Dr. Lovero’s Crash Course on Italian Wine: Vini d’Italia
In 2008, the global wine industry’s sales were $259.8 billion with a market consumption rate of 21.4 billion liters. Wine revenues generated in Italy were $41.3 billion with a market consumption rate of 2.9 billion liters. Italy is one of the world’s largest and oldest producers of wine.
The population of Italy is 58.1 million. The GDP is $1,180.3 billion; the wine industry makes a significant contribution to the county’s GDP. The global wine market is highly fragmented; the top three players control 8% of the total market by volume. The Italian market is even more fragmented since the top three players control only 0.4% of the total market share. The market share leaders in Italy are Bacardi-Martini & Rossi and Davide Campari Milano. However, great wine families have been making wine for centuries like the Antinoris and the Frescobaldis.
Winemakers generally pursue vertically integrated business models that involve growing, harvesting, crushing, aging and bottling their wine. The end product is strongly influenced by the region of origin, the grape that is used in the process and the skill of the winemaker (Datamonitor, 2009).
The Italian wine industry provides a wide assortment of wines with various aromas, flavors and textures. The diversity of these wines tends to harmonize with various types of food because of their overall natural acidity. The extensive latitudinal range of the terroir allows the grapevines to be caressed by the convergence of many natural forces including climate, temperature variation, sunshine, soil, humidity, slope, elevation, sea breeze and rainfall. Terroir is a French word that passionately describes the total impact of a given microclimate’s geography. These forces produce a kaleidoscope of wines in many distinctive wine regions throughout the Italian peninsula.
The Italian winemakers rely on the “appellation” system to control the quality of their wine. This is a French concept known as Appellation d’Origine Controlee. This term is used to describe the region or specific area where wine is produced. Since the amount of good terroir is limited, so is the production of outstanding wines. The Napa area of California and the Bordeaux region of France both provide good examples of the concept of terroir.
In northern Italy, wine regions border France, Switzerland and Austria. The grapes that thrive in these regions and the wine that is produced from these grapes are quite different from the wines that are grown in Tuscany or in the volcanic soil of Campania and Sicily. Apulia and Sicily are the largest regional wine producers: they each control about 17% of Italy’s total production. Some regions produce mostly white wines from grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Vermentino. Other regions produce mostly red wines like Barolo from red Nebbiolo grapes or Chianti from red Sangiovese grapes. The tannins of red wine generally overpower the delicate flavor of fish, so fish is often accompanied by white wine.
Beyond terroir and weather conditions, wine making offers many opportunities for winemakers to improve or damage their wine. The diversity of Italian wines can be intimidating to some oenophiles because the names are so confusing. In some regions, wines are named after the grape variety used to make them and in other regions, the wine is named after the village where it is made. Barolo is a village and Barbera is a grape. Sometimes the wine name combines the grape and the village, like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. In addition, government regulations define areas where specific wines can be made using the acronyms DOCG, DOC, and IGT. To complicate issues further, some vintages are much better and some wineries earn coveted awards and high ratings from wine critics. Generally, truly great wines improve with age because they gain complexity and character, just like many people.
The Italian government regulates the wine industry and provides production parameters for winemakers. To understand these parameters, we can construct a pyramid that represents the quality of Italian wine. At the pinnacle, we will place the hypothetical best wine with the most restrictive production guidelines and at the base of the pyramid we can aggregate the table wines that do not have to adhere to stringent quality guidelines. These designations formally recognize the areas in Italy that are noted for prestigious wine production. To differentiate these wines the government has created the following evolving paradigm with rigid labeling requirements:
DOCG: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
Location is certified and guaranteed
Denotes the most elite wines
Provides more stringent regulations
Requires longer aging periods and lower yields per vine
*There are over 20 elite Italian wines that have earned special recognition, including:
Brachetto d’Acqui (Piedmont)
Ricioto di Soave (Venato)
Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany)
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany)
Chianti Classico (Tuscany)
Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Tuscany)
Valtellina Superiore (Lombardy)
Albana di Romagna (Emilia-Romagna)
Torgiano Rosso Riserva (Umbria)
Montefalco Sagrantino (Umbria)
Vermentino di Gallura (Sardinia)
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane (Abruzzo)
DOC: Denominazione di Origine Controllata
DOC rules describe exact geographic location of the grapes, aging parameters, permissible grape varieties that can be used in blends, alcohol content policies, pruning and trellising systems and winemaking practices.
There are about 300 DOC wines produced in the following regions of Italy:
% of Region’s
DOC Wine Region
*79.1% Trentino-Alto Adige are DOC
*60.5% Friuli-Venezia-Giulia are DOC
*55.8% Piedmont are DOC
*55.5% Tuscany are DOC
*47.3% Lombardy are DOC
*30.5% Umbria are DOC
*29.1% Venato are DOC
*22.8% Aosta Valley are DOC
*21.4% Emilia-Romagna are DOC
*19.6% Marche are DOC
*17.6% Abruzzo are DOC
*15.6 % Sardinia are DOC
*13.9% Liguria are DOC
*6.5% Latium are DOC
*3.9% Molise are DOC
*3.8% Apulia are DOC
*2.8% Campania are DOC
*2.4% Calabria are DOC
*2.4% Basilicata are DOC
*2.1% Sicily are DOC
IGT: Indicazione Geografica Tipica
These wines are from a typical geographic region and adhere to less restrictive regulations.
There are more than 120 IGT wines and these wines are considered better than average table wines
Table Wines: Vino di Tavola
****Remember: Wine consumption depends upon your personal preferences.
A wine that you love may be an ordinary table wine, IGT, DOC or DOCG. Your pallet should be the judge, not the government’s rating system!!