Italy is one of the famous triumvirate in global wine alongside France and Spain. It is the largest exporter of wine in the world, and for a good reason. The small, but mighty, country offers thousands of unique types of grapes. It has many of the worlds most excellent wines come from this region. Italian wines are famous for being suitable alongside a diverse palate. Whether it be traditional Italian food, or some red meat, and even vegetables.
The European continent follows a strict legal framework that categorizes wine by quality. Each country has its designated system based on the size of the industry in the nation. One of these Italian categories is the Vino da Tavola, which translates to ‘table wine’.
Table wines have two distinct meanings, one legal, and another ordinary. We’ll go into the structure of classification employed by Europe and Italy, but put simply; most wine can qualify as table wine. That’s because any wine that can be consumed with food without ruining its taste is a ‘Vino da Tavola’. This definition is much closer to what table wine means in North America, particularly in the United States. In this article, we’ll discuss all things Italian wine. This includes the regional grapes, the best wines worth trying from the country, and the nitty-gritty of table wine in Italy.
Brush up on exactly what table wine is with our article “What is Table Wine.”
Italy offers one of the world’s most versatile selection of wines, and choosing among them can be a daunting task. But this wine is one of the more exquisite pleasures of life, and after reading this article, you’ll know just the bottle you need out of our four top picks from these wine selections.
What’s Special About Italian Wine?
Much like its neighbors, Italy has a rich tradition of producing wine that goes back as far as time. This legacy spans a whopping 4000 years. In 8th century BCE, the Ancient Greeks famously dubbed the country ‘Oenotria’, which translates to “the land of wine”. Its long history says that winemaking has seen many periods of glory and hardship over the centuries, but today it thrives as the single largest producer of wine in the world.
Why is Italian Wine Special Then?
Italy offers over 2000 distinct grape varieties that go into its finely crafted wines. Sommeliers regularly cite this as the main reason they love Italian wine. It merely provides the most diverse and complex blends of any wine you can get your hands on. This versatility will be further illustrated when we go over the legal part of Italian wine, but suffice it to say that no country can make wine as unique and unconventional as this one! Often, they will also have an alcohol by volume (ABV) content that is higher than 15%.
While the massive variation on offer is boon for any wine lover, it can also make things difficult when the decision of actually selecting one bottle comes up. Italian names can often be tricky and confusing, and being able to read labels appropriately is essential. The next section discusses this in greater detail.
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How Do I Choose Between Various Italian Wines?
The first step to reading a wine label effectively is knowing what the various designations mean for the quality of the bottle. Europe follows a three-tier system of categorization, consisting of 1) table wines, 2) PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), and 3) PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). Table wines are generally the most unregulated wines. Get your hands on some nice wine glasses here to try all the different varieties.
Winemakers who don’t want to be restricted by the strict regulation of production and wish to use unorthodox techniques of grape combinations, usually brand their wines as ‘table wine’. The latter two are the opposite of this, signifying wine from a specific location that has a highly regulated procedure. Each European nation follows this, as well as its framework of categorization.
Italian Broad Types
- Vino da Tavola (Table wine)
- Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)
Like the table wine classification in Europe, the first two on this list give winemakers in Italy the freedom to experiment, but at the cost of superior classification. DOCG wine is guaranteed to be some of Italy’s most exceptional, while DOC is another category that demands rigorous adherence to high stands of quality. Many fall prey to the misconception that wines of the first two ranks automatically mean lower quality wine, but this is not true. Some of Italy’s most exceptional wine does not have a DOC or DOCG grade.
Where the Wine Bottle Lies
Things are much simpler in the US, where any wine that is not sparkling and unfortified with ABV below 14% is table wine. Check out “What is Fortified Wine?” for a deep look at what fortified wine is.
Once you have a rough idea of where your bottle lies in terms of quality, the next step is to know what it will taste like, and this depends on what grape it was made from. This is perhaps the most challenging part of familiarizing yourself with Italian wine because there are so many varieties worth trying that they need an article of their own. However, when it comes to grapes that make for especially good table wines, the most prominent names are Sangiovese, Lambrusco, Barolo, and Dolcetto. We’ll explore some of these grapes further in our selection of Italy’s most excellent table wines.
Four Best Italian Table Wines
You won’t see this one mentioned too often on lists of the most famous Italian grapes, but it nevertheless makes some of Italy’s best table wines! The name Dolcetto means ‘little sweet one’, but this name can be misleading since most Dolcettos are on the drier side.
In terms of quality, different regions that produce the grape mark them differently, but many in Italy are of the DOC and DOCG category. These wines go well with all types of meals, but especially various meats and Italian food. For a specific recommendation, check out any Dolcetto d’Alba. Its subtle, floral notes are perfect for mealtimes. Thinking of having steak with your wine tonight? Check out “What Wine Should I Drink With Steak“.
Sangiovese is the most commonly planted red grape in Italy. They are high in tannins, but also in acidity. They have a medium body and are packed with flavors of different berries.
Two wines made from Sangiovese grapes are most popular: the Chianti Classico and the Brunello di Montalcino. Chianti is a town near Florence that produces wines from 75% Sangiovese, while the other 25% consists of local wines, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. But Chianti Classicos only have a DOC rating. The Brunello di Montalcino is a DOCG rated appellation south of Chianti. These are 100% composed of Sangiovese grapes but can be slightly expensive. For a cheaper alternative, try any Rosso di Montalcino.
These wines are classified as IGT in Italy, are another one of Italy’s secret gems. As the name suggests, these wines originate from Tuscany, where some ‘Super Tuscans’ whip up a concoction composed of various international wines, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, as well as local ones such as Sangiovese. These wines have become very popular in recent times.
The general rule with pairing food and Italian wine is that it is hard to go wrong, but Tuscans go well with cheeses, meats, seafood, etc.
Wonder how long it takes to make these wines? Check out “How Long Does it Take to Make Wine?” to see the duration of production of these wines.
The Barolo wine comes from perhaps the most productive region of wine in Italy, Piedmont. Barolo is made from a grape called Nebbiolo, whose wines have been described as having a scent of “tar and roses”. If this doesn’t pique your curiosity, Nebbiolo wines are some of the most creative drinks that come out of Italy, and Barolo is among the best of these wines. Like Sangiovese, it is both highly bitter and sour with a medium body. It is rated DOCG, an assurance of its high standard of quality.
Italian wines are some of the quirkiest, most exciting wines on this planet, and there will perhaps never be enough time to appreciate the full spectrum of its 2000 grape varieties or its various appellations. This article has listed some of the most notable wines that go with a broad palate of food, most notably meats, seafood, desserts, and predictably, Italian food.
Thinking of maybe making wine at home? Thinking of maybe cooking with your wine at home? Well check out a few of our other content like “What is Cooking Wine?“, “How Long Does it Take to Make Wine?” or “How to Make Wine Taste Better“. Also, leave a comment below letting us know if you tried any of the Italian wines listed!
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