ITALIAN WINE 101
Italy is one big vineyard! With so many great choices, it can be quite overwhelming. Italian 101 is here to help you with an overview of the basics and get you started on this wonderful Italian experience.
Italian Geography by Bob Lipinski
Italy, which is slightly smaller than California (157,000 sq. miles vs. 116,000), is literally one vast vineyard, stretching from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south. Italy is divided into 20 wine-producing regions that are subdivided into almost 100 provinces, and 8,100 communes. Italy has approximately two million acres of planted vineyards; it is among the highest per capita wine-consuming nations; largest exporter of table wines into the United States, one of the largest sparkling wine producers, and the world’s largest producer of vermouth. Currently, there are more than 2,000 varieties of Italian wine, an output that no other country can come close to matching. In addition, there are more than 1,000 different grape varieties, most of which are indigenous. In addition to indigenous grapes, many international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah, to name but a few, are also grown in Italy.
On July 12, 1963, the president of the Republic of Italy, Antonio Segni, signed into law Presidential Decree No. 930, which originated the Italian Wine Laws known as Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). On July 15, these laws were published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale della Republica Italiana, the official registry of the Italian government.
The basic aim of the wine law was to protect the name of origin and the sources of musts (unfermented grape juice) and wines, and to provide measures to prevent fraud and unfair competition.
These very comprehensive laws cover just about every phase of grape cultivation and wine production and provide strict controls for every step of the process. The following are some of the aspects of wine production that are regulated under these laws:
- Area of production
- Type of soil
- Location of vineyard
- Type of grape variety used
- Pruning and growing techniques
- Allowable yields per acre (tonnage)
- Allowable yield of juice per ton of grapes
- Minimum sugar levels
- Minimum acid and extract levels
- Methods of vinification
- Minimum aging requirements
These laws are quite similar to those of France and Germany. One major exception is that the wines of Italy may not be chaptalized (sugar added to the must).
Every wine awarded a DOC or DOCG designation has a set of rules and regulations that apply solely to that wine. A Chianti wine might therefore have completely different rules for production than a Bardolino. As of 2010, more than 400 wines had been granted DOC or DOCG status, which is only approximately 15 percent of the nation’s production. The aim of the Italian government is to bring classified wines to more than 50 percent by the year 2015.
The law basically defines a pyramid system of classifying wines on a scale of ascending levels of quality beginning with Vino da Tavola on the bottom, then followed by Indicazioni Geografiche Tipiche (IGT), DOC, and DOCG on top.
stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
, a designation given to those wines that are considered to be of a higher quality than DOC
wines and made under even stricter guidelines.
Before a wine can apply for the DOCG
designation, it must have been admitted to the DOC
category for at least five years. The upgrading of DOC
does not occur automatically, but only when the required amount of producers of a given DOC
wine apply for the designation. In fact, such a choice on the part of the producers can bring about serious economic consequences.
wines must be sold in containers smaller than five liters in capacity and the container must bear a state seal
guaranteeing origin and quality. This seal is applied on the bottle neck in such a way that it prevents removal of the wine from the bottle without breaking the seal.
wines, all DOCG
wines must undergo viticultural and enological controls established by Italian law as well as by their respective production regulations. In addition, before bottling, DOCG
wines must be submitted for an organoleptic
evaluation (evaluation by utilization of the senses: sight, smell, and taste) by a panel of experts appointed by Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Each DOCG
wine is tasted by a different panel composed of experts for that particular wine. The organoleptic test must be repeated for each batch during the bottling stage.
wines undergo obligatory production controls by agricultural inspectors at harvest time; the controls cover maximum yields, minimum natural alcohol content, and so on. The wines are inspected by fraud prevention authority representatives who examine their chemical, physical, and organoleptic characteristics.
A wine that fails the tasting on its first attempt can be resubmitted, but if it doesn’t pass the second time, it is automatically declassified to Indicazioni Geografiche Tipiche
On July 1, 1980, Brunello di Montalcino was the first wine to be granted the DOCG
status. Since that time, additional wines have been granted DOCG
status. Applications for the status have been made and are pending for others.
Current Listing Of DOCG Wines:
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane
Aglianico del Vulture
Fiano di Avellino
Greco di Tufo
Albana di Romagna
Friuli-Venezia Giulia (2)
Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit & Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit Cialla (Passito)
Cesanese del Piglio
Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico
Scanzo or Moscato di Scanzo
Sforzato di Valtellina or Sfurzat di Valtellina
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva
Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva
Vernaccia di Serrapetrona
Asti and Moscato d'Asti
Barbera del Monferrato Superiore
Brachetto d'Acqui or Acqui
Dolcetto d’Ovada Superiore or Ovada
Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba or Diano d'Alba
Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore or Dogliani
Gavi or Cortese di Gavi
Roero and Roero Arneis
Vermentino di Gallura
Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Brunello di Montalcino
Elba Aleatico Passito
Morellino di Scansano
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Sagrantino di Montefalco
Torgiano Rosso Riserva
Amarone della Valpolicella
Asolo or Colli Asolani Prosecco
Recioto di Gambellara
Recioto di Soave
Recioto della Valpolicella
Indicazioni Geografiche Tipiche (IGT)
(in-dee-cah-ZEE-oh-knee gee-oh-GRAF-ee-keh TEE-pee-keh)
A category of Italian wines (known as vino tipico until 1992), which is the equivalent to the French Vin de Pays and German Landwein, was approved on January 23, 1992 (Law No. 164). The term refers to a superior table wine, originating from a defined area and from specific grape varieties. Italian law permits IGT-labeled wines to contain up to 15 percent grapes from outside the region; in DOC and DOCG wines, no outside grapes are allowed. Regulations are less stringent than for DOC and include many former Vino da Tavola wines as well as such fine wines as Tignanello and Solàia.
Indicazioni Geografiche Tipiche (IGT) wines are typical of the large growing area in which the grapes are grown and wine made. However, IGT wines may not use names of zones or sub-zones used for DOC or DOCG wines. In addition, three years must pass before a vino da tavola wine can be transformed into an IGT wine. Also known as the Goria Laws after Minister of Agriculture Giovanni Goria who was instrumental in their passage.
Vino da Tavola
(VEE-noh dah TAV-oh-lah)
A term that literally means “table wine” as defined by the laws of 1963 and updated in 1992. Vino da tavola wines can only be referred to as red, white, rosé, or a fantasy name may appear. In addition, vintage, grape variety, and “typical” geographical indication may not be used on the label. However, wineries may use “non-typical” geographical designations on the label, referring to the names of viticultural estates, individually or in association with the name of a respective locality.
Generic, Varietal, and Proprietary Wines
Italy’s wines are referred to as generic (named for the place of origin), varietal (named for the variety of grape from that they are made), and proprietary (producer named). Soave is a generic wine, Pinot Grigio a varietal wine, and Rubizzo a proprietary wine.
Italian wine is typically named for the town, such as Barbaresco, Barolo, Chianti, Gavi, Orvieto, Soave, Frascati, and Carmignano. Sometimes the vineyard is attached to the name such as Barolo Cru Cannubi, Chianti Classico Riserva Fizzano.
Two wines that often cause confusion are Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a generic wine, is named for the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a varietal wine, is named after the Montepulciano grape variety grown in Abruzzo as well as other regions. The connection with each other is merely linguistic.
Abboccato: A wine that contains between 6 and 20 grams of sugar per liter. See Amabile.
Amabile: A wine that contains between 20 and 45 grams of sugar per liter. See Abboccato.
Annata: Year of the harvest. Also known interchangeably as vendemmia.
Bicchière: A drinking glass.
Cantina: Wine Cellar. Storage or aging facility (generally subterranean) where wine is kept under optimum conditions of temperature, light, humidity, and security.
Casa Vinicola: Winery. The building in which the juice of grapes is fermented into wine.
Cascina: An estate or farm.
Cerasuolo: Deep pink or cherry-red-colored. The term applies to wines with more than 100 milligrams per liter of the coloring substance, anthocyanins. See Chiaretto and Rosato.
Chiaretto: A lightly colored red wine generally referring to the wines along the southern and eastern shore of Lake Garda. The term applies to wines with 50 to 100 milligrams per liter of the coloring substance, anthocyanins. See Cerasuolo and Rosato.
Classico: A geographic term applied to DOC or DOCG non-sparkling wines and referring to the central or original area of a production zone.
Colle: Slope or hillside where grapes grow. Also known as collina.
Consorzio: A consortium of wine producers.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): See Above Section.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG): See Above Section.
Dolce: A wine that contains more than 45 grams of sugar per liter.
Etichetta: Label. A piece of paper attached to a bottle that identifies its country or place of origin, ownership, contents, a classification, identifying brand, and type of product.
Fiasco: The name given to the straw-covered, bulbous-bodied, long-necked bottle that houses some Chianti and other wines.
Frizzante: Spritz. A slight effervescence in a wine or prickle on the tongue that may be caused by leaving some dissolved carbon dioxide in the wine, but it is more often the result of the addition of carbon dioxide gas to certain table wines.
Indicazioni Geografiche Tipiche (IGT): See Above Section.
Lista dei Vini: Wine list.
Macerazione Carbonica: Carbonic Maceration.
Malolattica Fermentazione: Malolactic Fermentation.
Metodo Charmat: Charmat Method.
Metodo Classico: The official name by which all méthode champenoise-produced sparkling wines are known. It became effective with the release of the 1991 vintage.
Muffa Nobile: Botrytis Cinerea.
Passito: Dried out, as in grapes. A sweet wine made from overripe grapes that have been allowed to dry or shrivel in the sun, causing higher sugar levels; they are then pressed. Two examples of wine made from passito grapes are Amarone della Valpolicella and Vin Santo.
Podere: A term often used in Tuscany to describe a farm or other agricultural holding.
Poggio: Hill or knoll.
Ramato: A white wine that is copper-colored, because it is vinified in contact with the grape skins, causing greater depth of color and flavor. Ramato refers to the Italian word “rame,” which translates as copper. Two grape examples are Gewürztraminer and Pinot Grigio.
Ripasso: A process used in Verona for some Valpolicella wine that has some similarity to the Tuscan governo. Immediately after the Valpolicella wine ferments, the juice is poured into barrels containing the wine-soaked skins and seeds from Amarone or Recioto wines. These skins, which still contain some unfermented sugar, cause the wine to undergo a second alcoholic fermentation. This process increases the alcoholic content of the wine about 2 percent and gives the wine more structure, tannin, extract, glycerin, color, and bouquet.
Riserva: A DOC or DOCG wine (generally red) with extra barrel-aging at the winery. The minimum number of months or years required is solely determined by the individual DOC or DOCG.
Rosato: Rosé Wine. A wine made from red grapes that has a light pink color, acquired by only short contact with the skins; wine made from a mixture of red and white grapes; or wine made by blending red and white wines. The term applies to wines with no more than 50 milligrams per liter of the coloring substance, anthocyanins.
Secco: Dry. A wine that contains less than 6 grams of sugar per liter.
Spumante: Sparkling, as in a sparkling wine.
Stravecchio: A very old wine or brandy.
Super Tuscan: A loosely defined term applied to wines that are made from grapes cultivated in the most prestigious vineyard sites. The wines are aged in new barrels, often acquired solely for them alone. Although most producers use Sangiovese as their base blend, along with some Cabernet Sauvignon, there is no rule as to grape varieties, and many different ones are included. Some of these super Tuscan wines have been described as “international inky monsters with ripe fruit and a vanilla-oak nose; jammy palate with big, warm alcohol, and considerable amounts of soft extract.”
Superiore: A wine that contains a higher percentage (generally one-half of one degree or more) of alcohol than the minimum regulation required under DOC or DOCG law. Under some laws, additional bottle aging is also a requirement for use of the term.
Tenuta: Estate or farm.
Varietal Wine: When the grape variety is specified, the wine must contain at least 85% of the varietal.
Vendemmia: Vintage, as in the year the grapes were harvested. See Annata.
Vino da Tavola: See Above Section.
Regions And The Important Wines They Produce
Abruzzo: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
Apulia: Castel del Monte, San Severo, Brindisi, Primitivo di Manduria, and Salice Salentino
Basilicata: Aglianico del Vulture, Aglianico dei Colli Lucanti
Calabria: Cirò Rosso, Cirò Bianco, Donnici, Pollino, Savuto
Campania: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino, and Taurasi
Emilia-Romagna: Lambrusco, Albana di Romagna, and Sangiovese di Romagna
Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Picolit, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Ramandolo, Tocai, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Schioppettino
Latium: Frascati, Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone, Cesanese del Piglio, Marino, and Colli Albani
Liguria: Rossese di Dolceacqua and Cinqueterre
Lombardy: Valtellina Superiore (Sassella, Inferno, Valgella, Grumello, Sforzato) Oltrepò Pavese, Franciacorta, Lugana, Buttafuoco, and Sangue di Giuda
Marches: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Rosso Piceno, Rosso Cònero, and Vernaccia di Serrapetrona
Molise: Biferno and Pentro di Isernia
Piedmont: Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Asti (a spumante), Moscato d’Asti, Dolcetto, Gavi, Gattinara, Ghemme, Grignolino, Vermouth, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Arneis, Roero, Freisa, Brachetto, and Spanna
Sardinia: Vernaccia di Oristano, Vermentino, Cannonau, and Monica di Cagliari
Sicily: Alcamo, Marsala, Etna, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and Moscato di Pantelleria
Trentino-Alto Adige: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Lago di Caldaro, Lagrein, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Santa Maddalena
Tuscany: Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Carmignano, Morellino di Scansano, Super-Tuscan, Bolgheri, and Vin Santo
Umbria: Orvieto, Sagrantino di Montefalco, Torgiano Rosso, and Torgiano Bianco
Valle d’Aosta: Enfer d’Arvier, Donnaz, and Chambave Moscato Passito
Veneto: Valpolicella, Bardolino, Soave, Amarone della Valpolicella, Prosecco, Gambellara, and Bianco di Custoza
The Sounds of Italy
The Italian Alphabet consists of ONLY 21 letters
The English letters (J, K, W, X, Y) are found only in words of foreign origin
Italian Letters A
OH (short sound)
G “as in go”
Citra, Bucci, Ciao
|DEL, DELLO, DELLA
|| The Amarone della Valpolicella
|DEI, DEGLI, DELLE
||Rocca delle Macìe
Brusco dei Barbi
|AL, ALLO, ALLA
|| Fonte Al Sole
||Casa alle Vacche
||Brunello di Montalcino
||Alba Barbera d’Alba
||Asti Dolcetto d’Asti
||Abruzzo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo