Grapes and Styles: With around 2000 grape varieties, Italy has a wealth of varities and styles of wine unlike any other wine producing country. The best known red varieties are Sangiovese, Monteluplciano, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Primitivo and Nero D'Avola; all of which can make fantastic dry wines which are beautifully elegant and perfumed. The famous white varieties are Pinot Grigio, Vermentino, Fiano, Garganega and Trebbiano, which make easy going, aromatic, food friendly wines.
Sweet wines are made in many styles from lightly sparkling wine made from Moscato in the North, to the delicious Vin Santo of Tuscany and the fortified Marsala of Sicily.
Sparkling wine in Italy today is dominated by huge worldwide demand for Prosecco made from the Glera grape. Aside from prosecco Italy also makes some luxurious fizz such as Franciacorta made in the same way as Champagne from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc.
Food: Italian wine and Italian food grew up together so it is fair to say that the perfect accompaniment to Italian wine is Italian food. Classic tomato based pasta dishes pair excellently with Chianti or Valpolicella, the fuller wines of Barolo or Amarone are perfect with red meat dishes or game such as Vitello Alla Piemontese (Veal with Truffles). Whites such as Pinot Grigio or Soave pair well with light pasta dishes in creamy sauces such as Creamy Fettuccine with Chicken and Leeks. And of course all Italian wine goes with pizza!
History: Since winemaking was introduced to Italy by the Greeks around 4000 years ago, wine making has been in integral part of Italian life but after phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards producers replanted with quantity, rather than quality in mind. As a result for much of the 20th century Italy became a global supplier of inexpensive table wines. The 1960s brought about a change in laws controlling quality and labelling and the start of the Italian Wine Renaissance.
Rules and Regions: Quality Italian wine law follows a complex system based on geographical areas, grape varieties, ageing requirements and other winemaking factors. Wines that meet these requirements can be classified as Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). Since 1992 a new classification, Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) was introduced, allowing winemakers within regions more flexibility in terms of grape varieties and winemaking but still qualify as quality wine. In terms of volume the most important regions are Veneto, Puglia, Sicily and Emilia-Romagna each producing good quality bulk wines. In terms of quality wines, DOC or DOCG status, the leading regions by far are Tuscany and Piedmont.