FOCUS ON ITALY Italy. The word conjures up numerous images. Art, culture, food, slicked back hair and wine. There is only one thing Italian men love more than their mothers and that is wine. It is completely and utterly part of their lives. Wine is not an accompaniment to a meal in Italy it is part of it. A meal in Italy without wine is like an English gent enjoying fish and chips without the fish. This is the mindset one has to adopt when exploring wine from Italy. Italy has a mind boggling 900 000 registered vineyards, with over a 1000 documented grape varieties. This is a daunting number for even a wine expert so we will dip our toes cautiously into this precursory view of Italian wine. HISTORY LESSON How does history influence Italian wines? The ancient Greek name for Italy is directly translated as the â€œland of trained vinesâ€?. It is a culture that stems back even before the Romans. Taking aside the fact that the vine is almost an Italian weed that grows everywhere the Romans were the first to classify areas and estates of quality between 100BC and 100AD. Rome was a huge market and so was the entire Roman empire, which at that time was the centre of European and Mediterranean trade. Wines were stored and transport in amphorae (clay jars). The Romans probably consumed a bit too much of their own fare and they basically got ousted from rule by Goths and Lombards, quite an unruly lot by all accounts, leading to economic ruin and a return to subsistence wine making, rather than trade. Above: Roman wine rack!
HISTORY LESSON: Middle ages Modern history The Italians made a comeback from the 11th century and with more people flocking to towns and more international trade its wine industry was boosted. Modern Italian wine was born after World War 2 where a more modern economy and world trade system led to the advances the Italian wine industry has gone through. We have seen for instance in Bordeaux that market demand (from the UK) led to huge increases in quality and now that Italy has the markets and the demand, the quality levels have skyrocketed. GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE Referring to the map of Italy to the right we can see a number of interesting factors influencing wine production. •
Italy is a long and thin country running from the Swiss Alps 1200km south, where some islands off the coast are closer to Africa than Italy.
Vines are country.
Up north the climate is continental and further south mediterranean.
The spine of the country is made up of the Appenines mountain range.
Italy is therefore a dominated wine region.
Soils are either calcareous, which create optimum acidity, or are volcanic in nature, which is a poor but well drained soil.
ITALIAN WINE REGIONS
Italy 20 main wine regions with numerous individual appellations within. Italian wine is divided into four sections, basically rating it in terms of quality. • • • •
VDT: Table wine from Italy IGT: Wine from specific region in Italy DOC: Wine from within specific region in Italy DOCG: Same as DOC but wine must pass blind tasting test
VITICULTURE and WINEMAKING VITICULTURE Italian viticulture displays much of the flair yet relaxed nature apparent in the Italian culture. Vines and olive trees were planted on the hills and crops sown in the valley. Italian farmers were often not phased with conventional trellis systems and used the olive trees as natural means to raise the vines off the ground and increase yields. Further, inbetween the rows of vines it was not uncommon for grains to be planted. I.e. grapes were just another case crop amongst many others. These days the Italians have modernized, using conventional trellising to boost crops and ripening.
WINEMAKING Since World War 2 the Italians have unleashed technology in their wine making. In fact they have become world renowned for pumps, destemmers and presses. So, walking into most modern Italian wineries you will be confronted by stainless steel, cooling jackets, French oak and modern bottling plants. The result has been wines with more intensity, yet balance of tannin and acidity.
Grape varieties If we were to cover an Italian grape variety per page in this course material it would be a thesis covering over 1000 pages! Here is a one page summary of varieties that you might need to know, and their origin. Variety
Vibrant, mouth filling, slightly rustic wine, superb with food
Simple, fruity quaffing wine
Known for power, structure, and tannin. Makes the legendary Barolo and Barbaresco
A popular variety. Makes light to medium bodied wines that can be ordinary or superb.
The principal grape in the well known sparkling wine.
Major grape used in all the important red wines in region.
Italy has also embraced the varieties that we know so well, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The new meets the ancient in an exciting mix of wine making styles and a terroir that runs from the heart of Europe to the edge of Africa. Italian wine drinking is a lifetime relationship that is well worth engaging. At first it will be exciting and a little overwhelming, settling into a deeper understanding and appreciation but one will always be left with the feeling that you have a lot left to learn about this incredible wine producing country. Hopefully that journey has already begun and if not may the wines in your ensemble be the trigger. Enjoy!