Every year it is very common for Italian wine to be at the top of the pile when it comes to good ranking, not the least of which ranks it as the biggest producer, exporter and consumer of wine in the world. If you consider that Italy is only a few hundred miles smaller than the state of California then this fact here is far more interesting.
Even though Italy produces close to 8,000,000,000, bottles of wine every year, the vinters have kept to the same high quality standard of making wine that has a legacy of over 4,000 years. As a result of this Italy has some of the most unique and quality wines on the globe, as well as having the most grape varieties that are locally produced than any country in the world.
One of the bigger deliberations with Italy’s unique wine style is the wide scope of assorted cultures that exist all the way through its 20 wine regions. Each of these cultures has a vigorous sense of pride that translates openly into wine production. At the height of it understanding Italian wine making is hard enough, but to those who’s knowledge is rather limited, it is practically impossible.
Like any journey of consequence it’s best to take it step by step. While Italian wine is both vastly complex and inconsistent, there are some concrete starting points.
First, let’s take a look at the general qualities of Italian wine:
Italian wines have a tendency to be very acidic, this is mainly because wines that contain high levels of acidity are well suited with food. It is hardly then that the prominent food cultures in the Italian society have opted for wine that compliments their astounding commitment to cuisine! This means white wines are inclined to be brusque and red wines are more likely to be firm.
Submissive, earthy aromas – One of the paramount qualities of Italian wines is the touch of the land that one can smell and taste in every bottle. The nose might have hints of mushrooms, soil, minerals and grass. These merits are usually referred to as an earthiness that stops the wine from competing with food.
Medium Body – Though there are quite a few wines that are heavier (such as Barolo), the majority of wines are medium bodied in nature. Again, more appropriate to the wide selection of food dishes that achieve better when not weighed down by heaviness.
Distinctly Italian Grapes – While most of the grapes found in the world are grown in Italy, it also has many grape varieties that are only grown in the wine regions of the particular regions. Nebbiolo, is a good example, this is the grape that used to formulate Barolo and is only ever found in Piedmont and Lombardy regions.
Because of the climate in Italy is so perfect for cultivating grapes, much of the grape varieties have been evolving over the last several thousand years. It is because of this that trying to transplant vines to other regions proves immensely difficult.
Major Red Grapes
There are over 20 key varieties of red grapes growing in Italy, but we are going to start with what are debatably the most significant 3:
Sangiovese (san joe VAE sae) – Planted in many vineyards throughout the Italian country side, particularly in Tuscany and Umbria, this is the main grape in the making of Chianti and the ever popular Super-Tuscan wines. Medium in body, the wine will then posses high levels of tannins and strong acidity with flavours of herbs and cherries.
Nebbiolo(nehb be OH loh) – explicit to the Piedmont district, this varity of grape produces 2 of infamous Italian most wines: Barolo and Barbaresco. For anyone who is considering starting up there own wine cellar these 2 wines are the must haves. The grape is intense with elevated levels of acidity and high tannin levels, calling forth flavours of strawberries, mushrooms and truffles.
Barbera (bar BAE rah) – This grape runs side by side with Sangiovese as the most popular grape variety in italy. This particular grape is a good bit lighter than its partner, the tannin levels are a good bit lower while it still maintains it high acidity levels. The fruity flavours are inclined to be more distinct than in other grapes, it is for this reason that this wine is excellent when enjoyed in the summer.
Important Italian Whites
Pinot Grigio(pee noh GREE joe) – The Italian version of Pinot Gris, this grape in particylar has been haled all around the globe. Although the pinot grigio grape is not as flavourable as it French cousin, it boasts a high acidity with mineral flavours and peaches.
Trebbiano (trehb bee AH noh) – This grape is very familiar in Italy, it has also suffered from casual growing habits. This white grape variety is known for its production of lower class white wines, it is known for its proclivity for producing bland and highly crisp wines as well.
Tocai Friulano (toh KYE free oo LAH no) – For those pinot grigio lovers out there, you will like this grape variety. With the attributes of freshness and bitterness associated with Italian grapes, it can also bring rich and full textures that are more intricate than is usual for whites of this class. It grows for the most part in the Friuli province.
Verdicchio and Vernaccia – These grapes have some of the same body, crispness and acidity as Trebbino, but with a bit more life. Richer flavours and aromas including hints of lemon and sea air are common. They are usually un-oaked.
A person could easily spend an entire lifetime studying this grapes and wine of the Italian country side, especially when these wines are associated with certain foods in there respective areas.
Italian Winemaking Flourishes Through the Ages
When it comes to fine wine, the regions of Italy might come to mind, with their lush, rolling hills where the finest grapes are still hand-picked. Indeed, Italy is home to some of the best wines in the world.
With a population of about 58 million, the country consists of 20 regions subdivided into 103 provinces, each boasting distinctive foods and wines.
During ancient times, the Phoenicians introduced the Mediterranean societies to the “nectar of grapes.” The tribes of Italy began to thrive as wine growers and makers, and wine became one of the most valuable commodities to trade throughout Italy and Europe. Italy was called “Oenotria,” the “Land of Wine,” because of the Mediterranean sunshine and mountain air currents that enhanced the growth of vines.
Italy’s glowing reputation for wine today is due to the fact that it offers the greatest variety of types, ranging through nearly every color, flavor and style.
Italian wines derive from native vines, but also from a complete range of international varieties.
Sangiovese is Italy’s most planted red grape variety, particularly common in central Italy. Trebbiano is the most common name for the Ugni Blanc white grape variety, planted so much that it likely produces more wine than any other grape variety in the world.
Understanding Italian wine may seem to be a complex art, but if you’re up for a challenge, you can test your Italian wine IQ with a short quiz provided by ItalianMade.com.
1. Spumante in Italian wine nomenclature indicates which of the following types of wine?
A) sweet wine; B) dry sparkling wine; C) sweet sparkling wine; D) a wine from Asti; E) sparkling.
2. Nebbiolo is a wine that comes from the Italian word nebbia, which means:
A) cloudy; B) fog; C) diabolical; D) nebula.
3. True or False? The Dolcetto grape variety produces a sweet dessert wine.
Make Mine Italian: Wines From Tuscany And Piedmont
A modern renaissance of winemaking in Italy is making wine lovers and critics stand up and take notice. In the 20th century, wine in Italy frequently meant low-cost, low quality and high volume-think straw covered bottles-with little to get excited about. However, things have changed in past 25 years and thanks to new laws further regulating Italian vintners, the standard of winemakers in that country is reaching new levels of excellence.
Today, Italy is seen as one of the most prolific and versatile wine regions in the world-with over 100 official vitis vinifera vines- and thousands of grape varieties. Italian wines are food friendly and affordable, with many of the wines available in specialty retail stores. Italian red varietals offer a nice alternative to California cabernets and merlots. Sangiovese is the grape of Chianti Classico that hails from the hills of Tuscany in Northern Italy, and in the hands of a talented wine maker, this red wine can be absolutely elegant. Look no farther than the cuisine of Italy to find the perfect match for Chianti. Try pasta pomodoro (or any red sauce), pizza and roast lamb with this lovely red.
The great Barolo, made from the Nebbiolo grape grown in Piedmont, is the King of red wines in Italy. And though Barolos are rare and pricey, these big-gun reds are prize cellar candidates, with at least 5 (if not 15) years of patience required before the wines mature to a divine richness. Boutique wine retailer www.personalcellar.com has only a limited supply of the 1999 Cordero di Montemezolo Barolo, priced under ($40). This is a great value from one of the best vintages of the last decade. If pasta and pizza are on your menu this week, try the 2000 Il Mandorlo Chianti Classico ($25) from another great vintage. It is blended with a little cabernet and merlot, to create a lush, mouth-filling wine with just the right acidity to balance tomato sauces- and not break the bank while still impressing your guests.
Tracing The Ancient History Of Wine
“Good wine”, said Shakespeare “is a good familiar creature if it be well used”.
Wine is one of the most favored and widely consumed drinks in the world, especially in Europe, America, and Australia. Interestingly, the history of wine has several meeting points with the history of the Western world. The origins of wine can be traced back to the Fertile Crescent area (Nile Delta) – a region that lay between the Nile and Persian Gulf. Historians are generally of the opinion that this drink was discovered accidentally during 4000 and 3000 B.C. As human settlements began to grow into larger formats (city/state) people started trading goods and products. The trading practice began to flourish throughout the Mediterranean region. Grapes, fruits, were particularly favored by dynasties such as Romans, Greeks, and Phoenicians and pretty soon, the knowledge of how to make a heady alcoholic drink from this fruit spread fast through the region and finally pervaded Europe too.
The Father Grape
Wine, has now been used for more than 4,500 years. Many believe that Middle East region was where wines were made for the very first time. Of course, throughout the course of history, there are several references to wine including in the Old Testament. The drink was also known to have been enjoyed by early Minoans, Greeks, and Etruscans. Now after hundreds of centuries, wine is still being used for sacramental purposes in Christian churches, celebrations, regular day to day use, and even for medicinal purposes.
Wine takes years to mature after being made from fermenting juice of grapes. There is only on species of grape, ‘Vitis vinifera’, which is used in all wines manufactured across the world. This particular species of grape can be referred to as the father of all grape varieties, because as many as 4,000 varieties have been developed from it so far! Though different from each other, these grapes are also similar in size, color, shape, composition of the juice, time taken for ripening, among other things. But out of these 4,000 varieties, only close to a dozen are used for making wine and the prime among them are: Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat.
Birth of the Spirit
Many facts in the Western world history indicate that our ancestors were definitely familiar with the qualities of different types of grapes. Archeologists have discovered drawings of grape seeds on the walls of ancient caves! According to historians, who have been tracing the history of wine, it is a possibility that grapes may have been fermented with the help of wild yeasts, accidentally leading to the birth of wine.
The birth place of this fermented spirit in all probability is Egypt and Persia. And surprisingly by 3000 B.C. both these regions had developed simple and effective ways to make wine! White wine was perhaps the first one to be prepared by the Egyptians from a grape variety we now know as the “Muscat” grape of Alexandria. The drink was attributed to Orisis (God of death and fertility in Egyptian mythology) and was served during funerary rituals.
Early Years – Egypt & Persia
Since Egypt and Persia are attributed at the birthplaces of the wine, it is not surprising that the Persians also considered wine as a divine gift. Many wine experts believe that some of the finest grape varieties are a direct product of precursor grapes varieties grown by the Persians in ancient days. Furthermore, the Phoenicians are considered the people responsible for spreading the early techniques of winemaking to regions such as Greece, Italy – more specifically Tuscany region.
The Italian Connection
At this time, wine had already become a favored drink in Rome; in fact, wine cultivation became so popular that there was a large surplus of this spirit. So much so that in AD 92 a Roman emperor had to issue a decree that all vineyards outside of Italy be destroyed and uprooted. Though this lead to much loss, but when replanting was allowed again, European countries such as France, Germany, and England benefited from it the most. Since Islam forbade wine drinking, areas under the Muslim empire – from Southern Spain to North India to North Africa – remained unaffected by the winemaking phenomenon. However, Catholic Church has definitely been responsible for the prosperity of winemaking and England also succumbed to the winemaking temptation and now produces new wine varieties such as Sherry, Port, and Madeira.
The French Kiss
The Christian monks in France and Northern Italy maintained record of the winemaking techniques, rituals, practices, and method of grapes cultivation. The records played an instrumental role and more and more regions began to work hard to produce the best type of grape and best tasting wine in their areas. Therefore, by 1800, France and Northern Italy came to be recognized as the most well developed regions for producing wine worldwide.
Today, regions such as Australia, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and Napa Valley in America are providing tough competition to the reputed wine producing regions such as France, Italy, and England – not just in quality, taste, richness and variety but also technique and price.
The History Of Wine Is The History Of Man’s Thirst
For all the talk what “wine snobbery” does wine expertise come do to? In the end wine is nothing more than simply fermented fruit juice. And “rotten” or “fermented “fruit juice at that. The earliest evidence suggesting wine production comes from archaeological sites in Iran and Russian Georgia, dating from 6000 to 5000 B.C. (Before Christ). Wine has long been used as a safe storage form of precious water for human consumption, and for its use in religious and important cultural mores. Almost every culture and societal group on earth each somehow learnt to make simple alcoholic beverages.
This is no mere accident. Humans early on learnt the psychological effects that alcohol provides . Along the way they learnt to like affect and desired and even craved these effects of alcohol. Wine is even generally considered as a sexual anaphrodisiac among many cultures.
Today many important wine regions in Europe are proud of their wine histories which they date back all way to the early Roman era.
Wine itself in the end can be sourced from any fruit juice – although most commonly known as the fermented liquid of crushed grapes. Wine of course can be derived from grapes, plums, peaches, pears and in the end most fruit juices.
What about the different colors found in different varieties of wines. The color of the wine is the result of the length of time the skins remain with the juice doing the fermentation process. Basically wine comes in three colors- red ( reddish purple to light brown), whites ( whitish pale yellow to amber) and the mid range blush: which is of peach to light pink coloration.
Should wine be sweet or not sweet that is “dry”? Most wines are naturally dry. “Sweetness occurs when the fermentation is interrupted before all of the sugar can be converted to alcohol during the fermentation process. The producer of the wine can also add unfermented grape juice or a sweetener such as liquid sugar to the wine during its manufacturing process.
Most wines do not have extra alcohol added to them. That is they are in their “natural “or “virgin state”. These wines are referred to as not being fortified. That is they contain only the alcohol that was provided for in the fermentation process itself. However there are some wines – for example “Sherry”and “Port” are two wine family products that have their alcohol content enhanced and increased. This can be done in effect artificially and not by the normal standard fermentation process through the addition of straight alcohol to the wine. A kinder gentler means to adding alcohol to wine is to add distilled wine that is brandy to the wine.
Lastly wines can be bubbly themselves or have no effervescence. In the first category are “Sparkling” which have effervescence .These wines are bottled in thick heavy –set bottles with wire bound corks to keep the pressure in , whereas “Still” wines are wines bottled without Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and therefore have no bubbliness or effervesce. Still wines can be found bottled in ordinary bottles with ordinary corks.
In the end though it is safe to remember that wine is nothing more several different types of fruit juices , of different colors that is presented to you in different types of glasses , from different types of storage and transport containers which is presented to you to quench your thirst.