An introduction to Italian wines and a few tips when buying them
August 4, 2008
Interested in Italian wines but lost when looking for them in a supermarket shelf? Buying Italian wines is becoming increasingly more and more difficult, but before giving you tips on what to look for, a few things should be said about making wine in Italy. Italian law allows only four types of wine: vino da tavola (table wine), IGT, DOC, DOCG. In the case of DOCG wines, Italian law says how the wine should be made and the grapes that should be used, leaving little or none to the wine maker. Examples are the Barolo and Brunello to mention a couple. When a wine has the DOC strip, the law says that the grapes come from a specific area which could be a region, like Abruzzo for the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo or more limited, like the Frascati area for the Frascati, however, the DOC areas are listed by the law. DOCG and DOC wines can also additional requirements such as the alcohol percentage and yield. When a wine has instead the IGT (indicazione geografica tipica) mention on the label means that the grapes come from a specific area and the area is not a DOC one. Everything else is vino da tavola, table wine. On top of that, there are plenty of other adjectives, from "Superiore" (superior) to "Classico" (Classic) that refers to the characteristics of the wine the first and the area of provenance of the grapes the second, or "Amabile" or "Abboccato" which indicates the sugar content left. All the above does not have anything to do with the quality of the wine. You can find vino da tavola of a very good quality and DOCG undrinkable. DOC and IGT wines are, on the other side, the signature wines, wines that the producers can create, experiment with and succeed. Examples of them are the Sassicaia and Pomedes only to mention a couple. These wines are made with grapes from a specific area but is the wine maker that creates the wine, deciding the blend, the ageing, etc and this can change every year. Said that, another important element to mention that does not apply for new world wine and also partially explains the price gap, is that the law does not allow procedures that new world wine makers can use. An example above all is the ageing process. When an Italian wine is aged means aged in barrels, small or tonneaux (big barrels), new world wines can be aged by using chips of wood. The chips are left in the juice until the desired aged taste is obtained. Many experiments have been conducted about the effect of chips on the wine but a unanimous conclusion has not been reached yet. Going back to the tips, there are several elements that needs to be considered when buying Italian wines. Let's start with origin and producer. These two elements are both very important. We all know that the same grape produce different wines if planted in different areas and we also know that not all the areas are suitable or produce the same result. An example could be the Sangiovese, that in Tuscany produces wines like the Brunello even though is planted all over the centre/south of Italy but without resulting in any exceptional wines. With regard to the producer, it is important to know who made the wine, whether a wine maker or a commercial company that buys the wine and put into a bottle for the reason we can all imagine. Another important element to consider when buying aged wine is the vintage, this applies to all wines not just Italian. There are wines that require several years in bottle, eg Barolo, before being ready to be drunk and unless we want to keep the wine in the cellar, we need to buy an old vintage, otherwise the moment we drink the wine, we will find it unbalanced and unpleasant. Not only this, but each vintage is different due to the different weather conditions, and it is important to pick the right vintage as to avoid disappointment. Follow these simple tips will save you money and ensure you will enjoy your purchase.
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