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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.
Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) is probably the finest wine region in all of Italy, and has laid claim to this since Roman times. It has a continental climate influenced by the surrounding Alps and Ligurian Apennines, and is located in the north-west of Italy, bordering both France and Switzerland.
Piedmont has only 1% of the total vineyards of Bordeaux and 15% that of Burgundy. So while a top Chateaux may produce upwards of 35,000 cases a year, leading Barolo producers will often make only 800 cases. More than half of its vineyards are registered with DOC designations and many are in the Apennine or Alpine foothills, from 300-600m above sea level. Most of the wines are produced by smaller family estates rather than larger holdings.
Piedmont has 46 different DOC and four DOCG regions, and produces the largest number of well known, world-recognized, prize-winning wines. The most famous would have to be Barolo or Barbaresco, whose power comes from the Nebbiolo grape variety. The most widely planted red variety is Barbera although Dolcetto, Muscat, Shiraz and Bonarda are also produced.
The white variety most well known is Moscato, which is often made into frizzante (bubbly) wines known as Asti. Cortese is made into the popular Gavi wines, and smaller amounts of Chardonnay and high quality Sparkling are also produced in the far north of Piedmont.
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