Did you know? Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine—44.5 million hectoliters (2021)—ahead of Spain (35 mhl), France (34.2 mhl) and the United States (24.1 mhl). Italian wine is highly popular around the world, accounting for over 20% of global wine exports in 2020. Every region of Italy produces wine, and there are over 350 official Italian wine varieties.
Whether you’re new to wine or seeking to deepen your knowledge of the field, Italian wine is an excellent place to start.
Vines have been cultivated for millennia in Italy. Archeological evidence indicates that viticulture flourished in what is modern-day Italy at least as far back as 4000 BC, with signs of Bronze Age and even Neolithic grapevine cultivation and winemaking.
The Roman Empire created vast plantations in Italy, particularly along the coast, to the point that vineyards competed fiercely with food farms for space at times. Laws protected Italian viticulture for centuries but eventually were relaxed, causing an explosion of vineyards and new grapes across the continent.
Italian wine regions
Italian wine is produced in all twenty regions of Italy. Local cuisine tends to influence the regional wine significantly, but especially as exports have grown, some regions have become outsized in popularity. Three of the most important regions for table wine are Veneto, Tuscany, and Piedmont. Rounding out the list of top ten most widely known regions are Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Umbria, Abruzzo, Trentino Alto-Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Marche.
Italian wine labels
With so many regions, grape varieties, and consumption traditions, Italian wines can be bewildering to buy. New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet is here to help! Here are some important things to look for on an Italian wine label.
Wine name is the most unique information from wine to wine but may or may not be informative about the way itself. Common ways that Italian wines are identified are grape variety (e.g., “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo” or “Sagrantino di Montefalco”); region or sub-region (e.g., “Chianti”); or name, which may be completely invented (a way to recognize a custom name is that it is never next to the classification).
The classification or denomination of the wine is one of the most important pieces of information. Four major classifications of Italian wine are:
- Vino da Tavola (VdT) (table wine; few regulations and thus often lower quality);
- Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT) (a wine produced in a specific area);
- Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) (also indicates that the wine was produced in specific regions, but additionally, that the winemakers followed strict rules designed to protect the traditional winemaking practices); and
- Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) (even more regulated than DOC wines, with wines receiving careful evaluation by government-licensed committees before being bottled).
Vintage year is valuable information when reading a label, especially if you have information about factors that influenced the harvest and wine quality that year, such as particularly hot, rainy, or humid weather.
Allergens must be identified. For example, bottles that contain more than 10 mg of sulfites per liter are required to state the amount on the label.
The percentage of pure alcohol per 100 ml—falling between 9 and 15—will appear somewhere on the bottle’s labels.
Organic wines must use the phrase on the label, and you may also find the EU organic logo.
Top Italian wine picks
Put your new knowledge to work by purchasing a new Italian wine from New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet. Here are four Italian wines that our experts recommend this month: