There are over 1000 grape varieties grown in every corner of the Italian
Peninsula and off shore Islands. Italy has one of the longest history of wine
production going back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Wine is also a
part of their everyday life like bread, olive oil and pasta. However, while
quality has improved in many parts of Italy, the production of fine wines still
reside primarily in Piedmont and Tuscany.
Piedmont produces more wine, virtually all red, than any other region in Italy.
Most of the white grapes have gone into Sparkling Wines, although of
late Gavi made from the Cortese grape and Chardonnay have gained international
appeal. Nebbiolo is Piedmontís noblest grape producing the great
Barolos and Barbaresco. Barbera is the most widely planted varietal and
when done well is accessible and plumy. Some of the great Barolo producers
are now producing Barbera that are challenging the price levels and
quality of the fine Barolos and Barbarescos. Dolcetto are fruity and at the
same time dry, and are a perfect accompaniment to rich food especially
cold meat and tangy cheeses.
Tuscany with itís reputation for great food, olive oil, and fine wines is Italy in
a nutshell. Sangiovese is to Tuscany what Nebbiolo is to Piedmont.
Brunello di Montalcino and itís younger brother Ross di Montalcino is perhaps
the greatest expression of the grape. It is not blended with any other
varietal and produces fuller and richer wines that require substantial age.
Chianti grown in the hills in and around Florence is Sangiovese based with
Canailol, Trebbiano, and Malvasia. Today, many of the better producers
have eliminated the use of white grapes, and replace them with Cabernet
Sauvignon and Or Merlot. Maremma on the Tuscan coast (Bolgheri, Montescuadaio
and Scansano) is home to the great Super Tuscan, a blend of
Sangiovese and Bordeaux varietals.
The Northeast coast of Italy (Veneto, Friuli and Trentino on the Austrian
border produce light, clean, crisp everyday drinking white wines while in
the South (Campania, Puglia, Calabria) produce big, fruity reds that are increasing
rapidly in quality. Sicily is the exception with seventy five percent
of their production devoted to white wine. Here also, the levels of quality
are rapidly increasing.