Italian Wine Overview – The Basics

Italy’s wine history dates back to 800BC and the ancient Greeks called it “Onotria”, the “land of wine” because the grapevines took to the soils and climate so well. Despite its long history in wine, Italy, as a country is quite young having been formed in 1861. Before that, the land was controlled by fiercely independent city-states and regions, some controlled by the Roman Catholic Church. It’s long history as independent and unique cultures is reflected today in the many grape varieties and styles of wine made in Italy.

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Regions – 20 wine regions, 329 DOCs, and 74 DOCGs.

History – First vines (800BC), unification (1863), DOCs (1963)

Climate and Geography – Continental to Mediterranean – Alps and Alpinnes – 47.5d to 35.3d – 0 to 1000 m

Soils – Limestone/marl, volcanic, some alluvial.

Grapes – Over 75 varieties with over 1000 hectares planted, Sangiovese 24%,

Viticulture – Polyculture, mechanization (60s & 70s), quality in the 80s (higher density/low yield), now a mix of modern and traditional.

Vinification – Modernization in 70s and 80s, mixed with traditional today

Top producers – Gaja,

Key Facts

Other key Facts

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

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 – small, mountainous, high acid local and international varieties.

Piemonte – “Foot of the mountain”, largest DOC/DOCG area, high quality reds

Lombardia – Populous economic center (Milan), wines cater to locals – few exports


Veneto – Largest producer of DOC wines,mixed quality, high export near Verona

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 (Lambrusco) and Romagna (hills in the west)

Tuscany – Cultural center – High quality sub-regions e.g., Chianti, Sangiovese rules.

Veneto – Some outstanding high acid whites (Soave), sparkling Prosecco.

Marche – Catching up, local/authentic styles, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Verdicchio.

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

Umbria – Landlocked, high altitude – Sangiovese, international varieties, Sagrantino, Orvieto


Campania – Warm mediterranean, volcanic, mountains, crisp/unique whites – Fiano, Greco

Puglia – Hot maritime, bulk volume Sangiovese + full bodied reds – Negromaro & Primativo.

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

Calabria – The toe of the boot – 10,000 ha, Ciro DOC – Giglioppo red – Greco di Bianco white

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

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

History of Italian Wine

Rich history dating back to 800 BC with both the Greeks who called the land “Onotria” (land of wine) and the Romans developing viticultural practices including aging wine in amphora under a layer of olive oil. Other key developments include:

800 BC First Grapes Planted

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27 BC Augustus takes over Rome

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1963 First Classification Established

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1993 Major Classification Overhaul

Changes included:

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2016 AD Cheers!

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Climate & Soils

Italy has 3 major types of soil:

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




Sangiovese (22%) grapeicons-01

Key indigenous varieties (except Dolcetto) are late ripeners – Nebbiolo, Barbera…

Piamonte – red-cluster Nebbiolo (x%), red-cluster Barbera (y%), red-cluster Barbera (y%), red-cluster Barbera (y%), red-cluster Barbera (y%), red-cluster Barbera (y%)

Soave – white-clusterGarganiga (50%), white-cluster Pinot Grigio (x ), white-cluster Pinot Grigio, white-cluster Pinot Grigio, white-cluster Pinot Grigio, white-cluster Pinot Grigio

Wine Making

Making wine in Italy did not change for a long time until…

Top Wines

Gaja wines are….

Gaja wines are….

Tasting Profile

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

Bush Vines – As it sounds, the vines are trained to be a short, bush-like and generally without wires or a trellis system. Vines trained in Gobelet can also be called bush trained.  This approach helps control vigor but has largely been replaced with more structured trellis systems.  It is still widely used in Australia and South Africa.

Passito –

Copertino – DOC

Copertino – doc for robust red wine made mainly from negroamaro grapes on relatively flat terrain in south east Italy. For more details, see puglia . The co-operative winery of Copertino has begun identifying superior vineyard sites within the DOC