The Event
Italian Wines
© by Sheral Schowe
Italy produces and exports more wine than any other country. There are about 300 D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wines, which account for 15 to 20 percent of the country's wine production. In DOCG wines, the G (garantita) stands for authenticity, which is guaranteed. The DOC regulations were established in the mid sixties to govern the geographical limits of the twenty regions, the grape varieties and percentage of grapes used, the maximum amount to be grown per acre, aging time in oak or bottle, and the amount of alcohol allowed. Before these laws were in place, several producers in Chianti established their own strict standards for excellence. They designated the black rooster as their symbol on the bottles, which is still used today.

There are over 2,000 indigenous varieties of grapes in Italy, twenty of which are planted widely throughout the country. The most planted grape in Italy, is Sangiovesehich is the principal grape for all fine wine in Tuscany, the only grape allowed for Brunello di Montalcino, and the base for the blended wines of Chianti. The ascending levels of Chianti in both cost and quality are; Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Chianti Classico Riserva, which is aged for two years, three months. All are blends of 75% Sangiovese, a little white, and another red grape like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another important red grape variety, although not as widely planted, is the Nebbiolo, which is planted throughout the Piedmont region, in Northwest Italy. Piedmont is known for its "big" red wines. Its red grape varietals include, in order of intensity and flavor, Dolcetto, which is a Beaujolais-style wine, Barbera, similar to Cotes du Rhone, and Nebbiolo, which is vinified into two styles. Barbaresco is the lighter of the two styles, with a minimum of 12.5 percent alcohol, requires two years of aging, one of which is in wood. Barbaresco Riserva requires four years of aging. The Barolo, with a minimum of 13% alcohol, is a fuller bodied, complex wine which is aged at least three years, two in wood, or five years for the designation of "Riserva."

Another important wine region is the Veneto, located in the Northeast section of Italy. It is the largest of Italy's wine producing regions. The highest quality wine produced in Veneto is Amarone, a type of Valpolicella wine produced in the same style as French Sauternes or German Trochenbeerenauslese. The ripest grapes from each bunch are handpicked, left to raisinate on straw mats, and then pressed for a rich, viscous wine. This extremely sweet wine is fermented until the majority of sugars turn to alcohol. The complex balance between acid, sugar and alcohol with all of the richness in flavor, created by a labor-intensive process creates a wonderfully delicious wine that is usually worth its high price.

Feb. 24, 2000

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