Italy

ITALIAN WINE FACTS

  • Wine has been produced in Italy for over 4,000 years
  • Ancient Greeks dubbed it “Enotria” – land of wine
  • Romans propagated the cult of Bacchus, establishing a flourishing wine trade thousands of years ago
  • Leading producer of wine in the world
  • Thousands of different wines are produced in Italy’s 20 regions
  • Hundreds of different grape varieties

ITALIAN WINE LAWS

Vini Varietali & Vino (formerly Vino da Tavola)

  • Simplest wines
  • Few government controls
  • New EU rules allow for use of following grapes with Country of Origin with/without vintage date:
    • Cabernet
    • Merlot
    • Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Syrah
    • Cabernet Franc
    • Chardonnay
    • Sauvignon
    • Wine – Red, White, Rose

IGT/IGP (Indication of Typical Geographic Origin)

  • Less restrictive than DOC
  • Some examples – Toscana (not every region has a general IGT), Maremma Toscana, Delle Venezie (inter-region Veneto /Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige)

DOC/DOP (Denomination of Controlled Origin)

  • 300 + wines from all 20 regions EEC = PDO/DOP – Protected Denomination of Origin/Denominazione di Origine Protetta
  • Regulates geography, grapes, yields and in some cases – aging

DOCG/DOP (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin)

  • 73 Wines – only 15 regions EEC =PDO/DOP – Protected Denomination of Origin/Denominazione di Origine Protetta
  • Most Restrictive Category.
  • Further guarantee of authenticity.
  • No wine law can guarantee quality, only producer can do that.

HOW ITALIAN WINES ARE NAMED

  • Grape Variety – Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, etc. Usually in conjunction with an IGT or DOC
  • Area/Zone of Production – Barolo, Chianti, Gavi, Valpolicella, etc.
  • Grape Variety and Area/Zone – Brunello di Montalcino, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Brachetto d’Acqui, etc.
  • Fantasy /Proprietary Names – ExcelsuS, Sassicaia, SummuS, Tignanello, etc.

ITALY

Italy is a spirited, thriving, ancient enigma that unveils, yet hides, many faces. Invading Phoenicians, Greeks, Cathaginians, as well as native Etruscans and Romans, left their imprints as did the Saracens, Visigoths, Normans, Austrians and Germans who succeeded them.

As one of the world’s top industrial nations, Italy offers a unique marriage of past and present, tradition blended with modern technology — as exemplified by the Banfi winery and vineyard estate in Montalcino.

Italy is 760 miles long and approximately 100 miles wide (150 at its widest point), an area of 116,303 square miles — the combined area of Georgia and Florida. It is subdivided into 20 regions and inhabited by more than 60 million people.

Italy’s climate is temperate, as it is surrounded on three sides by the sea and protected from icy northern winds by the majestic sweep of alpine ranges. Winters are fairly mild and summers are pleasant and enjoyable.

NORTHWESTERN ITALY

The northwest sector of Italy includes the greater part of the arc of the Alps and Apennines from which the land slopes toward the Po River. The area is divided into five regions: Valle d’Aosta, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. Like the topography, soil and climate, the types of wine produced in these areas vary considerably from one region to another. This part of Italy is extremely prosperous, since it includes the so-called industrial triangle made up of the cities of Milan, Turin and Genoa, as well as the rich agricultural lands of the Po River and its tributaries.

NORTHEASTERN ITALY

The three regions of the northeast known as Tre Venezie, or simply Le Venezie, hold top place in Italy in terms of quality wines. Of the three regions, Veneto is the largest producer of DOC wines, while Trentino-Alto-Adige has the highest percentage of DOC in comparison with total output. Friuli Venezia Giulia, the third region, known for well-structured red and white wines, is now being discovered.

CENTRAL ITALY

Because they benefit from ample sunshine and moderate temperature, the band of hills and mountains occupying the center of the Italian peninsula represents an ideal environment for the production of quality. The six regions of central Italy — Tuscany, the Marches, Umbria, Latium, the Abruzzi and Molise — account for one-quarter of wine output.

SOUTHERN ITALY

The sun-drenched vineyards of the six regions of the south — Campania, Apulia, Calabria, Basilicata, Sicily and Sardinia — were the cradle of Italian enology. Winemaking there benefited from the contributions of Greek colonists who introduced new varieties and advanced techniques of cultivation, spreading from the island and the south to the rest of the peninsula.

When they took over the area, the Romans showed great capacity for exploiting the heritage of such wines as Falerno, Cecubo, Ciro’ and Mamertino, which were important in respect to the inspiration they provided such poets as Virgil and Horace. The techniques used in the area for growing grapes and making wines were carefully studied and commented on by such authors as Pliny the Elder and Columella.

Despite their noble origins and the attention devoted to them over the centuries, the wines suffered numerous setbacks. One of the most serious was the order of the Emperor Domitian who, concerned by the excess production of wine in every part of the Roman Empire, uprooted numerous vineyards.

THE FOOD

When most people think of Italian food, their senses immediately perk up into a gustatory salute. Is there a national cuisine of Italy? The answer is no, just as there are no national French, Chinese or Mexican cuisines. What exists, instead, are the traditional “cuisines of the people” with dramatically distinguishable regional accents and “haute cuisines,” international in scope and execution, whose various epicurean preparations are provided great attention and care.

The “cuisines of the people,” given their grass-roots nature, are featured in myriad restaurants, country inns, insignificant taverns and neighborhood eateries, while the “haute cuisine” reigns in luxury hotels, renowned resorts and deluxe restaurants.

To an Italian, the term “Italian cooking” means almost nothing. However, he will react to and have definite views on Tuscan or Piemontese or Neapolitan or any other type of regional foods.

Basically, there are two major areas of taste in Italy. The north offers more delicate foods featuring mostly rice (especially in the northern Po Valley — Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto), pasta in light sauces, baby lamb, veal, butter, cream, cheese and lots of crisp wines — first discovered by American tourists and now the rage in the U.S.

The other “southern” area begins with Rome and ends in Sicily. There the rich bloodiness of the tomato prevails. This type of cuisine, redolent of garlic and flushed with tomatoes, is widely known in the U.S.

“Southern” cuisine was first introduced to the US in the early 1900s. At that time, waves of immigrants from the sun-baked Mezzogiorno, Italy’s much neglected and impoverished south, landed in America to seek a new life. Those with manual skills found work as carpenters, tailors and stone masons; others, with limited skills and a minimum of education, took odd jobs, especially in restaurants, as dishwashers, busboys or waiters. They worked under owners whose culinary background consisted of having watched their mothers cook. These “restaurateurs” served dishes they were familiar with, using ingredients that they had known, adding a few baroque touches to make them appear more sophisticated. They twisted what was originally good food into an offense to the sense by sprinkling it with massive doses of garlic, onion, hot pepper, oregano, basil and tomatoes to make it more “authentic.” Americans readily accepted it, thinking, “That’s Italian!”

Pizza is the ultimate expression of “southern” cuisine. It is a primitive dish of bread dough baked to a perfect crispness in a very hot oven (wood ovens are best). Pizza has definite visual and palate appeal, even when topped with the simplest ingredients, the basic tomato sauce and mozzarella. (Today’s “pizza tailors” concoct almost anything, just for the effect.) Pizza is prominently featured on the breakfast table of many Neapolitans.

Pizza’s origins date to the ancient Romans. They did not know pizza as we know it today, because they were not aware of the existence of tomatoes (introduced in Europe after the discovery of the New World). They called the dish “placenta,” and sold it in a “placentarium.” Its ingredients were ground spelt, wheat, chickpeas and raisins.

Fortunately, today, Italian cuisine in the United States is coming into its own with a phantasmagoria of exquisitely prepared, colorful, sensuous, varied and vivid dishes. Much to be commended is the diligent work of Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani, a national organization of professional Italian restaurateurs who are devoting a lot of time and effort to train tomorrow’s professionals in the art of Italian food preparation. They have been instrumental in establishing, for the first time, a course on Italian cuisine, as well as an Italian restaurant called “Caterina de Medici” at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, New York. In addition, they have donated scholarship funds to the school.

Summing up the Italian’s passion for good food is the following inscription that appears on the lintel of a monastery in the region of Umbria. It says: “In the kitchen, the soul reaches perfection.” Italians are proud to savor that perfection.

THE WINES

In Italy today, about one out of every 15 acres bears grapes. The most dramatic strides in improving quality have come through high-level technical specialization, as pioneered by Banfi’s Italian team. Gone are the days of decaying wines, stifled by overexposure to wood, magnificent examples of obsolescence.

Thanks to the use of horizontal presses, stainless-steel tanks, filtration of must, temperature-controlled fermentation, storage at low temperature and bottling under nitrogen, today’s Italian white wines are crisp, clean, intensely fruity, fresh, vibrant with better acid content, structure and stability.

The judicious use of barriques, small new oak barrels, has refined many of the reds, rounding their sharp edges, softening them and bringing out, with maturity, their aristocratic core.

A new generation of inviting spumanti has emerged, made with Brachetto, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Bianco, Glera (aka Prosecco), Durello and other grape varieties, either by Charmat (cuvee close) fermentation or Champenoise (fermentation in the bottle). These spumanti are just right to quench Italy’s increasing taste for sparkling wines.

Asti, the all-time favorite, has taken a second place to these very appetizing wines, its main consumption being relegated to the Christmas period, when it is traditionally enjoyed at family gatherings with “panettone,” the light, egg-yellow sweet cake containing raisins and bits of candied citrus.

Noble grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, are being planted with increased frequency. High-yield varieties, often grown on flatlands, are discouraged. Italian wine producers have accepted the reality that great quality is the key to survival.

Of Italy’s total wine production, approximately 40% comes from northern regions. The central regions provide about 20% and the south supplies the rest. The regions with the largest DOC/DOCG volume are Veneto, Piedmont, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Trentino Alto Adige and Lazio.

With very few exceptions, Italian wines are named either geographically for the town or district in which they are made (Barolo, Chianti, Soave, Frascati) or after the grape variety used (Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Verdicchio, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Dolcetto) or a contraction of both grape and zone. Some exceptions include Fantasy or proprietary names such as BelnerO, ExcelsuS, SummuS, Sassicaia, Tignanello, Corvo, Cum Laude and Est!Est!!Est!!!.

Wineries in Italy

Region