The Romans found the vine flourishing, courtesy of the Greeks and Etruscans, by the time that they controlled the peninsula. With their love for wine they came to understand its requirements and develop an enormous range of indigenous grape varieties, many of which survive and thrive to this day. With the collapse of the empire the country was fragmented for centuries and, though it was unified in 1861, it will take more than 150 years to lose the fierce and fabulous regionality that developed in the era of the great city states.
The Italian system of classification came late compared with Spain and France, but its laudable aim was to preserve the character and traditions of hundreds of regions and thousands of wines. Unfortunately, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) classification of 1963 was flawed through an overly rigid approach. Since then it has been considerably altered and a total of four classifications now seek to clarify the often perplexing richness of Italian winemaking.
Climate and Conditions
Ten degrees of latitude and 1300 metres of altitude separate the extremes of Italian winemaking. From the steepness of the Alps to the shores of the Mediterranean the vine is ubiquitous. Over two thousand native grapes have developed across thousands of years and each has found a niche in the extremely varied regions of Italy. The diversity of wines this allows is immense.
The Wines of Today
It is hardly surprising that with over a million grape growers the Italian wine industry is highly fragmented and devoid of large international brands. There was a time when this greatly handicapped the quality of the wine being produced, but since the Second World War huge strides have been taken to remedy this. An emerging and discerning middle class, the DOC classification system, international influences and modernisation have been allied to the independent spirit, regional character and indigenous grape varieties that have always existed to produce unique and increasingly excellent wines. Italian wine, beyond the most famous, requires effort to understand but rewards the intrepid.
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