growing reputation with wine is due not only to the fact that it produces
and exports more than any other country except occasionaly France,
but it offers the greatest variety of types, ranging through nearly
every color, flavor and style imaginable. Italy accounts for a mere
600,000,000 cases of wine per year, 20% of the world production.
have increasingly proclaimed Italy's wines among the world's finest.
Many of the noblest originate in the 250 zones officially classified
as DOC or DOCG, but a number of individualistic wines go proudly under
their own titles. Many consumers abroad, perhaps unaware of the wealth
of types (or perhaps overwhelmed by the numbers) have not always taken
advantage of the unmatchable variety of Italian wines.
modern prodigiousness with wine scarcely begins to tell the story
of its people's perennial links to the vine. The nature of the place-the
influence of Mediterranean sunshine and mountain currents on the hillsides
of the elongated peninsula and islands-favors what seems to be an
almost spontaneous culture of wine.
heritage dates back some 4,000 years to when prehistoric peoples pressed
wild grapes into juice that, as if by magic, fermented into wine.
The ancient Greeks, expanding into Italy's southern reaches, dubbed
the colonies Oenotria, the land of staked vines. Etruscans were subtle
and serene practitioners of the art of winemaking in the hills of
central Italy, as attested by the art and artifacts left in their
Romans propagated the cult of Bacchus to all corners of the empire,
developing a flourishing trade in wine throughout the Mediterranean
and beyond. So sophisticated was their knowledge of viticulture and
enology that their techniques were not equalled again until the 17th
or 18th centuries when Italians and other Europeans began to regard
the making of wine as a science rather than mystique.
in Italy advanced rapidly through the 19th century, as methods of
vinification and aging were improved and the use of corks to seal
reinforced bottles and flasks permitted orderly shipping of wine worldwide.
Such names as Chianti, Barolo and Marsala became known in Europe and
ago several Italian wines were recognized as among the finest of their
type: mainly Piedmontese and Tuscan reds from the Nebbiolo and Sangiovese
varieties, but also white wines, still and sparkling, dry or sweet,
merited international respect. Growers had complemented their local
varieties with foreign vines, such as Cabernet, Merlot and the Pinots.
There was evidence, then as now, that Italy's climate and terrain
favored vines of many different types, and consumers elsewhere in
Europe and in North America had come to appreciate these new examples
Vernaccia di San Gimignano became the first DOC in 1966, the list
has grown to include 250 zones delimited geographically within which
a multitude of wines are controlled for authenticity. Yet the officially
classified wines represent only 12 to 15 percent of the total. Beyond
DOC and DOCG are thousands of others: local wines, opportunistic blends
with imaginative names, and a growing number of admirable individual
efforts that qualify as commercial rather than homemade.
the reduction through this century, Italy still has more types of
vines planted than any other country, both the native's and a complete
range of international varieties. The number of officially approved
vitis vinifera vines runs well into the thousands.
number of wines may seem overwhelming and many consumers are bewildered
by the assortment of names, places, varieties, proprietors and types.
Hopefully, through education and exposure, it is hoped that the consumer
will feel more comfortable with these wines.
over the centuries have pioneered laws to control the origins and
protect the names of their wines. The ancient Romans defined production
areas for dozens of wines. In 1716, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany delimited
the zones for important wines, setting a precedent for modern legislation.
only since the mid-1960s, have controls been applied nationwide to
wines of "reputation and worth" under what is known as Denominazione
di Origine Controllata or, by the initials DOC. At last count there
were over 250 DOCs, all defined geographically with accomanying production
guidelines such as yields and grape varieties. Wines from a few select
zones have been further distinguished as DOCG (the G for garantita
or guaranteed authenticity), like Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello di
Montalcino, Chianti (in seven subzones), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano,
Vermentino di Gallura, Albana di Romagna, Gattinara, Carmignano (red
only) and Torgiano Rosso Riserva.
the DOC and DOCG zones more than 900 types of wine are produced. They
may be defined by color or type (still, sparkling (frizzante), dry
(secco), semisweet or sweet (dolce), natural or fortified (liquoroso).
They may be referred to by grape variety (Merlot), age (young as novello,
or aged, as vecchio, stravecchio or riserva). Or, by a special subzone
(classico or superiore), though the latter may also apply to a higher
degree of alcohol or a longer period of cask or bottle aging.
changes in the wine laws in 1992 opened the way for DOC and DOCG wines
to carry names of communities, areas of geographical or historical
importance in the zones and names of individual vineyards of established
reputation. Such wines may also carry the European Community designation
of VQPRD or VSQPRD (for spumante), VFQPRD (for frizzante) or VLQPRD
(for liquoroso or fortified).
DOC and DOCG account for only 12 to 15 percent of Italy's production.
Some unclassified wines may be referred to as spumante or frizzante
or as amabile or dolce (for sweet) or as liquoroso, but the majority
of dry, still wines have to be labeled as vino da tavola. In its simplest
versions such table wine can specify color, but no vintage, grape
variety or place name. More specific were table wines with geographical
indications, such as Rosso di Toscana or Barbera di Piemonte.
aim is to increase the proportion of classified wines to a majority
of national production, but it is important to remember that many
good to excellent Italian wines are still not classified. The reason
might be that the vineyards are in a non-DOC area or that the wine
has been made under a new formula, using non-approved grapes, or that
the producer chose to invnet an individual identity all his own. In
the end, the most reliable guide to the quality of any wine from anywhere
is the reputation of the individual producer or estate.
must carry the wine's generic name and status (DOC, IGT, Vino da tavola,
etc.), the producer's name and location, alcohol by percentage of
volume, as well as the net contents in milliliters (with an e as an
EEC approved measure). Most DOCG and DOC wines must carry a vintage
date. Italian wines imported into the United States must carry the
INE seal of approval for export on a red neck label, the term Product
of Italy, a description such as "Red table wine" and the importer's
name and location.
criteria for D.O.C.(G.) are quite rigid. Most D.O.C.s, in addition,
were created before the revolution in winemaking practices started
to spread. The result is that there has been no official category
that catered satisfactorily to forward-thinking winemakers who wanted
to make high-quality wines using methods or grapes not prescribed
in the D.O.C. or D.O.C.G. rules. They are reduced to labeling such
wines as "table wine," ostensibly the category for the cheap and cheerful.
They then avoided confusion with the lowlier sort of table wines by
bottling their high-quality versions in expensive bottles, and charging
prices that were among the highest in Italy.
producer gave his own version a made-up name displayed prominently
on the label. This meant that there were hundreds of wine names in
circulation but the important thing was that each was a representative
of quality-conscious thinking or experimentation. Wines labeled D.O.C.(G.)
may have benefited from modern developments in vine growing and winemaking,
but their style was essentially traditional.
now, thanks to the new laws of 1992, much of the better vino da tavola
is expected to qualify under the category of Indicazione Geografica
Tipica (IGT), designed to officially classify wines by color or grape
varieties and typology from large areas. IGT will be the Italian equivalent
to the French vin de pays and German Landwein. Given the complexities
of the old system, the revision in the wine law will need time to