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Italian Wine and Grapes

Italian Wine and Grapes

Why another Italian wine and grape guide? Simply put, without it, understanding Italian wine is just for the professionals.

Italian wine is never straightforward. Italian wine labels rarely they mention the grapes, often the name is a village or area or anything but the grape. Wine appellations allow the use of several grapes and some freedom in the wine making process resulting in different wines despite the same name, thus adding confusion. Wine drinkers are required to do their homework first.

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

The aim of this Italian wine and grapes guide is to answer some of the questions about Italian wine that we have been asked over the nearly 20 years in the industry, and provide a bit more clarity without pretending to answer any question.

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 and produce wines that add to the grape characteristics, the “terroir”, characteristics deriving from where the grape is grown determined by elements such as climatic factors or composition of the soil, elements that make the wine different from all others, classic examples of international grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. 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 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba.

Often a grape is native in a certain area but considered international in a different area or country, and more and more often, native grapes are being planted outside their native regions, even more for Italian grapes due to their high number.

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, 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 the winemaker has, and for that reason, winemakers can choose to make a table wine instead of a DOC or DOCG as to make the best wine they can with the grape they have. For more information watch Andrea’s video.

Italy, France and Spain, are the biggest wine producing countries in the world with the exact order varying between vintages. Below some of the words found on Italian wine labels:

Bianco: white
Cantina: winery
Cantina Sociale: co-operative winery
Classico: area within the wine appellation most vocated , suited for the grape
Cru: a specially designated vineyard or limited area within the appellation/wine
Frizzante: lightly sparkling
Invecchiato: aged in wood
Liquoroso: fortified wine
Metodo classico or metodo tradizionale: classic method, bottle fermented sparkling wine
Metodo Charmat or Martinotti: second fermentation in a tank
Passito: Wine made from dried grapes, with a higher residual sugar, sweet wine
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, a wine within the appellation, with higher requirements
Tenuta: wine estate
Uva/Uve: grape/grapes
Uvaggio: grapes used in the blend
Vendemmia: vintage
Vendemmia tardiva: late harvest.

Our guide lists the main wines and grapes hoping to provide some clarity about this wonderful but very messy, Italian wine world. For more information, we also have a Youtube channel

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Grape list

Wine Community
Wine Club
Cercavino