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Italy

Background


  • Italy produces more wine than any other country in the world, nearly 1.2 million hectoliters (a hectoliter is equivalent to 100 liters) per year. They have also been very successful in exporting their wine, particularly into the United States. Imported wine in 2002 made up nearly 25% of all wine consumed within the United States, and within the import category, Italian wine has by far the largest share, with slightly under 23 million cases, representing an increase of nearly 15% over 2001. By value, imports increased over 23% to over $775 million.

    More so than any other country, however, Italian wine is a complex category, with 20 different winegrowing regions and an estimated 1,000 indigenous grapes. This helps make Italy one of the most exciting wine-producing countries in the world. While for many years the reputation of Italian wine had languished, today leading producers in nearly every region are spearheading a drive for higher quality.

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  • This drive can take many forms. Great advances have been made in the vineyard, including improvements in the rootstocks and clones used, increased density of planting, canopy control and crop thinning to improve concentration, later harvest dates to ensure greater ripeness, and a more stringent selection process to assure that only the best fruit is used.

    Quality has also been improved in the winery through the use of modern equipment such as temperature-controlled fermentation tanks and the use of techniques like cold soaks prior to fermentation, careful extraction of color and tannin, and protection of the must and wine from contact with oxygen. The use of small oak barrels has also become common.

    Many of these techniques have been championed by winemaking consultants such as Stefano Chioccioli and Riccardo Cotarella and their influence has also helped Italian wine find a wider international market.

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  • Italian wine was organized in the 1960s into an ascending hierarchy of quality, beginning with the lowest level, Vino da Tavola. This is table wine with only the most basic regulations.

    Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT for short) is similarly loosely regulated, but has the option of specifying a vintage and grape variety on the label. This is the category originally used by “Super Tuscan” wines and wines from other regions that employ non-traditional grape varieties in their blend. While most of the wine in this category is fairly simple and rustic, it can also include some of the finest wine produced in Italy.

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  • The next level of quality is Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC. This is wine that comes from a particular delimited place and conforms to the standard expected for the wines of this area as regards grape varieties, yields, level of alcohol and aging regime. In recent years, this category has lost some of its prestige because of the proliferation of DOC wines from unknown areas.

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  • A higher category was created in the 1980s, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). This final category is distinguished by tighter restrictions on yield and mandatory tasting by a government panel. They must also carry the annoying paper labels on the neck of the bottle.

    Many of the regions do truly produce superior wine, but since they were created by the promotion of entire regions to a higher status, there is no official distinction within each category of subzones recognized as superior, although this process is beginning with the delimitation of crus within Barbaresco and Barolo. It is also true that many of these regions were promoted for reasons other than the quality of the wine such as tourism or politics. The most famous example of this is Albana di Romagna, the first white wine in Italy to be given this new status.

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