Italian Wine Overview – The Basics

Italy has a long history with wine dating back to 800BC.  The ancient Greeks called this land “Onotria”, the “land of wine” because the grapevines took to the soils and climate so well.  In turn, the Italians took to wine as the Romans developed new winemaking techniques that are still in use today and spread wine cultivation throughout Europe as their Empire grew. Despite this long and important history, Italy, as a country, is quite young, having unified for the first time in 1861. Before that, the land was controlled by fiercely independent city-states and regions with unique cultures that are reflected today in the many grape varieties and wine styles that form the mosaic of styles that we know and love. This diverse quilt of cultures and wines is stitched together by their shared love of food and family.  The wines are almost always highly structured, relatively rustic, and dominated by earthy flavors – made to go with food and the family table.  Buon appetitio and Salute!

[jwplayer player=”1″ mediaid=”30316″]

History – Long wine history dates back to 800BC

Climate and Geography – Continental to Mediterranean – Alps and Apennines dominate. Mediterranean Sea – major impact.

Soils – Varied – Limestone/marl, volcanic, some alluvial.

Regions – 20 regions, 74 DOCGs, 334 DOCs, and 121 IGTs.

Grapes – Over 75 varieties with over 1000 hectares planted!

Viticulture – Polyculture, mechanization (60s & 70s), 80s – quality.

Vinification – Modernization in 70s/80s, “traditional” comeback

Overview of Italian Wine

Italy is a top producer of wine in the world, along with France and Spain, in terms of area planted, volume produced, and value.

Other key Facts

  • Second most planted country (
  • Export
  • Per capital consumption
  • ?

Other key Facts

  • Second most planted country (
  • Export
  • Per capital consumption
  • ?

Other key Facts

  • Second most planted country (
  • Export
  • Per capital consumption
  • ?

History of Italian Wine

Rich history dating back to 800 BC. Greeks who called the land “Onotria” (land of wine) and the Romans developed viticultural practices that are used today.  High structure wines are made to go with food and reflect a patchwork of unique cultures with diverse, mostly unique local grapes and styles.

800 BC First Grapes Planted

Bacon ipsum dolor amet ground round chuck hamburger flank tail. Turducken alcatra burgdoggen brisket jerky. Hamburger bacon

27 BC Augustus takes over Rome

Bacon ipsum dolor amet ground round chuck hamburger flank tail. Turducken alcatra burgdoggen brisket jerky. Hamburger bacon

1963 First Classification Established

Bacon ipsum dolor amet ground round chuck hamburger flank tail. Turducken alcatra burgdoggen brisket jerky. Hamburger bacom … Read more

1993 Major Classification Overhaul

Changes included:

This is a test

2016 AD Cheers!

Bacon ipsum dolor amet ground round chuck hamburger flank tail. Turducken alcatra burgdoggen brisket jerky. Hamburger bacon

Climate & Geography


Wine Regions of Italy

Wine is produced throughout Italy so this map differs significantly from others in that it highlights entire regions as opposed to specific areas dedicated to grapes. This is partly due to the economy and pragmatism of the peasants who creatively made the most of what they had and produced such wonderful food and wine as to have a rich life nonetheless. Grapes were planted on hillsides where they did best, leaving the more fertile valley floors for other produce and vines were trained high partly to make room underneath for a second crop ( the Pergola/Tendone system). So unlike most other countries where large areas are dedicated to vines, the Italian growers are more spread out and diverse. The average landholding of a grower in Italy is 1.3 hectares vs 7.6 hectares in France and 42.6 hectares in the US. The diversity of growers also contributes to the great diversity of Italian wine.


Valle d’Aosta – Smallest region, mountainous, local and international varieties.

Piemonte – Most DOCs/DOCGs in Italy, high quality, mostly reds

Lombardia – Economic center (Milan), cater to locals – few exports

Veneto – Largest DOC producer, whites (Soave), reds (Valpolicella), sparkling (Prosecco)

Friuli-Venezia Guilia – Many varieties, crisp local and international whites


Abruzzo – East cost – Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo

Emilia Romagna – High yields – Emilia plains (east) and Romagna hills (west)

Tuscany – Cultural center – High quality, well known (Chianti), Sangiovese rules.

Marche – Catching up, local styles from Montepulciano, and Verdicchio.

Lazio – near Rome, Frascati DOC – fresh, simple white, mostly Malvasia

Umbria – Landlocked, high altitude – Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Int’l varieties


Campania – Warm mediterranean, volcanic, unique whites – Fiano, Greco, Falenghina

Puglia – Hot maritime, high volume plains + full bodied reds – Negromaro & Primativo.

Basilicata – Mountainous, low production, poor, Aglianico del Vulture DOCG

Calabria – Toe of the boot – low production, Ciro DOC – Giglioppo,  Greco di Bianco

Sicily – 2nd largest area planted, mostly bulk but increasing quality from the center.

Sardinia – Large island, high potential from Vermentino and Cannonau.

Grapes of Italy



Italy has 3 major types of soil:

Classic Calcarious soil – In the Piedmont, Tuscany…
Volcanic Soils – Soave and the south
Alluvial Soils – ?

testing the glossary for the frizzante link




Classifications and Regulations

CountryRegionSub-RegionLevelKey GrapeMin %Max %Other GrapesAgingPremium
ItalyPiedmontBaroloDOCGNebbiolo1003 yrs, 1.5 in oakRisserva - 5 yrs, 1.5 in oakRed
ItalyPiedmontBarbarescoDOCGNebbiolo1002 yrs, 9 mos. in oakRiserva - 4 yrs, 9 mos. in oakRed
ItalyPiedmontErbaluce di CalusoDOCGErbaluce100
ItalyLombardyOltrepo Pavese Metodo ClassicoDOCGPinot Nero70%Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio15 mos on leesMillesimato - 2 yrs on leesSparkling
Italy LombardyValtellina RossoDOCNebbiolo90%Red
Italy VenetoBardolino SuperioreDOCGCorvina35 - 85%Corvione (10 - 40%)1 yrRed
ItalyVenetoBardolinoDOCCorvina35 - 85%Red
ItalyVenetoConegliano Valdobbiadene ProseccoDOCGGlera85%Rive - hand harvested, vintageSparkling
ItalyVenetoBianco di CustozaDOCFriulano, Garganega, TrebbianoWhite
ItalyVenetoRecioto de SoaveDOCGGarganega70%Desert
ItalyVenetoSoaveDOCGarganega70%Riserva - 1 yrWhite

Key terms and definaitions

Consorzio – Italian for consortium.  In wine this refers to an association of independent organizations to achieve a business objective e.g., a co-operative for producing wine cost effectively or a group of producers or negotiants with a shared marketing objective.  It can also refer to the group associated with a particular DOC or DOCG that is charged with protecting the value of that term/classification including efforts to prevent the unauthorized use of the term (even by members) or counterfeit.  In France this is the role of the Comite Interprofessionnel and in Spain, the Consejo Regulador does this.

Consejo Regulador – The “regulating council” in Spain charged with making sure that the regulations of the DO are enforced – similar to the Comite Interprofessionnel in France and the Consorzio in Italy.  Each DO has such a council and it is generally made up of a mix of people representing growers, producers, and merchants.  This council also has the power to make or change the rule.

Bush vines – Just as it sounds, the vines are trained to be short, “bush”-like and generally without wires or a trellis system.  Vines that are trained in the Goblet style can also be said to be bush vines but there is a more structured way of tying the spurs together at the to, “head” of the vine.  Training vines in the bush style helps control vigor.  It is  largely being replaced with more formal trellis systems but is still popular in Australia and South Africa.

Colli (e?) – Italian for “hill” or Colline when referring to multiple “hills”.  Similar in usage to the French term cote, Cotes, and Coteaux. The term is used to indicate that the vines are planted on a slope without a specific grade or elevation requirement, so the vines could be on a steep slope at high elevations or simply planted on a rolling hill.  Several DOCs use the term Colli as part of their official name e.g., Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC.  Although many Italian wines are made from hillside plantings or even steep slopes e.g, the most of the wines from Piemonte, without using the term, some wines use this term to indicate that the grapes were source from a particular hillside e.g., Chianti from the Colli Senesi.

Ronco – A term used mostly in Northeast Italy that, like Colli, means “hill”.  The term is sometimes used on labels, like colli to indicate that the fruit comes from a hillside vineyard.  Rocco has been used this way in Tuscany, Alto Adige, Romagna and Lombardy where it was first used by Mario Pasolini on a bottle of “Ronco di Mompiano”  which is an outstanding vino da tavola wine made with Merlot and Marzemino grapes from grapes grown within the walls surrounding the town of Brescia.

Botte – Italian for a large wooden cask. pl Botti

Frizzzante – Italian word for a wine that has some bubbles (generally from a second fermentation in the tank), but is not fully sparkling (called Spumante in Italy).  A fully sparkling Spumante must have at least 3 bar of pressure and Frizzante must have between 1 and 2.5 bar pressure.

Azienda – Italian for “business”.  An Azienda can make wine from it’s own grapes or purchase grapes or a mix of the two but the term Azienda agricola refers to a farm and is similar in legal usage to the French term “domain” – if the term appears on the label, both the grapes must have been grown on the estate and the wine made there.  An Azienda Vinicola can buy grapes from other sources and finally, an Azienda Vitivinicola takes both approaches to making wine.

Cantina – Italian for cellar or winery. It can be used for a wine shop but Enoteca is more commonly used for this.

Cantina Sociale – A winery cooperative

Casa Vinicola – Also called an Azienda Vinicola is similar to a Negotiant in France a “casa vinicola” is a producer who buys grapes or wine from other growers or producers.

Enoteca – Popular Italian term for wine shop indicating that high quality selections are available which combines the greek root for wine used in the term Onotria with theke which is Greek for “case” .  As might be expected, the Italians have several terms to specify the type of wine and experience being offered by a wine merchant, and while Enoteca has an upscale connotation, and Enoteca can still follow the traditional practice of filling a customer’s container – often a 20-60 liter glass container sometimes called a “demijohn” in Europe, with the local wine straight from the cask.  Some Enotecas pour wines by the glass and offer food that can range from basic to outstanding.  Other terms indicating the type of wine or experience available in the shop include Vineria – a “tavern” and bottiglieria – a wine shop with a more mass market selection.

Fattoria – Italian for Farm.  Generally larger than a Podere which is a small farm often able to support only one family or sharecropper.

Tenuta – Italian word used for a land holding – implies an agricultural land holding larger than a Fattoria or a Podere e.g. Tenuta di Cappezzana and Tenuta Sassicia in Toscana

Organization of Trade

Top Wines

Gaja wines are….

Gaja wines are….

In the Glass

Barbera d'Asti
Tuscan IGTPinot Gris
(Orange rim)
IntensityMediumMediumMedium +Medium +Medium
IntensityMedium +Medium +MediumMedium +Medium +Medium
WoodMiminalVariesVariesVariesno Oak
OtherOxidativeRoses, OxidativeOxidativeOxidative
AcidityMedium +Medium +HighMedium - Medium +
TanninsMedium +
HIghMedium - High