Over the centuries the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans all played a significant role in the development of wine production in Italy. They established the best way of growing vines. They developed techniques of wine production and of wine storage. From those early beginnings, Italy has now become one of the top two leading wine producers in the world, vying with France for the title year on year. Italian wine is the most widely exported in the world but, at the same time, Italy also consumes the most wine of any country in the world.
Several factors have contributed to the success of Italian wines. The climate obviously plays a significant part, with plenty of sunshine together with cooler mountain air and sea breezes providing ideal vine-growing conditions. The terrain is also important, with the coastal foothills, the northern plains and the mountainous regions of the Alps and the Apennines providing the variety of conditions that result in the unique styles of wine for which Italy is famous.
The Italian DOCG classification stands for 'Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita'. This is the highest classification for wine quality in Italy and signifies that the wine is not only controlled but that the quality is also guaranteed. The next level is DOC, meaning 'Denominazione di Origine Controllata'. This is equivalent to the French AOC level and imposes restrictions on the use of grape varieties, permitted yields, alcohol levels, ageing specifications and processing techniques. The last level is IGT, meaning 'Indicazione Geografica Tipica'. This category was established to accommodate those wines which use different grape varieties than those specified for DOCG and DOC qualification.
With more than 2,400 different styles, Italy offers the largest and most diverse array of wines in the world including at least 300 DOCs and DOCGs. If IGTs are included, there are more than 500.
More than 2000 indigenous grape varieties are grown in Italy and Italian wines are recognized for the incomparable variety and choice they offer in terms of aroma and flavor. Since the late 20th Century, the many native grape varieties have been supplemented by some of the more well-known classics such as: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot used in the 'Super Tuscan' wines and Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The 20 regions of Italy are all wine producers. The three in the north-east: Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia are known collectively as the 'Tre Venezie'. This area boasts the most superior wine technology and is home to two of the country's leading wine schools: San Michele all'Adige in Trentino and Conegliano in the Veneto. It also houses the world?s largest vine nursery at Rauscedo in Friuli. The famous wines from this region include: Soave, Valpolicella, Bardolino, Soave & Pinot Grigio.
In the north and north-west there are five wine regions: Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont, Liguria and Aosta Valley. Together, they account for 20 per cent of Italy's total wine production as well as approximately 30 per cent of its DOCs. The famous wines from this region include: Asti, Barbaresco, Barolo & Barbera.
The six central regions are Tuscany, Lazio, Umbria, Marche, Abruzzo and Molise. They produce less than a quarter of Italy's wines but account for a third of its DOCs or DOCGs. This area benefits from the best wine growing conditions. The famous wines from this region include: Lambrusco, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Cervaro, Orvieto, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Verdicchio di Matelica, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo & Frascati.
In the south of Italy, including the islands, there are six wine regions, producing around 40 per cent of the country's total wine production but accounting for less than 7 per cent of its DOCs. These areas are Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The famous wines of this region include: Fiano di Avellino, Salento Primitivo, Aglianico del Vulture, Cirò, Marsala, Nero d'Avola, Cannonau, Sulcis & Vermentino di Gallura.