Italy is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world and Italian wines are known worldwide for their broad variety. Italy, closely followed by France, is the world’s largest wine producer by volume. Italian wine is exported around the world and is also extremely popular in Italy: Italians rank fifth on the world wine consumption list by volume with 42 litres per capita consumption. Grapes are grown in almost every region of the country and there are more than one million vineyards under cultivation. Italy’s twenty wine regions correspond to the twenty administrative regions. Understanding of Italian wine becomes clearer with an understanding of the differences between each region and their cuisines.
The Italian Wine Regions
In 1963, the first official Italian system of classification of wines was launched. Since then, several modifications and additions to the legislation were made (a major one in 1992), the last of which, in 2010, established four basic categories, which are consistent with the last EU regulation in the matter of wine (2008–09). The categories, from the bottom level to the top one, are:
- Vini (Wines – informally called ‘generic wines’): These are wines that can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU; no indication of geographical origin, of the grape varieties used, or of the vintage is allowed on the label. (The label only reports the color of the wine.)
- Vini Varietali (Varietal Wines): These are generic wines that are made either mostly (at least 85%) from one kind of authorized ‘international’ grapes (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah) or entirely from two or more of them. The grape(s) and the vintage can be indicated on the label. These wines can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU.)
- Vini IGP (Wines with Protected Geographical Indication): This category (also traditionally implemented in Italy as IGT – Typical Geographical Indication) is reserved to wines produced in a specific territory within Italy and following a series of specific and precise regulations on authorized varieties, viticultural and vinification practices, organoleptic and chemico-physical characteristics, labeling instructions, etc. Currently (2014) there exist 118 IGPs/IGTs.
- Vini DOP (Wines with Protected Designation of Origin): This category includes two sub-categories, i.e. Vini DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and Vini DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin). DOC wines must have been IGP wines for at least 5 years. They generally come from smaller regions, within a certain IGP territory, that are particularly known for their climatic and geological characteristics and for the quality and originality of the local winemaking traditions. They also must follow stricter production regulations than IGP wines. A DOC wine can be promoted to DOCG, if it has been a DOC for at least 10 years. In addition to fulfilling the requisites for DOC wines (since that’s the category they come from), before commercialization DOCG wines must pass stricter analyses, including a tasting by a specifically appointed committee. DOCG wines have also demonstrated a superior commercial success. Currently (2014) there exist 332 DOCs and 73 DOCGs for a total of 405 DOPs.
Abruzzo produces one DOCG – Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane – and three DOC wines: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Controguerra and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.
The region vineyards cover 33,252 hectares or 82,166 acres.; yearly wine production is 4,184,000 hectoliters or 110,541,611 gallons of which 17.6% isDOC.
2 Aosta Valley
In this small region in the Western Alps along the French border, the grapes are grown up 800 meters above sea level. The Valle d’Aosta DOC zone includes seven sub-zones.
Vineyards cover 635 hectares, or 1,569 acres; yearly wine production is 22,000 hectoliters, or 581,241 gallons; 10% white, 90% red; 22.8% is DOC.
Apulia economy is based mainly on wine production and counts 25 DOCs, including Aleatico di Puglia, Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera, Primitivo di Manduria, Salice Salentino and Rosso di Cerignola among others.
Vineyards cover 107,715 hectares or 263,693 acres; yearly wine production is 7,236,000 hectoliters or 191,175,693 gallons30% white, 70% red; 3.8% isDOC.
Basilicata produces only one DOC wine, the Aglianico del Vulture.
The region is 9,992 Km2 or 6,205 square miles, vineyards cover 10,848 hectares or 26,825 acres; yearly wine production is 481,000 hectoliters or 12,708,058 gallons; 27% white, 73%red; 2.4% isDOC.
Calabria produces 12 DOCs including Bivongi, Ciró,Greco di Bianco, Pollino and Verbicaro among others.
The region vineyards cover 24,339 hectares or 60,142 acres; yearly wine production is 753,000 hectoliters or 19,894,319 gallons; 9% white, 91% red or sosé; 2.4% is DOC.
Campania produces one DOCG wine – Taurasi – and 19 DOCs including Aglianico del Taburno or Taburno, Campi Flegrei, Cilento, Fiano di Avellino and Vesuvio among others.
The region vineyards cover 41,129 hectares or 101,630 acres; yearly wine production is 1.971,000 hectoliters or 52,073,976 gallons; 36% white, 64% red; 2.8% is DOC.
7 Emilia – Romagna
Emilia–Romagna produces one DOCG wine – Albana di Romagna – and 18 DOCs, including three kind of Lambrusco – di Sorbara, Grasparossa di Castelvetroand Salamino di Santa Croce – in addition to Sangiovese di Romagna, Colli Bolognesi Pignolettoand Bosco Eliceo among others.
The region vineyards cover 58,237 hectares or 143,904 acres; yearly wine production is 4,733,000 hectoliters or 125,046,235 gallons; 43% white, 57% red; 21.4% is DOC.
8 Friuli – Venezia Giulia
Friuli–Venezia Giulia produces one DOCG wine –Ramandolo – and 9 DOCs including Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli Aquileia, Collio Goriziano or Collio andLison – Pramaggiore among others.
The region vineyards cover 18,704 hectares or 46,218 acres; yearly wine production is 1,018,000 hectoliters or 26,895,640 gallons; 52% white, 48% red; 60.5% is DOC.
Lazio produces 25 DOCs including Castelli Romani, Colli Albani, Montecompatri-Colonna, Est! Est! Est! di Montefiascone and Velletri among others.
The region vineyards cover 47.884 hectares or 118,321 acres; yearly wine production is 2,940,000 hectoliters or 77,675,033 gallons; 84% white, 16% red; 6.5% is DOC.
Liguria produces 7 DOCs: Cinque Terre or Cinque Terre Schiacchetrà, Colli di Luni, Colline di Levanto, Golfo del Tigullio, Riviera Ligure di Ponente, Rossese di Dolceacqua or Dolceacqua and Val Polcevera.
The region vineyards cover 4,837 hectares or 11,952 acres; yearly wine production is 165,000 hectoliters or 4,359,313 gallons; 66% white, 34% red; 13.9% is DOC.
Lombardy produces two DOCGs wines – Franciacortaand Valtellina Superiore – and 15 DOCs includingGarda Classico, Oltrepó Pavese, Cellatica and Botticino among others.
The region vineyards cover 26,951 hectares or 66,593 acres; yearly wine production is 1,665,000 hectoliters or 43,989,432 gallons; 38% white, 62% red; 47.3% is DOC.
Marche produces 12 DOCs including Bianchello del Metauro, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Rosso Cònero, Lacrima di Morro or Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and Falerio dei Colli Ascolani among others.
The region is 9,694 Km2 or 4,330 square miles, vineyards cover 24,590 hectares or 60,762 acres; yearly wine production is 1,815,000 hectoliters or 47,957,443 gallons; 62% white, 38% red; 19.6% isDOC.
Molise produces only three DOC wines: Biferno, Molise or del Molise and Pentro di Isernia.
The region is 4,438 Km2 or 2,756 square miles, vineyards cover 7,650 hectares or 18,903 acres; yearly wine production is 360,000 hectoliters or 9,511,228 gallons of which 3.9% is DOC.
Piedmont produces seven DOCGs wines – Asti, Barbaresco, Barolo, Brachetto d’Acqui or Acqui, Gavi o Cortese di Gavi, Gattinara and Ghemme – and 44DOCs including three Barbera – d’Alba, d’Asti and del Monferrato – two Freisa – d’Asti and di Chieri, seven Dolcetto, Erbaluce di Caluso o Caluso and Roero among many others.
The region vineyards cover 57,487 hectares or 142,050 acres; yearly wine production is 3,405,000 hectoliters or 89,960,369 gallons; 30% white, 70% red; 55.8% is DOC.
Sardinia produces one DOCG – Vermentino di Gallura– and 19 DOC wines including two Malvasia – di Bosa and di Cagliari – three Moscato – di Sorso-Sennori, di Cagliari and di Sardegna – Vernaccia di Oristano, Cannonau di Sardegna, Nuragus di Cagliariand , Carignano del Sulcis and Mandrolisai among others.
The region vineyards cover 43,331 hectares or 107,070 acres; yearly wine production is 1,062,000 hectoliters or 28,058.124 gallons; 43% white, 57% red; 15.6% is DOC.
Sicily produces 19 DOCs including four Moscato – di Noto Naturale or di Noto, di Pantelleria Naturale or di Pantelleria, di Passito di Pantelleria or Passito di Pantelleria and di Siracusa – Marsala, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Malvasia delle Lipari and Sambuca di Sicilia among others.
The region vineyards cover 133,518 hectares or 329,923 acres; yearly wine production is 8,073,000 hectoliters or 213,000,000 gallons of which 2.1% is DOC.
17 Trentino – Alto Adige
Trentino-Alto Adige produces 8 DOCs including Alto Adige or Südtirol which has six subzones, Valdadige or Etschtaler, Teroldego Rotaliano, Casteller and Lago di Caldaro o Caldaro among others.
The region vineyards cover 12,810 hectares or 31,653 acres; yearly wine production is 953,000 hectoliters or 25,178,335 gallons; 45% white, 55% red; 79.1% is DOC.
Here they say that grapes preceded mankind …
Tuscany produces seven DOCGs wines – Chianti which includes seven subzones, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – and 44 DOCs including Bolgheri or Bolgheri Sassicaia, Valdichiana, Bianco della Valdinievole and Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario among many others.
The region vineyards cover 63,633 hectares or 157,237 acres; yearly wine production is 2,156,000 hectoliters or 56,961,690 gallons; 30% white, 70% red; 55.5% is DOC.
Umbria produces two DOCGs wines – Montefalco Sagrantino and Torgiano Rosso Riserva – and 11DOCs including Rosso Orvietano or Orvietano Rosso, Colli del Trasimeno or Trasimeno, Assisi, and Colli Altotiberini among others.
The region vineyards cover 16,503 hectares or 40,779 acres; yearly wine production is 740,000 hectoliters or 19,550,858 gallons; 58% white, 42% red; 30.5% is DOC.
Veneto produces two DOCGs wines – Recioto di Soave and Bardolino – and 11 DOCs including Soave, Valpolicella o Recioto della Valpolicella, Lessini Durello, Bianco di Custoza and Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene among others.
The region vineyards cover 73,314 hectares or 186,101 acres; yearly wine production is 6,785,000 hectoliters or 179,260,237 gallons; 55.4% white, 44.6% red; 29.1% is DOC.
While the majority of tourists prefer to visit Italy during the summer months, for wine lovers September and October is the time the magic happens. The vendemmia – Italian for grape harvest – takes place every year during these months (the exact dates vary between vineyards, depending on the weather and the grapes reaching their peak of ripeness). During the vendemmia, wine festivals take place across Italy, though Tuscany remains the home of winemaking. The Festa dell’uva in Impruneta is the oldest and most revered festival in Italy. Featuring local wine tasting, fresh local produce, music, dancing and parades, it is their biggest event of the year. The Italian grape harvest is underway as you read this, with grower organizations promising less quantity but more quality from the 2014 vintage.
The first grapes were picked in Franciacorta in Lombardy last week, 10 days earlier than in 2013, despite variable weather in the lead-up to harvest. Sicily also started picking around the same time. The total Italian harvest is expected to be smaller than last year’s bumper crop, which yielded 49 million liters of wine, according to Wine-Searcher.
What To Serve With Italian Wine?
Homemade Ricotta & Spinach Filled Ravioli
- 3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 1/2 pound fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- A pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 chopped shallot
- 4 ounces lean ground beef
- 4 ounces lean ground pork
- 4 ounces sweet Italian sausage
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 1 (28-ounce) can Italian crushed tomatoes
- A pinch of fresh sage, rosemary and 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups All-Purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
In a large bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta, one egg, half of the Parmigiano, some grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well. Refrigerate until reading to make the ravioli.
Heat a skillet over low heat; add the olive oil and then the shallot. Stir for 2 minutes, then add the herbs, meat and sausage—breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon. Raise the flame to medium-high and cook for 5 minutes or until the meat is cooked through. Add the wine and season with salt and pepper. Cover and continue to cook on a low flame. Add broth to keep the mixture moist. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring often. Add the crushed tomatoes and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes.
Combine the flour and salt on a flat work surface; shape into a mound and make a well in the center. Add the eggs and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the well and lightly beat with a fork. Gradually draw in the flour from the inside wall of the well in a circular motion. Continue to incorporate all the flour until it forms a ball. Or you can mix the ingredients in the food processor.
Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes.
Cut the ball of dough in 1/2, cover and reserve the piece you are not immediately using to prevent it from drying out. Dust the counter and dough with a little flour. Press the dough into a rectangle and roll it through a pasta machine, 2 or 3 times, at the widest setting. Pull and stretch the sheet of dough with the palm of your hand as it emerges from the rollers. Reduce the setting and crank the dough through again, 2 or 3 times. Continue tightening until the machine is at the second narrowest setting; the dough should be almost paper-thin.
Cut two long rectangular strips of equal size, a little more than 3 inches wide. (Keep the rest of the dough covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel.) Spoon a generous amount of filling every 2 to 3 inches along the dough. Place the other sheet on top and press it lightly all along the edges. Using the wheel cutter, first trim off the four sides of the rectangle; then cut out each square. Seal each one well with your fingers or a fork. Lay them on a tray with some semolina flour on the bottom to avoid sticking.
Continue this procedure, preparing as many ravioli as you can, balancing the amount of filling with the remaining dough.
In a large pot, bring a gallon of water to boil; add a half handful of salt and then add the ravioli one by one. Stir them very gently and cook for 8 minutes. Drain them with a colander or a sieve and then place them in a warm pasta bowl, alternating them with the hot meat sauce and Parmigiano cheese.
- Italian Red Wine Under $20 for All Seasons (charlesscicolone.wordpress.com)