Italy has a rich vinicultural heritage dating back more than two thousand years. Over the centuries the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans all played a significant role in the development of different wine styles, the way grapevines were grown, the evolution of winemaking traditions and the considerable changes in storage methods as wine moved from amphorae to bottle.
Italian wines are made with the aim of partnering Italy's rich and varied cuisine; subtle flavors work in harmony with the food without making too bold a statement. As they say in Italy, wine should be non impegnativo, meaning it should not demand too much attention.
There is no mistaking Italy on a map, with its long, boot-like shape. Famed for its huge diversity of terroirs, grape varieties and wine styles, Italy is third only to France and Spain in terms of land under vine, producing 51.5 million hL of wine per year. Italian wine is the most widely exported in the world, with Germany, Great Britain and the United States being the main importers.
Several factors have contributed to this success story, including the fact that Italy’s vine-growing conditions are so favorable. This is not surprising, considering the abundance of Mediterranean sunshine, moderated by cool, mountain air currents and sea breezes. There are also myriad terrains, from Italy’s lengthy coastlines to foothills with slopes ideal for growing grapes. The mountain ranges – such as the Italian Alps in the north and the Apennines running through the centre of the country – provide high altitudes for cool-climate viticulture and help moderate the high temperatures. Each zone also has its own macroclimate, resulting in significant variation in wine styles.
Italy offers a larger, more diverse array of wine styles than almost any other nation, many of which are defined, classified and protected under the Italian wine classification system, which lists more than 330 DOCs, roughly 70 DOCGs and almost 120 IGTs. More than 2000 indigenous grape varieties are available and Italian wines are recognized for their incomparable variety and choice of aroma and flavor. It was not until the late 20th century that the native grapes were joined by some of the more well-known classics. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot now play leading roles in the so-called Super Tuscan wines, and Sauvignon Blanc is a star player in Friuli.
Italy is divided into 20 wine regions. The three in the northeast – Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia – are known collectively as the Tre Venezie. This area boasts the most superior wine technology and is home to two of the country’s leading wine schools: San Michele all'Adige in Trentino and Conegliano in the Veneto. It also houses the world’s largest vine nursery at Rauscedo in Friuli.
In the north and northwest there are five wine regions: Lombardy (Lombardia), Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont (Piemonte), Liguria and Aosta Valley (Valle d’Aosta). Together, they account for 20% of Italy’s total wine production as well as approximately 30% of its DOCs.
The six central regions are Tuscany (Toscana), Latium (Lazio) and landlocked Umbria plus Marches (Marche), Abruzzo (Abruzzi) and Molise. They produce less than a quarter of Italy's wines but account for a third of its DOCs or DOCGs. This area enjoys superior climatic conditions, with abundant sunshine and moderating temperatures.
In the south of Italy, including its islands, there are six wine regions, producing around 40% of the country’s total wine production but accounting for less than 7% of its DOCs. These areas are Campania, Basilicata, Puglia (Apulia), Calabria and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia (Sardegna).