© by Sheral Schowe
My first view of an Italian wine map was a misleading representation of political zones, twenty in all, sectioned off in equal parts from the top to the heel of the boot. Italy's appellation laws were developed in the 1960's based on France's system. Instead of AOC, Italian appellations are referred to as DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata.) The result of these laws is a new wine map, which includes over 200 zones. More recently, a new wine law was passed in 1992 to allow for the development of regional appellations and vineyard appellations. This gradual process should take years to unfold, as Italy's 1000 plus indigenous grape varieties are mapped out into separate, site-specific locations.
Italy is the largest producer of wine in the world, and the largest exporter of wine to the United States, in terms of volume. France has the lead on price, with the highest market share of export sales to the U.S.
For generations, the highest quality wines were kept in Italy and the lower quality bottles of Chianti covered in straw baskets were sent to the States. I remember the tables in Italian restaurants having a centerpiece of that straw basket covered bottle as candle holders. Multi-colored wax dripped down the sides, sometimes onto the red and white checkered table cloths.
When I traveled to Italy many years later I was introduced to delicious foods and outstanding wines, nothing like the Americanized versions we were accustomed to here. Now, most food lovers are familiar with the traditional cuisines of Northern and Southern Italy, but we have a lot of catching up to do as far as wine awareness. The U.S. market is now filled with high quality wines from every region in Italy, at an incredible value. So much to try, so little time!
The lowest quality designation for Italian wine is labeled vino da tavola. DOC is indicated on the bottle for wines of a specified geographic region, made from specified grape varieties, and by specified methods of vine growing and winemaking. DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is reserved for wines of particular distinction, where the quality is guaranteed.
The most important wine regions in Italy are Piedmont and Tuscany, home to Italy's most expensive and prestigious wines. Piedmont is a cool, hilly region in the northwest portion of Italy and is known for the Nebbiolo grape variety. Two villages in Piedmont produce Nebbiolo wines with the DOCG status, Barolo and Barbaresco, named after villages only a few miles apart. Both are aged in wood, the Barolo longer than the Barbaresco. Barbera is a lighter, fruitier, less expensive DOC wine, named after the grape variety of the same name.
Tuscany is a warmer hilly region that is famous for Chianti, made from the Sangiovese grape variety, a lighter and less tannic wine than those from the Piedmont region. Chianti Classico is the name given to wines produced in the central part of the Chianti appellation. Many Chianti producers belong to a consortium, identified by a black rooster on the bottle. Super Tuscans are wines from Tuscany utilizing Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are all widely available in every state. The challenge is to taste as many as possible, with food of course, to determine your particular taste and style preference.
Nov. 28, 2000