Sunday, 17 June 2007

Sightseeing in Italy - the Vineyards

If you enjoy wine, why not combine a sightseeing tour of Italy with a visit to some vineyards?

Winemaking in Italy
by Andre Sanchez

It might come as a surprise to many that Italy produces more wine that any other country in the world. But not to the Italians. Winemaking in Italy is an art that is handed down from generation to generation and the climate and disparity of winegrowing regions is such that there is a greater variety of grapes and wine types than anywhere else in the world.

Everybody has heard of the well-known wines such as Chianti from Tuscany, Valpolicella and Soave, but what about the marvelous Rondinella, Malvasia and Sangiovese? These are marvelous wines, and the little known Malvasia is superb. There are more different types of vine grown in Italy than any other country, and Italy can truly be awarded the accolade of winegrowing country of the world. The French, Germans and all of the New World Australian and American wine producing areas pale into insignificance when compared to Italy. At least for volume.

The Italian vines are said to have brought by the Greeks. “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” is the saying, but if true then these gifts were welcome and did nothing but good. The success of Italian winegrowing is due to its geography and climate. The Apennines run right down the backbone of Italy, with beautiful hot Mediterranean conditions at the bottom ranging to more continental and then a fairly cold climate towards the Alps.

This geography provides every type of climate possible for growing grapes, and the cold loving vines and those larger and juicier grapes that prefer more heat are all well catered for. It never gets too dry, and never gets too wet. Were you to personally design a country and climate ideal for growing just about every variety of grapes, you would end up with Italy.

Winemaking in Italy is therefore a joy. The vines grow themselves, and all you have to do to make wine is to extract the juice. Perhaps a bit more, but not a lot! In spite of these benefits, Italians tend not to go for sweet wines, but instead prefer those with lots of body and high in tannin and acidity. Color is an important factor, and there are many more reds than whites in Italy, though few dry whites can beat a beautiful crisp Frascati from Latium, close to Rome.

Italy has 20 geographical regions, and every one of them produces wine. However, the Italian wines have never achieved the heights of the best French reds and German whites. The country appears to provide a bit of both but even so, has its adherents who prefer a good Italian wine to any expensive French chateau.

The Northeast areas of Italy have a greater technological approach to winemaking than the rest of the country, and the major customers for this area of Italy are the Germans, Swiss and French, as would be expected from its geographical location. This is where most of the DOC (Denominazione Di Origine Controllata) wines are produced. This is the Italian equivalent of the Apellation Controlee of France.

Valpolicella, Soave, and Bardolino are the best known from this area, where quality is regarded as being more important than quantity, and prices can tend to be high, at least for the better vintages. The Vinitaly wine fair of Verona with over 4000 exhibitors is something no wine lover should miss, and it is held every spring. Make sure that you visit it at least once in your life.

Freisa, the sparking Asti Spumante and the wonderful Nebiollo from which the beautiful Barolo and Barnbaresco wines are made all originate from the Piedmont and Liguria areas of Italy and the Valle d’Aosta vines display the French influence in their names such as Petit Rouge and Blanc de Valdigne.

It is beyond the scope of this article to cover every region in Italy, but it must be said that the microclimates of the regions around the Alps are perfect for wine growing. Until fairly recently it was the practice of Italian winegrowers to produce quantity at the expense of quality, but this has changed recently, with many wines being produced for laying down rather than immediate drinking, and the quality of the aging Italian wines is definitely improving.

A word to the wise about Super Tuscan wines. If you come across that term, it refers to a Tuscan wine that has not conformed to the traditional grape blending rules of the region. Chianti Classico wines, for example, must include the Sangievese grape as the dominant ingredient, but Super Tuscans can use Cabernet Sauvignon instead. This makes them ineligible for the DOC classification. They previously had to be termed vino de tavola, or ‘table wine’ because of this, even though they could be superb wines.

So do not be fooled by the term. Super Tuscans can be very good, but if you prefer the traditional Sangiovese grape in your Chianti Classico blend, avoid it.

This is just a simple example of how Italian wines are of such a great variety, and if you are looking for something different, then have a look through the Italian section of your favorite wine merchant.

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