Wine and Viticultural Sector in Italy

Bulgaria-Italy Survey » BUSINESS | June 1, 2011, Wednesday // 15:49
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Article by Oreste Dogliani, Oenologist, Batasiolo SPA (represented in Bulgaria by Wine & Wine EOOD) for the "International Survey: Bulgaria-Italy" of (Sofia News Agency).


In 2010 Italy's output of wine was 46,5 million hectoliters, and the vintage also exceeded the expectations surpassing neighbouring France. Almost all wine producing regions reported a steady growth of about 10 – 15%.

The favourable climate for years on end and the progressively higher results in terms of both quantity and quality also come to explain the increased export, sounding even more flattering in the context of the world economic crisis.

But what can we say about the past and the present of wine in Italy? First of all, we have to point out the differences are so great depending on the area that the concept about Italian wine appears to be rather put on paper than physically existent.

The so-called microclimates have to be taken into account as well – each of them having specific features distinguishing it from the others. We are talking about a total of 8 million and 400 thousand decares of vine plantations comprising a little more than 10% of the territory of the country.

Today nearly 300 grape varieties are grown in Italian vineyards (out of 5 000 varieties in the world), each one requiring specific environment, culture, way of growing and techniques.

The major red grape varieties by latitudinal range are as follows: Nebbiolo and Barbera in the north, for the production of Barolo and Barbaresco wines, Barbera d'Alba and Barbera d'Asti; Sangiovese in Tuscany (for the production of Chianti and Brunello wines) and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo in the central part; Primitivo and Nero d'Avola to the south.

As far as white grape varieties are concerned, we can mention Cortese, Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, Vermentino in Liguria and Sardinia, Moscato and Vernaccia di San Gimignano (to cite, of course, only some of the indigenous grape varieties).

In order to illustrate the modern concept we cannot ignore, at least by presenting a brief survey, the remote history of the vine and wine on the peninsula. We can say with certainty that grape vines have been cultivated in Italy since the year 2000 BC, and some wines were created back in the Roman Empire epoch (for example, Falerno or Greco) that still exist today.

Since that time eighty different grape varieties have been known. Yet before the Romans the Etruscans had started producing wine, and the vines slowly and steadily spread through the Italian part of Ancient Greece (Sicilia, Campania, Puglia), in the already mentioned Lazio and Toscana, and to the North-East (Trentino, Friuli, Valtellina).

The Etruscans were the ones to pass on viticulture and wine-producing to the Celts, with consequent diffusion of the trade throughout the territory beyond the Alps. In Piedmont the dawn of viticulture dates back in the 10th century BC although the Piedmont wines became famous abroad in the Middle Ages: there is evidence since the 13th century about a wine named "Barolo", meaning literally "a low place".

Emblematic is the case with Asti Spumante (sparkling Asti) - the most exported Italian wine in the world (80% of the total output of 90 million bottles is intended for export): it is about a grape variety, most probably of Greek origin, called Moscatello and grown in Piedmont in the Middle Ages, which since the 16th century became highly valued far beyond its area of production though its characteristics at the time were quite different from the present-day features.

The genuine enologic culture in the modern sense of the word was formed in Italy not long ago, in the 60s of the 20th century.

The first historical Decree „Standards for the protection of must and wine denominations of origin" came out on July 15th, 1963.

This regulation was the first to introduce a Vineyard Register where all the estates entitled to produce a definite type of wine had to be enlisted, and Production Regulations – the first real manual about the technological rules and standards to be observed.

And now I will present a more analytical survey of the major grape varieties and their most important characteristics.

Indigenous red grape varieties:

Nebbiolo is considered as the greatest wine variety of Piedmont highly prized in Italy and all over the world. Nebbiolo is thought to derive its name from the fact that during harvest, which generally takes place in October, a deep intense fog sets into the Langhe region where many Nebbiolo vineyards are located. Its three main clones are Lampia, Michet and Ros?. Nebbiolo is also grown in limited quantities in Valle d'Aosta, Valtellina and Franciacorta.

The wines produced only by the Nebbiolo variety are mostly Barolo (traditionally called "the wine of kings, the king of wines), Barbaresco, Canavese, Carema, Gattinara, Valtellina superiore.

It has an intense ruby red colour with subtle orange reflections with age. The Nebbiolo grape variety offers magnificent possibility of ageing of the respective wine. Nebbiolo has a unique violet bouquet, its taste is dry, tannic and harmonious, and without a strong coloring it is still a full-bodied wine.

Along with Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo is definitely the most celebrated Italian wine and is among the most famous and highly valued wines in the world: it displays a complexity of caressing and rich aromas; it is a full-bodied dry wine, strong, somewhat austere, but yet velvety, developing slowly and respecting the complete and complicated biological cycle.

The North-West offers perfect conditions for growing the Barbera grape variety: the most widely distributed red grape variety in Piedmont with its principal clones Barbera d'Asti, Barbera d'Alba, Barbera del Monferrato. Barbera d'Alba is amazing with its ruby-red colour of young wine tending to granat red when mature; it has a vinous perfume, the taste is dry, thick, with pronounced acidity, slightly tannic, having an incredibly fresh palate.

Still in the North, we will mention the Corvina grape variety called also "Royal Corvina". This grape expresses itself best on the hills in the Veneto region where two of the most famous varieties with Denomination of Controlled Origin are cultivated: Bardolino and Valpolicella.

The wine has an intense ruby-red colour developing in violet shades, the perfume is rich with scents of fruit, the taste is soft and continual, slightly tannic. Actually, its fame is due to the fact that together with Rondinella and Molinara, it is the central component of the table wine called Amarone della Valpolicella. Its bouquet combines the richness of ripe fruit, evolving in delightful overtones, elegantly structured with herb fragrances.

Going into other red grape varieties, we come to Lambrusco. This grape is grown in the region of Modena, Reggiano and Mantovano, and in fact the name Lambrusco is used for a series of different grape varieties: red Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce; red Lambrusco di Sorbara; Lambrusco Reggiano; Lambrusco Gasparossa di Castelvetro.

Lambrusco, registering high yields, with its bouquet of strawberries, raspberries and cherries, is today among the wines featuring the highest exports.

A remarkable variety is Sangiovese di Toscana: this grape variety is varied depending on the different zones and its principal variants are Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo. In different proportions it is the key component of some of the most important Italian wines: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso, Morellino di Scansano.

The Chianti wine stands out with its ruby-red colour tending to granat red, very fine vinous aroma, distinct harmonious, dry and slightly tannic taste. Brunello di Montalcino possesses a rich garnet colour and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering aftertaste.

Following our route, we get to Montepulciano produced in Abruzzo. This is a rather late grape (it becomes ripe almost always in the end of October). The wine has a ruby-red colour with violet shades, and a bouquet of violet, cherry, morello, forest fruit, liquorice and tobacco. The most prestigious wine produced by this grape is the red Montepulciano d'Abruzzo with Denomination of Controlled Origin. Again in Central Italy, we have to mention also Sagrantino, an excellent Umbrian grape variety.

Its origin has not been completely explained, but it certainly dates from medieval times. The noblest red wine produced by this grape (using only this variety, in pure form) is Sagrantino di Montefalco with Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, which, as a rule, needs a minimum of 30 months of aging, at least twelve of which in wooden barrels. The wine has a ruby-red colour with violet highlights; its perfume is reminiscent of blackberries and the palate is dry, harmonious and tannic.

And finally, let's mention a classic Sicilian variety - Nero d'Avola. Having inherited viticulture from Greece, and later from Rome, Sicily is most brightly presented by Nero d'Avola. It has been exported abroad for centuries, and in the 19th century it was already famous in France where it was used to add colour and thickness to local wines. The wine is made not only of this grape variety, which at present is the main component of quite a few table wines.

The Nero d'Avola grape, grown in an area of 120 decares, most of which located in the province of Syracuse, is used to produce wine of rich ruby-red colour, bright and vivid, with violet shades when young and granat highlights when mature; the perfume has an elegant and fine complexity with scents of violet and grass, prunes, cherries, blackberries, black currant, raspberries and chocolate, leather and tobacco, and its structure, due to the specific climatic conditions, allows it often to reach 15 degrees in a natural way.

Indigenous white grape varieties:

Prosecco: originating from an area near Trieste called Prosecco, today it is grown on the left bank of the Piave River, between Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. It is the main ingredient of sparkling and non-sparkling wines. Its most appreciated clone is Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze. Currently 120 million bottles of Prosecco per year are exported abroad.

Moscato, imported to the Italian part of Ancient Greece from the Hellenic markets along the lower Mediterranean, it is also grown in North Italy. The specific bouquet of the wine from Moscato d'Asti (where it is called Moscato Bianco - white Muscat), in its two versions Moscato d'Asti and Asti Spumante, both of them with Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin – one of them sparkling, the other one frizzy – is exceptional.

Very close, like two versions of one and the same grape variety, today Moscato d'Asti and Asti Spumante (especially the second one) are among the most demanded wines worldwide.

Asti Spumante and Moscato d'Asti should be consumed as young wines (if possible, by the end of the year after the grape gathering) to be able to appreciate the moscato perfume in its intensity and essentials. The wines look bright and glowing, with straw yellow colour of different reflections; the nose is fresh and fragrant; the taste is sweet, with beautiful aromas.

Another wine particularly valued abroad is Trebbiano. Trebbiano d'Abruzzo offers its most appreciated and famous version. This wine has an intense straw-yellow colour; it has a dry velvety taste with a hint of almonds, particularly valued by many connoisseurs.

True to history and traditions, we cannot leave out Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano with guaranteed and controlled Denomination of Origin is made from vine cultivated on 8 000 decares and the annual output is about 5 million litres.

Following the theme of white grape varieties that have become part of the physical and cultural reality of a certain region, we should of course mention Cortese di Gavi, and its most valuable and esteemed expression worldwide, the Gavi wine with Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.

This is a grape originating from Alessandria and widely spread in the region of Tortona, Monferrato and Gavi and Novi Ligure, for which there is solid evidence from the 17th century.

In the last few years this wine has marked an extraordinary success on many markets abroad. It has a straw yellow colour, a fine and delicate nose; it tastes dry and fresh, it is pleasantly and harmoniously balanced. Known as an aperitif wine, it has been now recognized as a combination with many recipes and is easily adapted to diverse culinary traditions.

Changing the latitude, we have to mention a proverbial wine in view of its history and distinction: Frascati. Depending on whether they want it to be dry, tender or sweet, the wine is made of various kinds of grapes, mixed in different proportions (Malvasia Bianca from Candia, Trebbiano Toscano, Greco, Malvasia del Lazio).

It is the perfect Roman wine in Italy and the grapes from its production can be cultivated only in the Province of Rome. It has a straw yellow colour, the taste is well-defined, fine and tender for the dry wine which is the most widespread version, though there is a sparkling style version as well.

We will end up our tour with an island reality of a two century-old tradition - Vermentino di Sardegna: if, on one hand, it is true by logic that the origin of the grape vine is not rooted in Italy, but rather in Portugal, then, on the other hand, we have to point out that one of its most accomplished and valued versions is the Sardinian one (especially the version with Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin from Gallura) which came from Corsica in the 19th century. Among the varieties of grape vine needed to produce Vermentino di Sardegna D.O.C a small quantity of white grapes is included – within the range of 5%.

The straw yellow colour of the wine goes with a deep, lingering aroma with fruit fragrances. The fresh palate, good structure and the typical, slightly bitter aftertaste make Vermentino di Sardegna one of the most highly appreciated wines on the domestic and international market. In Sardinia the area allocated for growing this type of grapes occupies a territory of 33 000 decares.

In conclusion we can say that from the point of view of viticulture and wine-making Italy could be viewed as a universe rather than simply a nation.

The wide diversity of coexistent microclimates, varied features and types results in a broad assortment of wines of apparently opposite individuality (typical for cold conditions, typical for warm environment, light, well-defined and structured, austere, soft and delicate, with a sour flavour, slightly sweet, and thousands of wide-ranging shades and highlights).

We can say that Italy has managed to bridge over the differences and doubts, the unproductive local patriotism and historical holdbacks to grow to be – at least with respect to viticulture and wine-making – the indisputable key factor on a global scale.

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