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Italian Wine and Grape Guide

Italian Wine and Grape Guide

Why this grape and wine guide? Simply because, without it, understanding Italian wine is just for the professionals. Italian wine labels are never straightforward, wines with the same name are made using different grapes thus producing different wines and creating confusion. Rarely there is an Italian wine that clearly lists on the label the grapes making it, wine lovers need to do their homework first.

Italian wine often take their name from the area in which the grapes are grown, Chianti and Barolo to mention two, without any reference to the grape or grapes and style, and unless familiar with Italian wines, is impossible to guess the characteristic of the wine, making very complicate if not impossible for someone who is approaching Italian wine for the first time to know what to buy when choosing Italian wines.

With this grape and wine guide we want to answer some of the questions about Italian wine and provide a bit more clarity.

According to one of the most recent survey, Italy grows more than 1400 grapes, divided between international and native grapes, Italy and France keep battling every vintage for the biggest wine producing country in the world. The international grapes are those that are found all over the world thanks to their versatility and adaptability and produce wines that add to the grape characteristics the “terroir”, characteristics deriving from where the grape is grown and determined by elements such as climatic factors or composition of the soil that makes the wine different from the others, classic examples of international grapes are Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah or Merlot.The native grapes are, on the other hand, grapes that are only grown in the country, from small areas to entire regions, examples are the Sangiovese and the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba.

Sometime a grape could be native in a certain area but considered international in a different area or country, more and more often, native grapes are being planted outside their native regions and it is happening more and more often for Italian grapes.

Italian wines on the other side, are classified according to a national system made of 4 different levels, nothing to do with their quality even though this was the original idea of the law maker, table wine (any grape from anywhere in Italy), IGT (wines from a specific area, normally a region), DOC (wines from a specific area smaller than the IGT area and specific grapes) and lastly DOCG (wine from a very small area, made with specific grapes with the wine making process also written in the law). The higher in the hierarchy, the less freedom is left to the winemaker.

Below we list some of the Italian words you will find on Italian wine labels:

Bianco: white
Cantina: winery
Cantina Sociale: co-operative winery
Classico: area most vocated for the wine
Cru: a specially designated vineyard or limited area
Frizzante: lightly sparkling
Uva/Uve: grape/grapes
Liquoroso: fortified wine
Metodo classico or metodo tradizionale: classic method, bottle fermented sparkling wine
Metodo Charmat: fermentation in a tank
Passito: Wine made from dried grapes, with a higher residual sugar
Riserva: only to be used when the law allows it, indicates an aged wine
Rosato: rose
Rosso: red
Secco: dry
Spumante: sparkling wine
Superiore: strictly determined by the law, are usually higher in alcohol
Tenuta: wine estate
Vendemmia: vintage
Vendemmia tardiva: late harvest.

In our pages we have listed the main wines and grapes hoping to help you to understand a bit more about this wonderful but very messy, Italian wine world and for more information you can watch our youtube channel here.

Grape list

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