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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.
Veneto in the northeast of Italy, is the 8th largest region in Italy in terms of landmass, and over 90,000 hectares are under vine, of which some 35,000 hectares are DOC, making Veneto the largest producer of DOC wines in Italy. Venetian viticulture dates back to the Roman times, but phylloxera and world wars saw large cooperatives come to the region taking over many smaller vineyards.
The region is protected from the harsh European climate by the Alps, in the north of Veneto, though the cool climate there is ideal for producing Garganega, the main variety in the white wine Soave. To the east, along the Adriatic coast, the renowned Valpolicella, Amarone and Bardolino DOC reds are produced. Reds are often blended with multiple grapes although straight varietals like Cabernet Franc can be very enjoyable.
The plains of Piave produce vast quantities of wine, rather than necessarily producing the highest quality wines and up in the Conegliano hills to the north is home to the Prosecco variety, which is growing in popularity, and seen as a bargain alternative to Champagne.
Valpolicella, the 'pearl of Verona', is a hilly viticultural region in Italy's northeast. Winemaking in the region has existed since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, and continues today with a rich tradition of red wine production.
Valpolicella's mild to cool continental climate suits its three primary grape varieties: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. A fresh, fragrant, light-bodied wine, Valpolicella is second only to Chianti in total DOC production.
The geology of the region ranges from morainic gravel near Lake Garda, to alluvial deposits in the fertile central plains, to volcanic soils in the east near the Soave DOC.
The mild continental climate of the region is a direct result of the surrounding bodies of water and the cool winds coming from the Alps to the north.
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