by Jonathan Arthur of Italy
is often said, both by experts and amateurs alike, "There
is an awful lot of rubbish written about wine". This
is another contribution.
There are various theories as to where wine was first made,
ancient Persia 6,000 BC, give or take a century or so, being
a favourite. One thing for certain, around 1,000 BC it was
being produced and traded all around the Mediterranean. It
was first brought to the Italian peninsular by the Greeks,
who colonised much of the south and the Etruscans who moved
in north of Rome. The ancient Romans liked a tipple but forbade
its production outside of Italy. Gauls who liked it in quantity
and shockingly drank the stuff neat, exchanged grain, gold
and slaves to import it. Romans mixed it with water and honey.
By the middle ages vines had been planted all over Europe.
By good fortune the Catholic church, though it frowned upon
beer, was very supportive of the grape. After all wine has
its own miracle and was a necessary part of Mass. Italian
wine was especially prized. Many northern European aristocrats
will have tasted some as they passed through on their way
to Rome on a pilgrimage or off to the crusades. The pilgrim
road would have bought them through the vineyards where Chianti,
Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are
now grown. Understandably they often sent a few barrels home
giving the region international fame.
The internal turmoil of Nineteenth century and the wars of
the early Twentieth left Italy weak in export markets and
impoverished at home. Italian wine was seen as a low priced
poor relation to French. It was known mostly for the straw
clad bottles, kept as souvenirs or made into bedside lamps.
The rebirth was to come from an unlikely source, prohibition.
Much of the heroic struggle to keep the USA supplied with
alcoholic beverages, in the time it was illegal, fell on the
willing shoulders of Italian immigrants. When prohibition
was repealed it was only logical that those same "Families"
would continue in the wine trade, becoming largely legitimate
and later free to import from their newly liberated homeland.
Italy exports over a third of its wine production, mostly
to North America where the total has increased both in volume
The accelerating interest in Italian wine has led to changes
in the way it is made and marketed. Once producers were mostly
interested in local sales, the purchaser would decide to buy
or not after tasting. Now vintners must cater for international
tastes and rely on various forms of labelling to inform the
buyer. Here is a short guide to the terms used when discussing
The label. A new world winery label will normally show the
producer and the grape. Something like "Leaping Frog
Winery" Cabernet. For most Italian wine the label will
have producer and the type of wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
for instance. This tells a whole story about where the wine
is produced the grapes used and the production method. In
the case of Vino Nobile the wine must:
produced within the commune of Montepulciano
an altitude of 250 metres to 600 metres above sea level
a minimum of 70% Sangiovese grapes (Prugnolo varietal)
remaining percentage from a list of approved grapes
production of 8 tons per hectare
two years aging in wooden barrels (there can be exceptions
not be sold until January 1st of the second year after its
be bottled within the Commune boundaries
have an alcohol content of at least 12.5%
The list goes on and becomes very specialised concerning
what bottles it can be sold in, irrigation (not allowed) additives
(very few, no sugar) and so forth.
This is the organisation responsible for deciding all
the rules and allowing changes over time. It is elected
by the wine growers. It also promotes the wine and checks
that standards are maintained. Most wines have a single
consorzio, some such as Chianti have more dividing up
the large area of production.
DOCG - Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita is the
top level of official approval, apart from having been
seen to have obeyed all the rules it is subjected to a
blind tasting to make sure it is up to scratch. In a good
year it can be promoted to being a "Riserva"
though it might have to be aged longer.
DOC - Denominazione di Origine Controllata
Denominazione di Origine Controllata is the next level
down which shows the wine is made under the accepted rules
but does not have to be tasted by experts.
ITG - Indicazione Geografica Tipica
Indicazione Geografica Tipica is a relatively new description
denoting the area of production.
VTD - Vino da Tavola
Vino da Tavola can be pretty much anything and will normally
have a lower alcohol content than the others
Super Tuscan Wine
Super Tuscan is a wine made in Tuscany but not by any
of the consorzio rules. Most are inventions of the wine
maker and of high quality. The majority are blends using
grapes not historically present in Italy. Before the ITG
label was introduced these had to be sold as table wine.
The Wine Seal
The Seal is a slip of paper around the neck of the bottle
or over the top of it, often pink. These are given by
the consorzio to the wine maker, only enough for the amount
of land under vines. It helps to stop over production
and the code number can be used to trace the bottles history,
some times on-line at the consorzio site.
Wine Corks and Caps
Most wine is consumed within a couple of years of production,
for these almost any kind of cap is fine, unfortunately
a lot of good cork is used to bottle these leaving a shortage
for the wine that really needs it. If young or poor quality
cork is used it can ruin the bottle hence the move towards
plastic "corks" and screw tops. It's probably
too early to tell whether wine aged a long time will suffer
from these. Recently, ways to sterilise cork have been
developed making it less likely to go bad.
Aging wine in the barrel
Barrels were used as a robust way to store and transport
wine. But barrels also alter the wine. First by leaching
tannin, which helps to preserve it. Secondly by allowing
a micro infiltration of oxygen, which stabilizes the wine
molecules. A high alcohol content is also recommended
if the wine is to keep and travel. This is probably why
foreign consumers tend to be familiar with and like wine
with a lot of alcohol and tannin. Large Slavonian oak
barrels were traditional in Italy, but now the use of
smaller Barrique made of French or American oak is common.
They speed up the process, the greater ratio of surface
to volume makes for rapid tannin transfer, the more open
grain for a faster oxygen infiltration, these always leave
a slight vanilla after taste.
Aging wine in the bottle
When wine has just been bottled, the sloshing around
and exposure to the air make it unsettled for a while,
its taste very different from what it will become after
resting a few months. As time goes on, if it is left in
peace, some of the constituents such as the tannins will
combine together producing a smoother taste. Other chemicals
form, creating different flavours that give a greater
complexity and a flavour which seems to remain longer
in the mouth. Few wines will gain much after their fifth
year in the bottle though they may maintain their quality
for years after.
Spumante is the fizzy wine of Italy. There are three
ways of making fizzy wine. The simplest is to pump carbon
dioxide into an existing wine. The result tends to make
a fizz that is very energetic but not long lasting. Italian
wines labelled "Methodo Classico" are made the
same way as Champagne. The wine undergoes a secondary
fermentation in the bottle, which is held at about 45°
cork down. Once a day it is turned and thumped on the
bottom to send the sediment down to the neck, after three
years this is frozen and extracted. Prosecco is created
with a similar process but rather than in a bottle the
secondary fermentation happens in a stainless steel tank.
Ordering wine in Italy
Though it can be great fun to taste all sorts of different
wines, if you are eating at a trattoria or inexpensive
restaurant the best choice is often the house wine. It
tends to be local, young and not too heavy, just the thing
if you intend doing anything else but have a nap afterwards.
It wouldn't travel or age well but is the sort of thing
people will be drinking at home in the area.
wine article was provided by Jonathan Arthur who runs Italy
with Relish cooking and villa holidays in the Tuscany
region of Italy.
details of the cooking holidays <click
here> or visit www.italywithrelish.it
12 February 2009
Hub-UK : firstname.lastname@example.org