Italian wine is one of those ubiquitous things—just like pasta and pizza, it is associated with the best delicacies Italy has to offer. But beyond Chianti and Moscato, what else is there to know about the world of Italian wines?
Quite a bit, actually. Here are some numbers to show what there is to know about Italian wines.
No. 2 in world wine production
In 2014, Italy was second only to France in the number of wines it produced. Thanks to warmer climate patterns over the last year, as well as an increasing interest in wine globally, Italy is a world leader in growing, producing, and exporting its wines.
12% more wine
Italy produced 12 percent more wine in 2014 than it had in previous years, putting it at the top of the European Union’s wine industry. Spain and Portugal, the two other major wine-producing countries in the southern European climate region, also grew more wines. This is because of warmer temperatures, which allowed more time for grapes to grow and become flavorful.
There are 20 wine-growing regions in Italy. That pretty much covers the entire peninsula, as well as the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.
The three major wine regions are Veneto, Tuscany, and Piedmont. But Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Umbria, Abruzzo, Trentino Alto-Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia also stand-out among Italy’s top 10 wine-growing regions.
The country’s long north-south geography allows it to produce a variety of red and white wines, as white wine grapes thrive in colder climates and red wine grapes love warmer weather.
The more northern regions, such as Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino Alto-Adige, Valle d’Aosta, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Venetto are known for their white wines. Italy’s southern regions, with Sicily, Sardinia, Basilicata, Calabria, and Puglia among them, produce outstanding red wines.
350 official varietals
There are 350 varieties of Italian wines that are officially recognized.
Among them, some of the more familiar varietals include chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, pinot noir, pinot grigio, Gewürztraminer, prosecco, and moscato. That just about covers the average American wine-drinker’s repertoire, right?
Those with more adventurous palettes may also recognize malvasia, Grenache, sangiovese, and pinot bianco. But there are many more Italian wines, including Greco, Cataratto, Falanghina,Trebbiano, Bianchello, Schiava, and Nebbiolo—to name just a few.
4-Tier appellation system
To ensure that you really are getting the wine you believe you are, the Italian government has come up with a detailed appellation system, including several different quality assurance labels, to regulate the country’s wine industry and protect the good name of Italian wine.
Vini, which just means “wines,” is the label given to all wines sold in Italy, regardless of where the wine comes from. This label’s sole purpose is to indicate that the bottle contains wine and what color that wine is.
Vini Varietali, which means “varietal wines,” is used to show recognition that the bottle contains at least 85% of one type of internationally recognized grape varietal, such as Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, or syrah. This label can also be used when a wine includes two of those varieties, and no traces of any varietals that are not internationally recognized.
Similar to wines with the vini label, vini vareitali wines do not necessarily have to be Italian wines.
Vini IGT, or Indicazioni Geografica Tipica, stands for “typical geographic indication.” This is a quality-assurance label that includes both Italian and non-Italian wines.
IGT certifies that the wine was produced within a specific region and follows the regulations governing the production of that region’s varietals and wine-making practices.
Vini DOP, or Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Geographical Designation), is a quality-assurance label which also includes the labels DOC and DOCG, which will be explained below.
DOP wines are highly regulated to protect the historical traditions of wine-making in each Italian wine region. A DOP wine from Lombardy must have been made only with grapes grown in Lombardy, according to traditional wine-making processes from that region. In 2014, there were a total of 405 DOP wines.
Vini DOC is the abbreviation for Denominazioni di Origine Controllata, or “controlled designation of origin.” Both cheese and wine can receive this label, which ensures that a wine from Piedmont is absolutely a wine that was made in Piedmont from grapes grown in that region. In 2014, there were 332 DOC wines.
Vini DOCG is basically as a higher-level indicator of DOC. But DOCG—Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita or “controlled and guaranteed designation of origin”—wines must follow stricter regulations, making them higher quality wines.
To be labeled DOCG, a wine must have had the DOC level for 10 years. The wine must also pass chemical analyses and be tasted by a special committee. As of 2014, there were 73 DOCG wines.
Next time you sit down for a fine meal of pizza or another Italian specialty, be sure to give the wine list a good glance. Try an Italian wine you don’t know—or a varietal you do know from a new region—and let the good experiences add up.