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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.
Tuscany is the oldest wine region in Italy, with a long history dating back over 2700 years. The region is on the Western coast of Italy, stretching from the coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea all the way to the Apennine mountains, with the majority of the region being quite hilly.
Contributing to around 6% of Italy's total wine output, Tuscany is the third most planted region, but only the eight biggest producer. Much of this can be attributed to the hilly terroir and poor soils leading to lower yields, but generally higher quality wines. The region produces far more red than white wine, and is responsible for two of the most famous Italian red wines, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.
Chianti was first classified in 1716, and the region of Tuscany now has 29 DOC and 7 DOCG classifications. In the 1970s 'Super Tuscan' wines emerged of supreme quality, commanding very high prices. Although they were initially produced outside the DOC or DOCG zones, most of the regions have since been classified, though some producers still opt to use the simpler and less restrictive IGT labelling.
The famous red wine Chianti is based on the the Sangiovese variety, though is most commonly blended with Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. The blending of multiple grapes is common, even Bordeaux blends can be found. White wines produced include Vermentino, Vernaccia, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.
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