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Jul 02

Guest Post: An Italian Wine Primer, Part 1

While Kevin & I are in Alaska, we've asked some friends and
colleagues to post on their wine loves, wine experiences and more. For
this post we welcome Kevin Keith, who does an excellent job of introducing himself. Thanks Kevin!

__

Hi y’all!  My
name is Kevin Keith, and I am currently the wine buyer for Liquor Direct Wine
& Spirits
, with two locations in Northern Kentucky, as well as local wine
blogger for Under The Grape
Tree
.  Michelle asked me to
help keep her blog going with a little post, so I tried to come up with
something that would fit with her readers, as well as not repeat anything she
or Kevin (her husband) has touched on in the past.

What I came up with is a little something that I am very
passionate about, and have had many questions on in my stores over the years,
and that is Italian wine.  I tell
people who ask about Italian wine, that this subject is the hardest to teach
people on due to the overwhelming amount of information there is about the
subject.  You see, while other
countries in the world dedicated specific areas of their lands to viticulture
(growing grapes), in Italy, there are vineyards everywhere, in each of the 20
regions (provinces actually), with each region as diverse as the others.


Vineyards Near Barola, Image Credit

Italy has long been in the top three in wine production,
becoming #1 in 2005 with a total of over 8.5 million metric tons that year
(over 2 million metric tons more than France!).  Italy can be divided up into 4 main sections:

1.     1. Northwestern
Italy

2.     2. Northeastern
Italy

3.     3. Central
Italy

4.     4. Southern
Italy

The Northwestern portion of Italy consists of 6 regions
spanning from the greater portion of the arc of the Alps and Apennines, which
slope toward the Po River:  Valle
d’Aosta, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany.  Topography, soil, climate and grape
varieties vary from one region to the next, and much of this area is considered
very prosperous, with the cities of Florence, Milan, Turin and Genoa all
inhabiting this area.  A total of
27% of Italy’s wines are produced here.

The Northeastern portion of Italy is also called the Tre Venezie, or “Three Venices”.  The three regions are Veneto –
the largest producer of DOC wines, Trentino-Alto Adige – which has the
highest percentage of DOC wines comparatively to total output, and
Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  Together,
these 3 regions producer a total of 17% of Italy’s wines.

There are 5 regions within Central Italy:  Marches, Umbria, Latium, Abruzzo and
Molise.  There is ample sunshine
and moderate temperatures, as well as rolling hills and mountains that provide
an ideal environment for wine production. 
19% of Italy’s wines are made here.

The Southern portion of the country has six regions:  Campania, Apulia (Puglia), Calabria,
Basilicata, and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, all considered the cradle
of Italian enology.  This region is
experiencing a new winemaking renaissance, and accounts for 37% of Italian wine
production.

What compounds the issue of regional diversity is the fact
that in virtually every region, there are a completely different set of grapes
used in wine production, and even more complicated, is the fact that wines can
either be labeled varietally (as in California) or by region (as in France)
– even in the same region.

The wine laws of Italy are also quite difficult to fully
understand, although the main things you need to understand are the D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or
controlled origin) is the bulk of Italy’s wines, denoting over 300 different
DOC zones and at least 800 different table and sparkling wines.  The first wine given DOC status was
actually a white wine, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano of Tuscany in 1966 (the
year I was born no less!).

DOCG wines are a step up, referring to the pinnacle of
quality and stature.  DOCG stands
for Denominazione di Origine Controllata
e Garantita,
or Controlled and Guaranteed origin.  There are only 29 DOCG regions currently, including
Barbaresco, Barolo and Moscato d’Asti of Piedmont, Franciacorta from Lombardy,
Soave Superiore from Veneto, and Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti and Vino
Nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany. 
Wines can be eligible for DOCG status if they have had DOC status for at
least 5 years.  A sub-zone of a DOC
can be promoted separately from the entire zone as well.  For example, Carmignano Rosso is now a
DOCG, yet the Rosato and Vin Santo from this zone are still only DOC wines.

A new category was created in 1992 called IGT, or Indicazione Geografica Tipica.  It is nearly equivalent to the French Vin de Pays, and was created in response
to pressure to conform to the European Union’s standards.  The IGT designation often goes to what
Italian’s refer to as “non-traditional” varietal wines, such as a Veneto Merlot
or a Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon.

I am going to take a break and come back next Thursday with a breakdown of
each region, highlighting the top wines of those regions.  See you soon!

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