It is impossible to characterize the general nature of the wine produced within the borders of Italy. From the Italian Alps to the island of Sicily the terrain produces a vast amount of grapes along with an equally broad amount of diversity, all of which has evolved throughout 3,500 years of constant husbandry. Italy produces and exports more wine than any other country in the world.
Like all Western European wine producing countries, the Italian government has instituted a set of regulations designed to protect quality. At the top of the heap are the DOCG or Denominazione di Origine Controllata et Garantita. Below this ranking are the DOC or Denominazione di Origine Controllata wines. Generally these are the wines that are exported abroad. These labels are supposed to guarantee a certain authenticity relative to the region where they're produced. To earn this label the wine must adhere to a set of minimum regulations, which vary according to the regional specifications. Below these two are the IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica classified wines, which generally mean that the wines are authentic and typical of the broad region from which they originate. One anomaly in this particular classification is wine of high quality that uses non-typical grapes or modern wine-making techniques. Thus, some of Italy's most expensive wines, such as the Super Tuscans, share the same ranking as simple country wine. This has produced much controversy and presumably in the future a new separate category will be created for these high-quality non typical wines. The lowest denomination are the wines considered Vina da Tavola, which is rarely found outside of Italy.
Italy has 20 distinct wine regions and can be roughly separated by three geographical zones: The Northern region, the Central region and the Southern region. Within these regions are countless distinct wine growing regions but many of these wines are not exported and often are not enjoyed beyond their place of origin.
In the North the most well known region is the Piedmont, famous for its Barolos and Barbarescos, both made with the Nebbiolo grape. These wines can age forever and command high prices abroad. More accessible and cheaper are the Barbera and Dolcetto wines, both of which are a good way to get a sense of what the area has to offer. The North also produces many white wines, Soave perhaps being the most well-known example.
Central Italy is most famous for the wines of Tuscany. Chianti is certainly the most common wine to found abroad and recent improvements in quality have done much to make consumers forget about the cheap straw-covered bottles that used to be everywhere. Tuscany also has the wines of Brunello di Montalcino to its credit. These wines can age well and are often expensive. A good, equally cheap alternative to Chianti is Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. These cheap, fruity wines can usually be found at most good wine stores and are a good introduction to Tuscan wines.
The South of Italy has by far the highest amount grapes under cultivation. Much of these grapes are produced for industrial alcohol. Generally considered of inferior quality, the wines of the South can offer excellent value as quality is generally improving and many of the best examples are being increasingly exported. Many Sicilian wines can now be found abroad and are often cheap and very good.
Exploring the wine of Italy is a life-long journey. The diversity and quantity offered is breath-taking and no one person can ever truly know what Italy has to offer. More and more of the wine is being exported and learning about the wines is much like a treasure hunt. A relatively recent countrywide improvement of quality and enforcement of higher standards promises exciting gems to be discovered in the future.
Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.