Italy is a unique cultural, historical and artistic heritage. But it is also twenty administrative regions and as many different wine production areas, climates and cuisines. This rich mosaic is expressed through the immense variety of wines produced throughout the country. From North to South, the diversity of climates, soils, grape varieties and traditions allows each palate as well as each event to find its wine. A land of hospitality, sharing and taste, Italy brings people together by closely linking gastronomy and wine.
Called Oenotria (land of wines) by the Greeks since Antiquity, Italy boasts 4000 years of wine-growing history and is the world's largest wine producer. The origins of vine cultivation in Italy can be traced back to the Etruscans and Greeks. The Romans spread it throughout Europe, making the drink universal and omnipresent. In order to supply the population and the army, viticulture and trade were developed in all regions of the Empire.
Italian vineyards cover about 700 thousand hectares (10% of the world's vineyards), 30 thousand of which are organically produced (compared to 5 thousand in France) and covers the entire national territory. With more than 200 official wine-growing areas and 2 million producers, the diversity is immense. From Prosecco to Lacryma Christi, from Chianti Classico to Salice Salentino, from Marsala to Barolo, from Lambrusco to Nero d'Avola, all the facets of this marvellous country can be discovered through tasting its wines and meeting these women and men in close contact with their land and culture.
With 7,500 km of coastline and two mountain ranges (the Alps bordering the northern border and the Appenines, the backbone of the country stretching 1200 km from north to south), Italy presents an impressive topographical and climatic diversity. Mountainous areas (Aosta, Friuli, Piedmont, Lombardy and Trentino), gentle (Tuscany) or steep hills, high plateaus, sandy and limestone plains (Puglia), steep hillsides (Cinque Terre in Liguria), seaside (Sardinia, Marche) or volcanic lands (Etna in Sicily, the Bay of Naples, or the Vulture region in Basilicata): the discontinuity of the country's relief makes it a land as versatile as it is demanding.
As far as the climate is concerned, although it is mostly Mediterranean, there is also diversity: for example, the cool and humid climate of Veneto contrasts with the hot and dry climate of Puglia. Generally speaking, Italy can be divided into three main wine-growing regions:
- The North, with a mountainous and continental climate, is harsh and foggy in winter and rather hot and humid in summer. The region produces wines of an alpine style, fresh and elegant: Prosecco and Valpolicella in Veneto, Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont;
- Central Italy, with Mediterranean influences, produces vigorous and robust wines (Chianti and Bolgheri in Tuscany, Montepulciano in Abruzzo). The climate is more contrasted there: summers are very hot and dry and winters are rainy and very cold.
- The South, an atypical region, produces rather round and fruity, sun-drenched wines. The climate is rather hot and dry. Another particularity: thanks to its climate and grants received for conversion, the region focuses most of its farms in organic production.
We should also mention the two large islands of the country: Sardinia and Sicily.
The southern regions produce about one third of the national production. On the other hand, the most internationally renowned regions are to be found in the north and centre of the country: Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto.
As far as grape varieties are concerned, Italy has more than 400 authorised appellations, including 340 indigenous varieties, a record! Among the most cultivated grape varieties, Sangiovese (Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino) is in first place with 54 thousand hectares planted. In second place are tied Glera (Prosecco) and Montepulciano (27 thousand hectares each). Merlot is in third place with 24 thousand hectares, followed by Chardonnay and Barbera (about 20 and 18 thousand hectares respectively). The Nebbiolo grape variety, endemic to Piedmont, is used in the composition of the famous Barolos, Barbaresco and Langhe. The name of the vine comes from Nebia (the mist), in reference to the misty hills of the region in which the vine thrives. In the north and centre of the country, Trebbiano is used in the production of many white wines. In the south, Primitivo (Primitivo di Manduria) and Negroammaro (Salice Salentino) are varieties known in Puglia for their incomparable fruity roundness. Aglianico, very present in Campania and Basilicata (Taurasi, Aglianico del Vulture), tannic and juicy, is gaining more and more in quality and reputation. Finally, thanks to their typicity and fruitiness, Nero d'Avola (Sicily) and Cannonau (Sardinia) are nowadays very present on the tables in Europe and elsewhere.
As for international grape varieties, particularly French, they are well represented in Italy, even if the PDOs limit their use and the current trend indicates a return to indigenous varieties. As discussed above, Merlot and Chardonnay are well represented and are the third most cultivated grape variety.
Finally, at the level of appellations, the situation has evolved gradually. Since the 1960s, the appellations system has evolved steadily. However, the producers put their region and their talent first and foremost. At the beginning of the 1990s, the arrival of European regulations imposed an organisation and hierarchy that is still in force:
The IGTs (newly IGPs) correspond to specific but extended territories and a more flexible regulation: we can find both varietal wines and the best vintages. There are about 120 IGTs.
Created in 1963, DOCs are well known to the public. Today, there are more than 300 of them, imposing demanding specifications (yields, ageing) and regulating the use of grape varieties. According to European law, DOCs have been integrated into the DOP law since 2012.
The DOCGs (now also covered by the DOP rule) are subject to stricter standards: reduced production volume, serial number on the label and sometimes taste test before bottling. The number of DOCGs amounts to more than 70.
Finally, Italian red wines are very popular in Switzerland, accounting for around 30% of national consumption. The proportion for Italian white wines is lower at around 10-12%.