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In Good Taste

Your International Passport to Italian Wine

Your International Passport to Italian Wine

A Summary of Italian Wine

Italy is simultaneously the most ancient wine-growing country and the forefront of modern wine techniques. Today, Italy produces the largest volume of wine in the world and every single one of its 20 regions has at least one vineyard. It has 590 native grape varieties and over 500 unique styles of wine. 

The distinct boot-shaped country has a rich history in the wine world. Between the perfect wine-growing climate and the Italian preference for native varietals, Italy has a lot to offer the novice wine lover.  

Short History of Italian Wine Beginnings

Natives of the Italian peninsula have been making wine for over 4000 years. Both the Etruscans and the Romans took great interest in producing wine and over the years Italian winemaking practices and traditions evolved and grew. When the Greeks arrived in the 8th century B.C., they named it “Oenotria” which means “the land of wine.”

History of Italian Wines

The Romans believed that wine was a necessary part of democracy and worked to make wine available to all classes of people, from the peasants to the aristocrats. Many of the techniques used in modern Italy were formed during the time of the Romans. Wine rose even further when it became associated with the “blood of Christ” in the Catholic sacrament.

Like many European countries, Italy suffered from the phylloxera pest in the 1900s which forced winemakers to focus on quantity over quality to make up for their losses. The result is that in the 1900s Italy became known for cheap, delicious table wines. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the quality of Italian wine was vindicated with the introduction of the Denominazione d'Origine Protetta (DOP) or protected designation of origin.

Italian Wine Quality Control: IGT, DOC, DOCG

Today Italy is known for both the quality and quantity of its wines. Table wines, or vinos da tavola (VdT), are widely made and drunk across the country, but the real high-quality wines are found in the Denominazione d'Origine Protetta (DOP). This system was introduced in the 1960s and hugely influenced modern Italian winemaking.

Italian Wine Appellations and Wine Control

DOC

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), or Denomination of Controlled Origin, was the first to be introduced. This title was only bestowed on wines that met certain criteria such as wine color, grape varieties, and alcohol levels. It also ensured that winemakers followed certain viticultural, vinification and maturation techniques.

Many modern Italian wines that bear the titles of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, vino nobile di Montepulciano, Barolo, and Barbaresco qualify as DOC wines. All in all, 334 wines fall under the title of DOC.

Super Tuscans

After the DOC was introduced, many winemakers rebelled against the restrictions which they thought would kill off innovation in Italian wine. As a result, the Super Tuscans were born and a new denominazione was created. Super Tuscans were among the first to include varietals from outside Italy, namely Cabernet Sauvignon.

IGT

If table wines make up a majority of Italian drinking wine, Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) is the next level up. The IGT title has the fewest regulations and allows winemakers the freedom to experiment.

DOCG

The Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), or Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, came a bit later in 1980. This title was awarded to the highest quality wines in Italy. Once again Brunello di Montalcino and vino nobile di Montepulciano in Tuscany, and Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont made the cut. Only 74 DOCG’s exist in Italy today.

However, the DOCG isn’t as reliable as it sounds. Since the title applies to a region and not a specific wine, the quality of DOCG wines can vary based on the year, climate, and location where its made. 

The truth is that you can find quality wines in Italy no matter what their qualifications. Table wines, IGT, DOC, and DOCG are only a guideline to the many levels of winemaking in Italy.

Reading a Wine Label: Other Italian Words to Know

Riserva: A wine aged for longer than usual. Rules vary depending on denominations.

Superiore: A high-quality designation added to a regional name (i.e., Chianti Superiore).

Azienda Agricola: A farm or estate that produces the grapes it uses in the production of its wines.

Annata or Vendemmia: A specific harvest or vintage.

Produttore: Producer

Tenuta: Estate

Vigneto: Vineyard

Italian Terroir 

 

The terroir of Italy is extremely varied as the soil, climate, proximity to the ocean, and topography change depending on where you are in the country. If you look at a map of Italy’s regions, you will see that wine is grown across the continent in every climate and geographical region. A few of the major factors that affect terroir in Italy are the mountains (Alps and Apennines), lakes (Lake Garda, Lake Iseo), oceans and seas (Tyrrhennian, Adriatic, Ionian), soil type (glacial and volcanic), topography (hills, plains, mountains), and the climate.

Grapevines grow in almost every part of Italy. Many of the wines grown in Italy are table wines meant to be consumed shortly after fermentation. Italian red wine is also made to reflect the food of the region. In Italy, wine and food are inexorably tied. Full-bodied reds are especially popular since they stand up to the strong flavors of tomato sauces, plates of pasta, and cured meats.

Italy can be divided into three main regions: northern, central, and southern.

Map of Italian Wine Regions and Terroir

Northern Italy

Areas in Northern Italy - including Piedmont, Trentino Alto-Adige, Veneto, Lombardia, Valle d’Aosta, and Friuli - are influenced by its proximity to the Alps. A longer growing season is needed because of the continental climate, rain, and heavy fogs. Northern Italy is known for dry, tannic reds like Barbera, Nebbiolo, Amarone, and Dolcetto, and sweet or tart whites such as Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella, and Chardonnay.

Central Italy

Regions in Central Italy, such as Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzi, are affected by the moderate, Mediterranean climate. Green, rolling hills and hot summers make for the perfect wine-growing conditions. Tuscany is known for its tannic red Sangiovese and the international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah which often get blended with native Italian varietals. For Italian white wine, central Italy is known for the citrus and mineral notes of its Trebbiano Toscano and Vernaccia wines.

Southern Italy

In Southern Italy, regions such as Campania, Calabria, and Sicily are primarily coast and prairie. The climate is dry and sunny and winemakers are producing full-bodied reds and whites. The primary red varietals include Nero d’Avola, Carignano, Aglianico, and Primitivo, while the Italian white wines are generally made with Grillo, Falanghina, and Vernaccia.

Top Italian Wine Regions

The top three Italian wine regions are Tuscany, Piedmont, and Veneto. Italy has 20 regions overall and 1,730,000 acres of vineyards. With over 2,000 grape varieties, Italy plays host to a great variety of wine and wine styles. The best-known grapes across the country are Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, and Pinot Grigio.

TUSCANY

Acreage of Vineyards: 157,000 acres

Popular Varietals:

  • Sangiovese (⅔ of all grapes in Tuscany)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Trebbiano
  • Malvasia
  • Vermentino
  • Vernaccia

Well-Known Styles:

  • Super Tuscan
  • Chianti
  • Brunello di Montalcino
  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
  • Sassicaia
  • Vin Santo
  • Vernaccia di San Gimignano

The rolling hills of Tuscany are characterized by limestone, sandstone, and clay soils. Depending on if you are close to the coast in the west or mountains in the east, Tuscan wine flavor profiles can vary greatly. 

Some of the best wine in the world comes from Tuscany. Tuscany is known for  Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino,Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made with the Sangiovese grape. Super Tuscans which fall under the IGT system of classification are a newer blend out of Tuscany that incorporates international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon alongside native varietals.

Although typically used for high-end red wines, Sangiovese also makes a delicious Italian rosato or rosé. rosés from Sangiovese grapes tend to have a balance of sweet, savory, and mineral flavors.

PIEDMONT

Acreage of Vineyards: 108,400 acres

Popular Varietals:

Well-Known Styles:

  • Barolo
  • Barbaresco
  • Barbera d'Asti
  • Moscato d'Asti

Piedmont means “at the foot of the mountains” and that is where you will find this quality-driven wine region. Piedmont is better known for its red wines, but the popular white Moscato d’Asti has been growing in popularity. The vineyards at the foot of the Alps produce more DOCG wines than any other region in Italy. 

Nebbiolo makes the full, tannic Barolo wine that Piedmont is known for which has a trademark “tar and rosés” bouquet. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are meant to be aged for at least a few years (strict DOC guidelines require Barbaresco to age at least two years before release, and Barolo for three). Barbera, a wine synonymous with Piedmont, produces a light red wine with few tannins. Producers in California have had some success with this quintessential Italian variety. 

VENETO

Acreage of Vineyards: 220,000 acres

Popular Varietals:

  • Corvina
  • Corvinone
  • Rondinella
  • Glera
  • Garganega
  • Trebbiano

Well-Known Styles:

  • Amarone di Valpolicella
  • Soave
  • Prosécco
  • Pinot Grigio

Veneto is located in the middle of the northern Alpine regions and warmer, drier lands of the south. Unlike Tuscany and Piedmont, Veneto is well-known for both its reds and whites. The classic Amarone di Valpolicella is a rich, dry red that uses passito (dried) grapes to get a jammy, raisin-like flavor. Prosécco is grown in the northeast corner from the native glera grape and the dry Soave features the popular Garganega. Valpolicella is the only DOC to rival Tuscany’s Chianti in terms of production volume. Although only 25 percent of Veneto’s wines fall under DOC, you can find amazing value and quality from Veneto. A trick to finding great wines from Veneto? Look for the V’s- Verona, Vicenza, Valpolicella, Valpantena, Valdobbiadene, and Venezia.

New World winemakers in Washington and California have both taken inspiration from the wine growing regions of Italy with varying degrees of success. Washington state producers successfully incorporated Italian native Sangiovese into their vineyards to create dry, slightly sweet rosés that may one day compete with the traditional wines of Italy. The Sierra Foothills in California are the only place where you can find Sangiovese but Italy’s influence on California exists in the techniques and production of most modern California wines.

Tuscany, Piedmont, and Veneto account for less than a third of the total wine-growing acreage in Italy. Many of the lesser-known regions tend to have a specialty that makes them stand out from the crowd. 

Emilia Romagna makes a delightful sparkling red Lambrusco while Lombardy is known for Italian sparkling wines. The Marche appellation specializes in Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, a dry white wine, while Sicily’s Nerello Cappuccio draws on the deep volcanic flavors from the nearby Mt. Etna. Each of Italy’s 20 regions has some claim to fame and the only way to find your favorite is to try them all.

Production, Exports, Imports

Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine with an average annual production of 50 million hectoliters. A good portion of Italian wine never goes further than a few miles from where it was made. Each Italian consumes an average of 13.6 gallons of wine a year, with 20% of people consuming at least one alcoholic beverage per day.

The United States received most of Italy’s exports in 2020 (about 23.1%) followed by Germany (17.1%), and the UK (11.4%). Almost 60% of the total exports from Italy come from Veneto (542 million euros), Tuscany (246 million euros), and Piedmont (235 million euros). Popular exports include Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Valpolicella di Amarone, Prosécco, Soave, and Lambrusco.

Big Challenges the Wine Industry is Facing

Italian Wine Production
Italian Wine Consumption by Citizen
Wine & Liquor Exports from Italy
Total Exports by Region in Italy

Tourism

Italian wine tourism brings in over 3 million dollars of revenue each year. Wine tourism started with 25 wineries with private tours in 2002 but quickly expanded to over 21,000 vineyard tours modern day. About 4 to 6 million tourists flock to Italy each year to experience its unique wine culture first hand.

Sustainability Practices

In the past several years, Italy has made great strides toward improved sustainability in their winegrowing regions. Equalitas was launched in 2016 to unite the Italian wine business toward a shared vision of sustainability. The Unione Italiana Vini (UIV), the trade union for wine producers, and the Federdoc (handers of the DOC, DOCG, etc) work together to promote more sustainable practices in soil handling, biodiversity, manufacturing, communication, workers rights, and more.

Problems and Limitations

The very systems put in place to ensure the quality of Italian wine are one of their greatest limitations. If it weren’t for innovative winemakers willing to break outside of the box, Italy would quickly fall out of touch with trends and changing tides within the greater world of wine. Super Tuscans are a notable example of winemakers in Italy who are thinking past the DOC and DOCG designations to make wines with new grapes and techniques. Their increasing popularity shows how important innovation can be in the changing wine industry.

Italy has also been hit hard by the changes from climate change. Rising temperatures result in grapes with more sugar and less acidity. This means that wines are getting sweeter and boozier - both of which are not typical qualities of a fine wine. 

Big Challenges the Wine Industry is Facing

Super Tuscans enable winemakers to experiment with new grapes and techniques
Climate Change alters the booziness, sugars and acidity of fine wines

Fun Facts

  1. If you’ve ever bought a bottle of Chianti Classico, you may have noticed a rooster seal. This seal is a sign of authenticity and alludes to a legend related to the Chianti region. Legend says that a conflict over the borders of the Chianti region between Siena and Florence led to a horse race which would decide the territorial dispute. As soon as the rooster crowed, a rider from each location would set out across the land and wherever they met would mark the new border between the two counties. But Florence kept their rooster in a cage, hungry for days before the race which resulted in it crowing a few hours before dawn. Because the rider from Siena left hours later, the rider from Florence was able to ride much further, increasing the boundaries for Florence.

  2. Appassimento is an interesting Italian winemaking technique that is used in the popular Amarone di Valpolicella. Appassimento is when the winemaker partially dries out the grapes which are then slowly pressed and fermented. The yeast on the grapes has longer to feed on the sugar of the grapes, raising the eventual alcohol content. Common tasting notes include raisins, cherry liquor, and black fig. Vin Santo is also made using the appassimento method. This late-harvest, dessert wine is produced in Tuscany and its name translates to Holy Wine.

  3. After WWII, many Italian winemakers emigrated down under where they took advantage of the climate similar to that of the Mediterranean to create Australian wines with Italian techniques.

Rosé of Sangiovese

Andiamo

Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.

$19.99

Montepulciano

Andiamo

Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Unprecedented

If Pinot Noir is the light and juicy queen of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is her bolder, heavier, meatier sister. Often referred to as just “cab,” it’s the wine of France’s Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley. There’s nothing subtle about Cabernet Sauvignon—high in alcohol, full-bodied and robust, you can usually find this red served with a ribeye, New York Strip, or filet mignon (re: carnivores love cab). Classic cabs usually offer tasting notes of chocolate, coffee, and darker fruits like prunes and plums. The Unprecedented Cabernet Sauvignon is as classic as they come, and we highly recommend letting the bottle sit and mellow until your next red meat and potatoes dinner!

Pinot Grigio

La Pluma

If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

Pinot Noir

Unprecedented

We couldn’t create the In Good Taste Unprecedented collection without the Golden Retriever of wines: Pinot Noir. Pinot is likable, it’s easy, and its natural state of being is simply charming. It’s an incredibly easy red wine to love, which is why so many people do. The grape itself is from the Burgundy region of France, but has made its way to California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Argentina, and Germany since. Our Pinot Noir has no surprise twists—it’s a classic light red with just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back for another glass (or two).

Coteaux Bourguignons

Passport

The Burgundy region of France is home to their best Pinot Noirs, but we took the grapes into our own hands to create something extra special with our Coteaux Bourguignons. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which results in a French red that’s light in body but full in flavor. The ripest blueberries and freshest herbs can be easily detected in this French burgundy blend. May we suggest pairing it with some creamy brie and freshly baked bread? It’s a oui-ning combo.

$25.99

Verdicchio

Andiamo

A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.

$23.99

Côtes du Rhône White

Passport

This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.

$23.99

Bordeaux Rouge

Passport

When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.

$21.99

Ventoux Rosé

Passport

You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.

$21.99

Tempranillo

Wild Child

Say “¡Hola!” to Spain’s main grape: Tempranillo. This red grape put Rioja wine on the map and is un vino tinto classico. It’s best compared to a classic cab, but with a bit more unique magic that’s hard to put your finger on, which is why it’s a part of our Wild Child line. This medium- to full-bodied wine with its relatively higher tannins usually offers complex notes of cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. This is the type of red wine you want to buy and pour for a Latin-infused meal; think carne asada, tacos al carbon, or just perfectly cooked steak fajita meat.

Grenache

La Pluma

We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.

$27.99

Moscato

Andiamo

This grape goes by different names in most European countries, but what remains the same is its fruity floral nature. Delicate in every way and extremely quaffable, this wine is as dainty as they come.

Barbera

Andiamo

We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.

Vermentino

Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.

$23.99

Viognier

Unprecedented

For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.

$24.99

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