It’s time for another Did You Wine Know – Country Series on W2WK! This country series will be featuring Italia! As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been exploring the wine industry over the past few months… and my wine gigs have been all about Italian wine. I have worked in an Italian restaurant with a mostly Italian wine list… and with a local distributor who sells only Italian wines. But I must admit, I had rarely purchased / tasted Italian wines before these gigs. I guess I avoided the Italian wines because I didn’t know quite what I was getting with any bottle. I didn’t understand the label enough to know if it was going to be a soft/light red, or a bold/juicy red. And I would guess that many of my Wino friends have a similar “avoidance” practice with Italian wines.
I hope that this Country Series gets all of us to explore that Italian wine aisle more frequently. For me, this will be a helpful step in my journey to become a bit more fluent in the Italian wine lingo.
Here is what you can expect from this Country Series:
1. A five-part series over the next several months that highlights info regarding the different wine regions of Italy.
- Part 1: (This post) Italian wine classification system
- Part 2: Northeast Italy
- Part 3: Northwest Italy (Piedmont!)
- Part 4: Central Italy (Tuscany!)
- Part 5: Southern Italy (Sicily!)
2. A Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party to follow Part 2, 3, 4, AND 5! If you haven’t participated in a Virtual Party before, don’t worry – it comes with instructions.
Italian Wine – The Basics
Production: Italy is THE largest producer of wine in the world. (Does this surprise anyone else? When I learned this, I was a bit ashamed to call myself a Wino since I really haven’t had much Italian wine.) Being the largest producer of wine means that Italy contributes about 17.5% of the GLOBAL wine production. Considering the size of the country (which is just slightly larger in area than the state of Arizona), that’s impressive.
Wine Regions of Italy: The basic thing to know is that there are a lot of regions – 20! Throughout the next 4 posts in this series, we’ll break that down a bit. Before I had taken a couple of wine classes, I think I had heard of only 3 of those 20 regions. How about you, Winos – how many of the regions have you heard of before you saw the below map? (Check off the ones you know of in the poll below!)
Now that you’ve submitted your Wine Know, here’s a little map of Italy’s wine regions. You might recognize some of the names from Italian food products as well. The food regions, wine regions, and political regions are all the same in Italy.
Wine Classification: Italy has 3 key steps in their wine classification, which means that on any Italian wine bottle label, you’ll see one of these 3 terms.
- VdT: Vino di Tavola. Wines marked VdT have the least restrictions on the grapes used and winemaking process (making it the lowest quality of wine). In the U.S., we’ll won’t see a ton of VdT wines – but you’ll find them all over the place in Italy for just a few Euros.
- IGT: Indicazione Geografica Tipica. IGT wines have some restrictions with regard to the grapes used and winemaking process to ensure the wine has characteristics that are typical of that geographical region. They are more strict than the VdT, but do not have as many requirements as wines labeled DOC/G.
- DOC/G: Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita). DOC and DOCG are the highest quality wines from Italy. Wines labeled either DOC or DOCG must abide by the most strict requirements. In order to label a wine with DOC or DOCG, the winemaker must grow the grapes in specifically approved areas, use certain grapes, have a maximum yield of grapes per hectare, follow specific pruning and winemaking practices, among other requirements.
Generally speaking, DOC/G wines will be more expensive than IGT wines. But there are plenty of high quality IGT wines that are in high demand (many “Super Tuscans”, for example). Also, keep in mind, that DOCG quality classification doesn’t mean it is going to taste great to you. It just means it is more likely to have the characteristics typical of wine from that region.
Wine from Italy is named after its region. For example, Chianti is a specific region within Tuscany. Chianti Classico is a smaller zone within the Chianti region. And both the Chianti and Chianti Classico regions are designated as DOCGs. So when you buy a bottle of Chianti, you know that it has followed some pretty strict guidelines with regard to how it was made… However, the label might not have a list of the grapes used to make the wine. You would just have to know what grapes are permitted in making a wine from Chianti.
The Grapes: There are SO MANY grapes used in Italian winemaking. And the vast majority of them are grapes that none of us have heard of. For example, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Erbaluce, Bosco, Bonarda. The list goes on and on… The good news is that each region has some key grapes – I’ll highlight some of those in the follow-on blog posts in this series!
So those are the basics… next up is a look at Northeast Italian wines – that post will be accompanied by a Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party. Get ready for the virtual fun!