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Italian Wine and Grape Guide

Italian Wine and Grape Guide

According to one of the most recent survey, Italy grows more than 1400 grapes, divided between international and native grapes.

The international grapes are those that are found all over the world thanks to their versatility and adaptability. Classic examples of international grapes are Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah or Merlot. These grapes produce wines that add to the grape characteristics of the “terroir” where they are grown deriving from climatic factors or composition of the soil in which the grapes are grown.

The native grapes are, on the other hand, grapes that are only grown in the area, more or less small, examples are the Sangiovese or 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 region 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), 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 in which the law leaves very little to the winemaker). The higher in the hierarchy, the less freedom is left to the winemaker.

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 choose when buying Italian.

Italy is, together with France, the biggest wine producer in the world, the two countries swap positions depending of vintage but are always number 1 and 2, and produce some of the best wines in the world, together with some pretty bad and cheap ones, and these vary massively between the different regions, from rich, fruity and bold wines from the South to more elegant, delicate wines in the north.

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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