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home > food & wine dictionary > Italy

Food and Wine Dictionary

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Italy is the world's largest wine producer, with production just under 25 percent of the world's total. It's also the greatest wine consumer, although second to France in per capita consumption (Italy has a larger population). Italy's a land of vast geographic diversity ranging from its northern cool-temperature vineyards in the foothills of the Alps, to the hot southland. Italy's been making wine for at least 3,500 years in a variety of styles (DRY to sweet, STILL to fully SPARKLING) and in a variety of ways, such as the PASSITO method, from many grape varieties not widely grown outside of Italy. The Italian varieties used for red and rosé wines include AGLIANICO, BARBERA, BONARDA, CANAIOLO, DOLCETTO, FREISA, GRIGNOLINO, LAGREIN, LAMBRUSCO, MONTEPULCIANO, NEBBIOLO, RABOSO, Refosco (MONDEUSE), SANGIOVESE, SCHIAVA, and Teroldego. Those used for white wines are ALBANA, BOMBINO BIANCO, CORTESE, GARGANEGA, GRECO, MALVASIA, Moscato (MUSCAT), PICOLIT, PIGATO, PROSECCO, TOCAI FRIULANO, TREBBIANO, VERDICCHIO, VERDUZZO, VERNACCIA DI ORISTANO, and VERNACCIA DI SAN GIMIGNANO. Other European (primarily French and German) varieties grown here are CABERNET FRANC, CABERNET SAUVIGNON, MERLOT, Pinot Nero (PINOT NOIR), SYRAH, CHARDONNAY, GEWÜRZTRAMINER, MÜLLER-THURGAU, Pinot Bianco (PINOT BLANC), Pinot Grigio (PINOT GRIS), Riesling Italico (WELSCHRIESLING), Riesling Renano (RIESLING), SAUVIGNON BLANC, and SYLVANER. The Italians have implemented a system similiar to France's for improving the quality of their wines. At the lowest level of this quality ranking are the VINO DA TAVOLA wines, followed by VINO TIPICO wines and then by the DENOMINAZIONE DI ORIGINE CONTROLLATA (DOC), which is similiar to the French APPELLATION D'ORIGINE CONTRÔLÉE. Parameters for the Italian DOC, however, weren't considered strict enough so another higher level, DENOMINAZIONE DI ORIGINE CONTROLLATA E GARANTITA (DOCG) was added. DOCG status, which requires stricter rules and controls, has been granted to less than fifteen (counting CHIANTI only once) areas since it was implemented in the early 1980s. Italy has twenty large growing regions, the boundaries of which define the area geographically, not by any common wine style, grape variety, or climate. Of these twenty regions, the four largest volume producers are APULIA, SICILY, VENETO, and EMILIA-ROMAGNA who make over 55 percent of the total wine production. The order of these four regions (as to whose is first, second, etc.) changes depending on the year. The four top regions producing quality wines (those ranked as DOC or DOCG) are VENETO, TUSCANY, PIEDMONT, and TRENTINO-ALTO ADIGE. These four areas produce over 57 percent of the DOC/DOCG wines. Some of the better known of these wines include CHIANTI from the Tuscany region; ASTI SPUMANTE from the Piedmont region; LAMBRUSCO wines from DOC areas like Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce in the EMILIA-ROMAGNA region; and BARDOLINO, VALPOLICELLA, and SOAVE from the Veneto region. High-quality wines also come from DOCG areas like BARBARESCO, BAROLO, and GATTINARA in Piedmont; BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO and VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO in Tuscany; and TORGIANO in UMBRIA.

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Material adapted from the The New Food Lover's Companion

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

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