Italy is one of the oldest wine-growing countries, the beginnings go back at least to before 1,000 BC. It was at this time that the Etruscans appeared in central Italy, settling areas in the four regions of today's Abruzzo, Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria. The origins of Italian wine culture lie above all in the Greek colonisation, which brought Greek wine culture to the peninsula, beginning in the 10th century BC on the island of Sicily as well as Campania and Calabria. The Greeks brought many of their grape varieties with them and named the ideal land for viticulture Oinotria (land of vines raised on stakes). The Phoenicians (Punic), who later became the great enemy, also had an influence at this time, establishing bases in Sicily and the Mediterranean. From the 6th century B.C. onwards, a lively trade began with the Celts in Gaul (France), who imported considerable quantities of wine from Upper and Central Italy.
The Romans learned from all these peoples and made winemaking a high art. In the 3rd century B.C. the vine was widespread everywhere and in the 1st century B.C. the wine culture reached a peak. The city of Pompeii was the wine trading centre and main supplier to Rome until its destruction by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 BC. The most famous ancient wines at that time were Caecuber, Falerner and Surrentiner. The Romans planted vineyards in the newly won provinces in what are now France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and England. Wine became an import and export article and the Romans already produced wooden barrels for it, having learned this from the Celts (Gauls).
Many Roman authors wrote very extensive works on viticulture and wine culture, some of them very comprehensive, thus enabling a very accurate picture to be drawn. The spectrum ranges from purely scientific (doctrinal) writings to poetic descriptions and descriptions of the eating and drinking culture. Satyricon, a depiction of the customs of the Roman upper class, deserves special mention. The most important authors in chronological order are Cato the Elder (234-149 BC), Virgil (70-19 BC), Horace (65-8 BC), Ovid (43 BC to 8 AD), Columella (1st half of the 1st century), Petronius (14-66), Pliny the Elder (23-79) and Palladius (4th century). Wine became the cultural bearer of the first rank, in continuation of the Greek Dionysus cult the wine god Bacchus enjoyed great veneration. The Romans were very creative in their winemaking techniques. One speciality was aromatising to make the wine more tasteful and longer lasting.
Sparkling wine was already produced by storing the amphorae in cold spring water (fermentation interruption). In the first century A.D., the cultivation of grape varieties was intensively studied and attempts were made to find the most suitable vine for each soil. Many of today's autochthonous vines are descended from the ancient grape varieties cultivated at that time. Due to the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and the turmoil of the migration of peoples, wine culture fell into oblivion and was only cultivated further by monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church through the production of the sacramental wine.
There was then a great upswing at the beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century. To revive viticulture, Pope Paul III. (1468-1549) took French wine under his spell and had overviews of Italian wine made. Already in 1716, under Grand Duke Cosimo III. (1642-1723) from the family of the Medici in Tuscany, the zone for Chianti was determined, Italy was thus one of the first countries with a designation of origin. But it was not until the 19th century, when wine types such as Barolo, Brunello and Chianti were created with French help, that a new beginning was made.
The soil is characterised by great diversity, but despite local differences, the climate has common factors of influence. The Alps shield against cold north winds, and the Apennines form a 1,500 kilometre long weather divide from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south. The Mediterranean Sea to the east and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the boot as well as the numerous rivers and lakes have a decisive influence. The best regions have temperatures between 12 and 16 °C, sufficient snow and rainfall in winter and warm to hot summers with sunshine until late autumn. The vineyards are planted from sea level up to 1,000 metres. The 20 wine-growing regions correspond to the political region boundaries:
At the beginning of the 1990s, the area under vines was still well over one million hectares, but this was reduced by around 200,000 hectares as a result of subsidised European Uniongrubbing-up programmes. In 2012, 45.6 million hectolitres of wine were produced from 713,000 hectares. This puts Italy at the top of the world rankings and joins France and Spain in first place (see under Wine production volumes). Wine is grown from the north of the country (Trentino-Alto Adige) to the deepest south (Sicily) and on the islands in the Mediterranean Sea. However, the over DOC and DOCG zones account for only about one fifth of wine production. There are about two million grape producers, 340,000 cellars and 45,000 wine bottlers. With over 2,000 different grape varieties, Italy has the most in the world, not a few of which are of ancient (Greek) origin. But "only" 400 of these are officially approved. The 2010 grape variety mirror with the top 45 (ex Kym Anderson):
Until after the Second World War, the focus was more on mass. From the 1960s onwards, a profound change took place. The first area in which the "Italian wine miracle" made itself felt was Chianti-Classico in Tuscany, where a radical break with the past was made. The Antinori, Frescobaldi and Ricasoli wineries in this region, and later Ca' del Bosco in Lombardy, made a decisive contribution to this. In the last third of the 20th century Italian wine underwent an extremely positive change. A new wine law introduced the new quality denomination "Denominazione di Origine Controllata" (DOC) in 1963, which made a decisive contribution to quality improvement. In 1966 Vernaccia di San Gimignano was the first DOC wine to be awarded this designation. Only in 1980 did the highest level "Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita" (DOCG) follow. Further changes came in 1992 with the "Goria Law", named after the Minister of Agriculture Giovanni Goria (1943-1994), which introduced the IGT level.
Wine categories: In August 2009, the EU wine market regulation became valid for all member countries with fundamental changes in wine designations and quality levels. There are the following new designations or quality levels (see also detailed under quality system):
Vino (formerly Vino da Tavola or table wine) = wine
IGP or the alternative old designation IGT = Landwein
DOP or the alternatively possible old designations DOC and DOCG = quality wine
In April 2010, the new national wine law came into force, replacing Decree No 164 of 1992. It was not content with merely adapting to the new EU law, but made a few substantial changes. The old and new designations may be used alternatively or together. This option exists in order to avoid a "flattening" of the DOCG to the DOC, since both would be unified if DOPs were used exclusively, and DOCG must continue to take precedence over DOC in terms of quality. In summary, there are now stricter and more clearly formulated regulations.
Vino: The old designation "VdT" (Vino da Tavola) is now, as in general, prohibited in all EU member states. There are wines without and with indication of the grape varieties and/or vintage.
IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) or IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta)
The local wines must undergo an analytical test (a sensory test is only carried out for DOC/DOCG wines). The wine must have a typical, geographically determined character. The requirements are below the DOC/DOCG or DOP level. The areas are usually much larger and sometimes cover entire regions. From the 1980s onwards, the high quality of some IGT wines from Tuscany led to the term Super Tuscan. There are a total of 118 IGT/IGP wines with about 30% of production. One area can cover an entire region such as Tuscany.
DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta)
These quality wines with a controlled designation of origin must be processed and aged from specified grape varieties according to specified quantities and methods (see below). Some DOC zones produce only one wine, others several in different colours, grape varieties or types. As a German-speaking equivalent, the designation QbA (quality wine of certain growing regions) is permitted for South Tyrolean wines. The 332 DOC wines account for about 25%. They are listed under the regions.
DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) or DOP: These quality wines with controlled and guaranteed designation of origin represent the highest Italian "class of honour", which guarantees the authenticity of particularly highly valued wines. The 74 DOCG wines account for only about 5% of production. For a complete list see below.
Grape varieties: for DOC/DOCG or DOP wines (quality wines), only grape varieties authorised in the respective areas may be used. For IGT/IGP wines (local wines), varieties under observation are also authorised. They must be mentioned in the production regulations, although this can also be done in percentage terms with a tolerance of 1% (previously only the composition in the vineyards was prescribed). Table grapes may also be vinified; the previous ban has been lifted.
Further specifications: In addition to grape varieties, these are bottle shape, minimum ageing times in barrels and bottle, minimum values for alcohol content, acidity and total extract (dry extract), as well as colour and aroma. A sensory and analytical test is carried out before marketing. It is also possible to indicate the subzone (sottozona), municipality (comune), district (frazione), microclimate zone (microzona), winery (Fattoria, Cascina or Podere) and the vineyard plot (Vigna) for wines of exceptional quality. In this way the importance of the origin is even more emphasized.
Additional quality designations: Three terms are used to indicate a special quality of quality wines. The term Classico designates traditional areas of origin or core zones within a DOC/DOCG or DOP area that are better or more favoured in terms of soil type and climate. For example, there is a DOCG area Chianti and a DOCG area Chianti-Classico. With higher alcohol content, lower yield limits and/or longer maturing time, the terms Superiore and/or Riserva are permitted.
The DOCG wines generally represent the absolute top of the Italian wines. If wines have maintained their quality for at least five years, they are awarded DOC status and, at the earliest after another five years, DOCG status. In theory, a single, outstanding branded wine can also achieve DOCG status if it "brings honour to Italy", but this has not yet happened. The very first wine classified as DOCG was Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany in 1980, followed in the same year by Barbaresco, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. It took a relatively long time until 1987, when Albana di Romagna from Emilia-Romagna was crowned as the first white wine. The first sparkling and sparkling wines were Asti Spumante and Moscato d'Asti from Piedmont in 1994. The list of the 75 DOCG: