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Italy has some of the oldest wine production methods in the world and almost every part of the country is planted under vine. From the Alps in the north to the very southernmost parts of Sicily where Africa is almost in sight, wine is successfully cultivated. In addition to the latitude covered, Italy's many mountains and hills provide a plethora of altitudes for grape growing in various soils and micro-climates. The extensive coastlines along the peninsula that is Italy provide maritime climates for the coastal wine-growing areas. Over 350 grape varieties are 'authorised' in Italy, though up to 550 varieties are thought to be grown.
The classification system of Italian wines has four classes, with the intention of defining a wine's origin a quality. Two of these classes are table wines, whilst DOC and DOCG fall under the EU quality wine produced in a specific region category. Vino da Tavola (VDT) means that the wine comes from Italy. Most of these wines are generally basic table wines that are consumed domestically. Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) denotes a more specific region within Italy, and the resultant will be of higher quality than simple table wines, but won't conform to the rules required for higher certification. Both Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) are regionally more specific than IGT, and have stricter rules regarding the grape varieties grown, yields per hectare, minimum alcohol levels and so on. The major difference between DOC and DOCG is that the latter has to undergo a blind-tasting session to ensure the highest quality is achieved. Italy has 32 DOCG appelations, 311 DOC appelations and 120 IGT zones.
Key regions include Piedmont, Tuscany, Abruzzo, Veneto, Sicily and Sardinia. Common white varieties grown are Pinot Grigio, Arneis, Vermentino, Verdicchio, Fiano and Moscato. The red varieties grown the most are Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, Primitivo, Nero d'Avola and Corvina.
According to Greek legend, the god of wine Dionysus was the first to have planted a vineyard in Sicily; kick-starting the viticulture of the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It's one of the biggest wine-producing regions in Italy with Veneto and Emilio Romagna the only two Italian regions that produce more. In all, the island has an impressive 134,000 hectares under vine although this area is shrinking year by year. This region produces a wide range of wines, both table and dessert wines and the grapes most famously grown there are the Nero d’Avola and Catorrato varietals. Nerello Mascalese is used to make the Etna Rosso DOC wine from the volcanic Mt Etna and Frappato is a the main grape of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG.
Sicily is blessed with the most favourable climate. The summers are hot and it hardly rains, and the winters are not that cold and frost is rare. The Mediterranean climate is ideal for growing wine grapes as the coastal winds drying out grapes overnight. Because of the warm and relatively dry climate, there are less risk of rot and mildew among the grapes, so chemical sprays are rarely used. The soil of Sicily is rocky and enriched with minerals that absorb the heat during the day and release it at night, which helps the grapevines maintain an even temperature while the air around it gets cooler.
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