viticulture.

    • The major improvement of the 1992 overhaul was to allow the dividing of a large DOC region into more specific subzones.
    • The recognition of variability of terroir within a DOC gave credibility to the system that it had previously lacked.

Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (DOC) (continued)

  • There is now a hierarchical basis to the geographic delimitations, mandating that the smaller the zone, the more rigid are the standards, especially on production limits.

    • This hierarchy actually allows more flexibility to vintners as they can choose to declassify a wine from a smaller, more restricted DOC to a larger, in a sense “lower” DOC.
    • The “concentric circles” hierarchical concept also holds true for French appellations.

Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

  • This category was first created in 1963 to designate the most prestigious subregions within the DOC regions.

    • By 1992 there were eleven DOCGs, seven red and four white.
    • Among the revisions of the wine laws that year was a tightening of the requirements for DOCG status.
    • As of 2005, there were 32 DOCGs, 20 red and 12 white.

Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) (continued)

  • Wines from these DOCG regions are given more stringent taste analysis than wines from the 300 DOC regions.

    • To qualify for DOCG status, a DOC zone must have at least five years’ record as a recognized demarcated zone, and its wines must have established a reputation of success.
    • The criteria may be difficult to quantify, but the quality of DOCG zones has been elevated in the past 10 years.

DOC and DOCG Production Standards

  • At both the controlled levels of Italy’s wine laws, very specific requirements are listed and closely regulated.

    • Grape varietals allowed and the percentage of each that must be used, usually listed as a minimum and maximum
    • Yield per hectare and pruning methods
    • Total amount of wine to be produced
    • Vinification methods (for instance, chapitalization is not allowed)
    • Aging requirements and methods (the use of the term riserva is carefully controlled)

DOC and DOCG Production Standards (continued)

  • Additionally, these wines undergo taste analysis to confirm that they meet standards for their denomination.

    • The quality analysis of DOCG wines is more stringent than for DOC. Moreover, each bottle of DOCG wine is sealed with a numbered government seal.
    • Currently, 14 percent of wine produced in Italy is from a controlled denomination, at either the DOC or DOCG level.

Naming of Italian Wines

  • At the classified levels—that is, DOC and DOCG—there are two ways a wine can be named.

    • The name of the wine could be just the geographic region of origin—for instance, Barolo or Chianti.
    • A classified wine can be named by region of origin and varietal, such as Barbera d’Alba (red wine made from Barbera grapes grown in the subregion of Alba in Piedmont)

Naming of Italian Wines (continued)

  • If a wine is to be named with the varietal and region, the varietal must be one approved for use in that region.

  • If the wine is a blend of two or more varietals, the wine can be named for its color, such as Rosso di Montalcino (a blended red from the Montalcino subregion of Tuscany).

Naming of Italian Wines (continued)

  • Classico is a geographic term indicating that the vineyards where the grapes were grown are in the portion of the wine region which traditionally has produced better grapes. Example: Chianti Classico

  • Riserva is a winemaking term indicating additional aging. Each classified wine region has its own minimal aging requirements regulating the use of the term riserva. Example: Chianti Classico Riserva

  • Amabile—Semisweet. Example: Orvieto Amabile, an off-dry white wine from Orvieto. (Dolce indicates a truly sweet dessert wine.)

Naming of Italian Wines (continued)

  • Secco—Dry. Example: Orvieto Secco is a dry version of the white wine, Orvieto.

  • Superiore indicates the wine is at least 1 percent higher in alcohol than the minimum or it received extra time in cask than required for its DOC.

  • Imbottigliato dal produttore all’origine means that the wine was bottled by the producer at the source of the grapes.

Wine Regions of Italy

  • There are 20 political regions in Italy. Each of these regions producers wine, and each has delimitated wine zones.

  • There are over 300 DOCs in Italy, and literally thousands of different wines produced.

  • The five regions that are most likely to be found in the North American market are

    • Piedmont
    • Veneto
    • Friuli-Venezia
    • Trentino Alto-Adige
    • Tuscany


  • The large region of Piedmont in Northwest Italy is nestled up against the Alps. (Piedmont, or Piemonte in the Italian spelling, means “foot of the mountain.”)

    • It is the largest region on the mainland, and there is a considerable variety of mesoclimates.
    • Despite its size, Piedmont is not Italy’s largest producer of wine, but it does have the highest percentage of classified wines: 17 percent.

Piedmont (continued)

  • Two of Piedmont’s neighbors, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, have long histories of wine production and continue to make impressive wine today.

    • Within the subregion of Emilia, there are four sub zones that produce prodigious quantities of Lambrusca.
    • Lombardy is home to many DOCs, and is well known for its sparkling wine, Franciacorta Spumante, made in the same method as Champagne.

Piedmont (continued)

  • Piedmont is home of two of Italy’s most esteemed wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, the second and third DOC regions, respectively, to be elevated to DOCG status.

    • Both wines are made entirely from the region’s famous red grape, the Nebbiolo. This grape is site-specific in that it easily reflects the vineyard’s terroir.
    • Both Barolo and Barbaresco are big, rich, tannic, concentrated wines with full bouquets.

Piedmont (continued)

  • The most widely planted grape in the region is the Barbera, less tannic, lighter, and more acidic than Nebbiolo. Also prevalent is the Dolcetto grape.

  • Piedmont is also home to Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, Asti (formerly called Asti Spumante).

  • There are also attractive dry whites made in Piedmont from the Arneis and Cortese grapes, as well as sweet wine made from the Moscato grape (the Italian name for the Muscat).

  • Piedmont produces a wider variety of fine wines than any region of Italy.


  • Named for the village at its center, the region of Barolo produces impressive Nebbiolo.

    • Nebbiolo is named for the Italian word nebbia, the fog, because it ripens late in the autumn when the hills are shrouded in mist.
    • These cool, misty hillsides mean that Barolo is the more austere, restrained, structured, and muscular of Piedmont’s two famous Nebbiolo-based reds.
    • Barolo has been made for hundreds of years, and the wines can age for many years.


  • Named for the village of Barbaresco, the region is smaller than Barolo, with only about 40 percent as much vineyard acreage.

    • Barbaresco is a younger wine than Barolo, not made in the current dry style until the mid-1890s.
    • Barbaresco had little commercial success until the groundbreaking work in the 1960s and 1970s of dedicated local vintners.

Barbaresco (continued)

  • Nebbiolo ripens earlier in Barbaresco, where flat vineyards stretch through the valleys, as opposed to the steep, windy slopes in Barolo.

    • Barbaresco is generally a lighter-bodied wine, but it certainly does not lack for tannins and acidity.
    • Winemaking techniques here, as in Barolo, are moving toward wines with a softer, more approachable style.


  • There are three DOC zones within Piedmont that lend their names to Barbera-based wines—Alba, Asti, and Monferrato.

    • Many viticulturists believe that the Barbera grape originated in the latter zone, and its production was recorded in the mid-1200s.
    • Today, the Barberas of Asti and Alba are held in the highest esteem.
    • Most Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba imported into this country is dry and full-bodied.

Gattinara and Ghemme

  • In the dialect of the eastern provinces of Piedmont, the Nebbiolo grape is called Spanna. There are seven DOC wines made here from the Spanna, but the only two found in the American market are Gattinara and Ghemme.

    • Both of these wines were recently elevated to DOCG status, in hopes that the increase in stature would encourage local vintners to improve quality.
    • Today Gattinara and Ghemme are big, fragrant wines that show strong Nebbiolo character, even though their blends include two lesser red grapes.


  • Dolcetto translates literally as “sweet little thing,” and the wine made from this grape is often compared to Beaujolais.

    • The comparison is apt, although Dolcetto does have more of a bitter bite from tannin.
    • The better Dolcettos come from DOC zones around the town of Alba.
    • Best consumed young and fresh, they are admirably versatile food wines.

White Wines of Piedmont

  • Although renowned for its red wines, the region does also produce several whites worth seeking out.

    • The best known of these is Cortese di Gavi, which was awarded DOCG status in 1999. Made entirely from the Cortese grape, it is very dry and crisp.
    • Of increasing importance are the wines made from the Arneis grape.
    • For many centuries it was used solely as a blending grape for tannic reds, but Arneis is now made into pleasant, whites reminiscent of Pinot Blanc.


  • The most famous white wine from Piedmont remains the sparkling wine, Asti.

    • This wine was known as Asti Spumante since it was first made in 1850, but after its elevation to DOCG status in 1995, only the word Asti shows on the label.
    • Asti is not made in la méthode champenoise, or the Charmat method.

Asti (continued)

  • Made from the Moscato grape, after pressing, the must is kept in stainless steel tanks at a temperature low enough to prevent fermentation.

    • Juice is racked to tanks and fermented cool capturing the carbon dioxide.
    • When the required level of alcohol is reached, the temperature is quickly lowered to allow the proper amount of residual sugar.
    • The wine is bottled only as needed. This way the Asti, with its delicate flavors, is always fresh when bottled.

Central Italy

  • The Apennines Mountains descend down the boot that is Italy, effectively dividing the country in half, geographically and culturally.

    • In the central portion of the country, east of the mountains lie the Marches, Abruzzi, and Molise.
    • On the other side of the mountain range, on the western coast, are Tuscany, Latium, and Umbria.


  • Though many of the wines from the six regions of Central Italy may be successful in the global market, the undisputed leader in wine production is Tuscany.

    • Tuscany, along with Piedmont, is certainly one of Italy’s premier wine regions.
    • Its DOCG red wines—Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile de Montpulciano, and more recently Carmignano—are well known and widely appreciated around the world.


  • In the United States, the best-known Italian wine is undoubtedly Chianti.

    • During the 1960s, Chianti was imported in those ubiquitous straw-covered flasks, and many Americans came to think of this as a mediocre, affordable wine to be served at little cafés.
    • Elevation to DOCG status in 1984 started the turnaround, with the most important change being the mandated lowering of yields and vintners investing in improved facilities.

Chianti (continued)

  • The Chianti region is divided into seven official subregions, each with a slightly different terroir.

    • These subregions are:
      • Chianti Colli Aretini
      • Chianti Colli Fiorentini
      • Chianti Colli Pisane
      • Chianti Colli Senesi
      • Chianti Montalbano
      • Chianti Rufina
      • Chianti Montespertoli (the most recent)

Chianti (continued)

  • The DOC laws of 1963 mandated that Chianti be a blend of Sangiovese, four lesser red grapes and two whites, Trebbiano and Malvasia.

    • The objective was to have the whites decrease the impact of its tannins.
    • Fortunately, the laws were changed in 1999 and now stipulate that Chianti can be between 75 and 100 percent Sangiovese.
    • The wine may include the four other reds and up to 10 percent of the whites, but this is no longer required.
    • The use of up to 10 percent other reds is also now allowed, which frees vintners to blend in varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chianti Classico

  • Chianti Classico is a separate region, and is itself now a DOCG and not a subregion of the general Chianti DOC.

    • Located at the very heart of the Chianti region, it was one of the first wine regions to be defined.
    • The Classico region is itself further divided into smaller zones, grouped around the nine communes, or villages, each with a distinct terroir.


  • In the 1960s producers began releasing blends of Sangiovese and Bordeaux varietals.

  • The wines, given only brand names like Sassicaia and Tignanello, were soon referred to as “Supertuscans.”

    • They were among Italy’s most expensive wines, but they were designated as vin da tavola because they were made from varietals not allowed by the DOC laws.

Supertuscans (continued)

    • When the indicazione geografica tipica classification was created in 1992, the Supertuscans at last were elevated above the vino da tavola level.
    • The only Supertuscan to achieve DOC status to date is the original Sassicaia.

Brunello di Montalcino

  • In 1888 Ferruccio Biondi-Santi made wine from what he claimed was a superior clone of Sangiovese called Sangiovese Grosso or Brunello.

    • To this day, this is the only important Tuscan red made entirely from Sangiovese.
    • The climate around the historic town of Montalcino is warmer and precipitation lower than other sections of central Tuscany, while the open topography and gentle winds assure cool evenings.
    • DOCG regulations mandate a minimum of 36 months of oak aging.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

  • Montepulciano is a quaint village, due east of Montalcino.

    • Here vintners for hundreds of years have made a red wine based on their clone of the Sangiovese, called locally Prugnolo.
    • The same grapes allowed in Chianti are used to produce a deeply-colored, tannic wine.
    • A minimum of two years in cask is required, and three for riserva.
    • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is often referred to as being somewhere between plain Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino in quality.


  • Tuscany’s newest DOCG was elevated to that status in 1988.

    • Wine has been made here since the Middle Ages, and there is a ready market for wines in Florence, 10 miles to the east.
    • The hills here are not as high as in nearby sections of Chianti, making the temperature a little warmer, thus allowing the Sangiovese to fully ripen.
    • Carmignano tends to be less acidic than Chianti, with fruit flavors more fully developed.
    • Presently up to 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc is allowed. Production is small, with only 35,000 cases being made each year.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano

  • Italy’s first DOC, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, became the country’s first white DOCG in 1993.

    • The Vernaccia grape does very well in the sandstone soils in the province of Siena, where temperatures are moderate enough to allow the grapes to retain crisp acidity.
    • Little of the wine is exported, as droves of tourists consume most of the wine in the cafés of Tuscany.

Vin Santo

  • Translated, Vin Santo is “holy wine.” The explanation for the name of this sweet wine is that it was originally made to be palatable to children during Mass.

    • Made throughout Tuscany, there are 12 DOC zones where production of Vin Santo is controlled.
    • Traditionally Vin Santo is made from Trebbiano and Malvasia, which have been partially dried.
    • After the grapes have been dried to concentrate the sugar, they are crushed and fermented.
    • After fermentation, the wine is aged for as long as 5 years in oak barrels. The style of the wine can vary from sweet to dry.

Tre Venezia

  • Due to their strong historical connection to Venice, the three wine regions of Northeastern Italy are referred to collectively as the Tre Venezia, the “Three Venices.”

    • The three regions—Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, and the Veneto—lie north of the great River Po and south of the Alps.
    • These three regions account for about 15 percent of Italy’s total production. However, a large share (30 percent) of their wines are in the DOC category.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

  • Friuli-Venezia Guilia, usually referred to simply as Venezia, is one of the few Italian wine regions in which white wine is more important than red.

    • Friuli lies just across the border from Austria, and the wines reflect that influence.
    • Most of Friuli’s vineyards are located on the flat plains extending inland from the Adriatic Sea.
    • The combination of sunny days and cool evenings explains why Friuli’s whites are so flavorful.
    • Grapes get the sun and moisture they need to evolve their flavors, while temperature drop each evening retains the grapes’ acid.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia (continued)

  • The varietals that do well are Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, and Sauvignon Blanc.

    • The white grape that Friulians think of as their own is Tocai Friuliano accounting for 20 percent of vineyards.
    • Also widely planted and popular for blending is the indigenous varietal, Ribolla Gialla.
    • There are also red grapes planted in Friuli including the local Schioppettino and Refosco, along with the Bordelais varietals for export markets.
    • Friuli-Venezia Guilia is divided into seven DOC sub-zones; two are in the hilly eastern area near the Alps and five are in the plains.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia (continued)

  • One native varietal for which the Friulians have helped to create international demand is the Pinot Grigio, which is called Pinot Gris in France.

    • The best Pinot Grigio from Friuli can have forward, enticing bouquets reminiscent of almonds, pears, and ripe peach.
    • Although Friuli-Venezia is renowned for its whites, 40 percent of its production is red.
    • The predominant red varietal is Merlot, brought here from Bordeaux over a century ago, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The Veneto

  • Veneto is the largest of the regions in the northeast and the most prolific in wine production.

  • Many of the wines made here are simple, straight-forward, and unremarkable.

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, white Soave and the reds, Bardolino and Valpolicella, were hugely popular in the United States.

  • The mediocrity of Veneto’s DOC regions was due primarily to two factors.

    • Within a decade of the passage of the DOC laws, the boundaries of Valpolicella and Soave were extended.
    • The yields permitted in these DOC regions was set too high.


  • Like Soave, Valpolicella’s defined area was greatly expanded in 1968 when it achieved DOC status, more than doubling in size.

    • The original defined section is now the Valpolicella Classico DOC, and its wines are considerably more interesting than simple Valpolicella.
    • Better yet is Valpolicella Classico Superiore, which must have alcohol content of at least 12 percent and must be aged for one year.

Valpolicella (continued)

  • The blend specified by DOC law for any Valpolicella wine is a minimum of 70 percent Corvina.

    • To that basis are blended Molinara and Rondinella.
    • DOC law does not allow for a wine from this DOC to be 100 percent Corvina, and the better vineyards of this varietal are usually saved for use in Valpolicella Superiore.
    • So the majority of simple Valpolicella remains an undistinguished wine.
    • Valpolicella Classico Superiore is of higher quality, the best of which are excellent wines.

Trentino-Alto Adige

  • Unlike the other two “Venezias,” Trentino-Alto Adige is landlocked. It is also the northernmost of Italy’s wine regions.

    • Politically and culturally, this region is as infiltrated by northern influences as by Italian ones.
    • The wines have the precision and focus that are typical of Germany’s and Austria’s whites.
    • While northern climates are more conducive to white wine, there is more red wine made in Trentino-Alto Adige than white.

Trentino-Alto Adige (continued)

  • The white grapes that are prevalent are a mix of indigenous varietals, like the Pinot Grigio and Traminer, and international varietals, like Müller-Thurgau and Chardonnay.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot are all successfully cultivated.

  • The wines are named for the varietal and for the specific DOC region.

  • There are 12 DOC zones, but many of them do not show on labels, because varietal differentiation is more relevant than place of origin.

Southern Italy

  • The southern part of Italy, much of which is rugged, sparsely populated, and economically disadvantaged, has not been prominent in international wine markets.

  • Campania, Puglia (Apulia), Basilicata, Calabria, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia have made wines, like the rest of the country, for hundreds of years.

Southern Italy (continued)

  • The amount of wine coming out of these regions is prodigious, especially from Apulia and Sicily.

    • However, only 2.5 percent of the wine from Sicily, and 2 percent from Apulia is classified.
    • Much of the wine from those regions, as in other parts of southern Italy, is used primarily for blended bulk wine or is distilled into spirits, so the entire area accounts for only 10 percent of the country’s total DOC production.


  • Italian wines have long been popular in the United States, with a real surge in the 1990s, when imports of Italian wines first outpaced those from France.

  • The increase in sales of Italian wines coincided with the wider acceptance of and respect for Italian cuisine during that same period.

  • Americans felt that the Italian culture was more simpatico with our lifestyle, as French cuisine, wines, and so on, are perceived as elitist or formal, and the Italians represent a more relaxed approach.

Summary (continued)

  • Whatever the explanation, Italian wines are steadily increasing their share of the U.S. market for wines.

  • Italian imports now hold a healthy 8.3 percent market share for all table wines sold.

  • The only country whose wines were imported in higher volume was Australia.

  • Pinot Grigio leads the growth in sales of Italian wines (it is now the fourth most popular varietal in this country), followed closely by Chianti.

Summary (continued)

  • However, the perennial favorites are being joined more by other, lesser-known Italian wines, such as the top-quality wines Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, and the excellent-value, but lesser-known wines, especially from the south. With the DOC laws of Italy becoming steadily more strict, and with more producers aware of the importance of quality control versus mass production, it is safe to predict that Italian wine will improve its share of the North American market in the years ahead.

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