A country which is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Etruscans and Greek settlers produced wine in the country long before the Romans started developing their own vineyards in the 2nd century BC. Roman grape-growing and wine making was prolific and well-organized, pioneering large-scale production and storage techniques like barrel-making and bottling.
With the climate near perfect you can grow vines almost anywhere in Italy, and nowadays there are more than a million vineyards under cultivation.
Italian wines to be found in the UK are generally Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata et Garantita (DOCG). These levels correspond with the Appellation (d'Origine) Contrôlée wines of France, the DOCG wines supposedly with an extra degree of quality. The fairly recent qualification of Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) corresponds to France's Vin de Pays wines, whereas the lowest category for Italian wine, Vina da Tavola, accounts for the table wines. Unusually this latter category has in the past included some of Italy's top wines, as quality conscious wine makers were excluded from the DOC or DOCG categories because of the grapes or wine making practices they used, as they often blended the wines thus making them ineligible for classification under the traditional rules. The Italian wine region where these latter two have been most concentrated is around Chianti in Tuscany, the wines frequently referred to as 'Super-Tuscans'.
Some popular red grape varieties are:
Sangiovese - Italy's claim to fame, the pride of Tuscany. Traditionally made, the wines are full of cherry fruit, earth, and cedar. It produces Chianti (Classico), Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano and many others. Sangiovese is also the backbone in many of the acclaimed, modern-styled "Super-Tuscans", where it is blended with Bordeaux varietals.
Nebbiolo - The most noble of Italy's varietals. The name (meaning "little fog") refers to the autumn fog that blankets most of Piedmont where it is grown, a condition the grape seems to enjoy. It is a somewhat difficult varietal to master, but produces the most renowned Barolo and Barbaresco. The wines areknown for their elegance and power with a bouquet of wild mushroom, truffle, roses, and tar.
Montepulciano - The grape of this name is not to be confused with the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. It is mostwidely planted on the opposite coast in Abruzzo. Its wines develop silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin. More recently, producers have been creating a rich, inky, extracted version of this wine, a sharp contrast to the many inferior bottles produced in the past.
Barbera - The most widely grown red wine grape of Piedmont and Southern Lombardy, most famously around thetowns of Asti and Alba, and Pavia. Wines of Barbera were once simply "what you drank while waiting for the Barolo to be ready.". With a new generation of wine makers, this is no longe rthe case. The wine has bright cherry fruit, a very dark colour, and a food-friendly acidity.
Trebbiano - Behind cataratto, this is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy.It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, it is known as Ugni Blanc in France.
Moscato - Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante),semi-sweet Moscato d'Asti.Pinot Grigio - A hugely successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France),its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. As a hugely mass-produced wine,it is usually delicate and mild, but in a good producers' hands, the wine can grow more full-bodied and complex. The main problem with the grape is that to satisfy the commercial demand, the grapes are harvested too early every year, leading to wines without character.
Verdicchio - This is grown in the areas of Castelli di Jesi and Matelica in the Marche region and gives its name to the varietal white wine made from it. The name comes from "verde" (green). The white wines are noted for their high acidity and a characteristic nutty flavour with a hint of honey.
The term "Super Tuscan" describes any Tuscan red wine that does not adhere to traditional blending laws for the region. For example, Chianti Classico wines are made from a blend of grapes with Sangiovese as the dominant variety in the blend. Super Tuscans often use other grapes, especially cabernet sauvignon, making them ineligible for DOC(G) classification under the traditional rules.
In 1968 Azienda Agricola San Felice produced the first ever "Super Tuscan" called Vigorello, and in the 1970s Piero Antinori, whose family had been making wine for more than 600 years, also decided to make a richer wine by eliminating the white grapes from the Chianti blend, and instead adding Bordeaux varietals (namely, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). He was inspired by a little-known (at the time) Cabernet Sauvignon made by relatives called Sassicaia, which openly flouted the rules set down for traditional wines in Tuscany. The result was one of the first Super Tuscans, which he named Tignanello, after the vineyard where the grapes were grown. Other winemakers started experimenting with Super Tuscan blends of their own shortly thereafter.
Because these wines did not conform to strict DOC(G) classifications, they were initially labeled as vino da tavola, meaning "table wine," a term ordinarily reserved for lower quality wines. The creation of the Indicazione Geografica Tipica category (technically indicating a level of quality between vino da tavola and DOCG) helped bring Super Tuscans "back into the fold" from a regulatory standpoint. Since the pioneering work of the super-Tuscans there has been a rapid expansion in production of high-quality wines throughout Italy that do not qualify for DOC or DOCG classification, as a result of the efforts of a new generation of Italian wine producers and, in some cases, flying winemakers.