Italians have been making wine for eons. Over time, they realized which grapes produced the best results, and in which regions. They learnt that vineyards on downward-sloping hillsides made for the best conditions to grow grapes. They tried and tested (and tasted!) the best means of preserving and serving the wines and built their villas with thick-walled cellars to contain the wine at what proved to be the perfect temperature to do so.
And so it came to be that the Etruscans, then the Romans and the Italians, and now the rest of the world has come to enjoy what is arguably some of the best wine to be found.
Initially wine drinking was not just a thing of enjoyment but rather, so they claimed, a necessity due to the drinking water not always being so clean. Alcohol kills of germs and bacteria, and so wine was a safe drink of choice. So important was it that people would be paid a set quantity of wine per day along with their wages.
Even to this day at Italian lunch tables, locally-produced wine will be passed around in unmarked bottles, often diluted with a dash of water to make it a little lighter. The wine is usually collected directly from a nearby friend or family member or the community wine canteen, where it is sold in larger bottles at dirt cheap (or rather, water cheap) prices.
Italian wines can be a little difficult to drink on their own. That is because the wines have been developed over time to go hand in hand, glass and fork, with the delicious Italian cuisine with which the Italians drink. Most Italians will not drink unless they are also eating, which explains why most wines are served with meals, or at the very least with some nibbles. When the dishes are removed from the table, the wine bottle usually goes away too.
A big red like Barolo or Brunello will be consumed with gamey stews, Florentine steaks, and fatty meats to cleans the palate, light whites will be consumed with simple seafood, whilst woody Vernaccia white wine with stronger white meat meals, and so on and so forth.
With so many small wine producers in Italy, wines are generally known by their types rather than by specific vineyards. There are hundreds of wine varieties in Italy, each blend having a different name and a strict set of rules governing their production.
As wine-making became more of an art form than a mere necessity, a system of classification was introduced to identify the quality of production and blending that goes into the wine.
The classifications are Italian-wide and are:
Vino da Tavola ? table wine produced usually for daily family consumption. There are not a lot of rules governing blending and grape types. This wine is usually for home consumption or for house wine in some restaurants.
I.G.T. ? Indicazione Geografica Tipica, table wines typical to the production zone. This is the newest of all classifications, only introduced to give a greater standing to the Supertuscan-type wines that were not following the strict guideslines outlined below. They were too good to be considered mere table wines, and some had price tags greater than any D.O.C.G (see below).
D.O.C. – Denominazione di origine Controllata. Wines governed by rules on everything from irrigation to harvest, blending and bottling designed to preserve historic character and quality of the wines. Sulphurs are added in only once during the initial fermentation during which they are mostly burnt off, meaning they are good for people with sulphur allergies too.
D.O.C.G. – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. Even stricter rules than D.O.C. wines create the top level of classification for these top-quality blends. To be declared D.O.C.G., the wine must undergo strict tests and checks on its production process by a regulatory board that determines if the wine and its maker adheres to all the regulations.
Of course, one could spend several rather enjoyable years working their way around from one wine producer to another ? and we’re having a great time doing just that ourselves!
In terms of the actual wines produced within these guidelines, we have included below a very short list of common wine varieties to get you started:
Some Wine Varieties from Tuscany
Chianti Classico ? made within a specific area of Chianti, the Classico blend produces a light, easy-drinking red perfectly matched with the simple and delicious Tuscan cuisine.
Brunello ? 100% san giovese, this is the big daddy of Italian wines, served best with Florentine steak or hearty meat dishes.
Vernaccia ? Tuscany’s famous white wine from San Gimignano. Better with white meats, but also holds its own with some lighter meat dishes.
Some Wine Varieties from around Venice
Pinot Grigio ? a lighter white perfect with nutty salads, grilled fish & chicken dishes.
Prosecco ? Italy’s famous bubbly! Perfect for aperitifs or dessert, and for raising a toast to being in Italy!
Some Wine Varieties from Around Rome
Frascati ? a wine with a 2000 year history, this light white is slightly nutty flavoured, the Romans have perfected this white is light and soft and easy to drink.
For a unique wine tasting event in Florence, we have the Artviva Artists, Authors and Aristocrats evenings (http://www.italy.artviva.com/tours_category/28/Artviva_Festival_Experience) giving visitors to Florence a chance to meet local authors, artists and aristocrats, including wine tasting with the wine producer and insights into Italian culture.
Italians generally don’t drink without eating. The wine and food having evolved together to be a perfectly matched couple. You can also learn about the traditional Italian ingredients and learn to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you by signing up for our hands-on cooking class in Florence. For more information or to register, see: http://www.italy.artviva.com/tours_category/12/cooking_classes_tuscany_florence_venice_rome.
You can also get up and close and personal with Tuscany, where the makers of the Mona Lisa and David worked and played, see where Leonardo da Vinci tested his historic flying machine and the shaded hillside stone works where Michelangelo learned his craft on our Perfect Morning in Tuscany tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide (http://www.italy.artviva.com/tours/14/perfect_morning_in_tuscany).
If you would like to immerse yourself in the Tuscan wine country, including wine tasting and lunch in a stunning Tuscan villa estate, we have a small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence ? the Best of Tuscany (http://www.italy.artviva.com/tours/13/best_of_tuscany).
The Best of Florence and Tuscany discount tours package includes the Best of Tuscany full-day tour from Florence to Tuscany as well as our wonderful Original Florence Walk tour of Florence, the Masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery tour and the Accademia tour in one fabulous discount tours package – http://www.italy.artviva.com/package/9/best_tuscany_best_florence_uffizi_tour_tuscany_wine_tour_tuscany_tour_best_tuscany_tour