By Romina Monaco

For generations cent’anni, a hundred years, has been the official toast at Italian dinner tables, festivals and weddings. From the earliest days when Greek colonists settled the land and cultivated vines for the purpose of wine-making to the present day, viniculture has become a time-honoured Italian tradition.
Throughout Italy’s history, wine was never considered an art form but rather a necessary staple dietary item. During the food shortages of post WWII it became a requirement for sustenance and daily calorie intake. With the economic stability of latter 1960’s the study of enology, wine tastings and tours, as well as food pairings became as fashionable as Valentino. Now wine not only satisfies the local palate but attracts attention on a global scale. In recent years, Italy has become the second largest wine producer and the number one exporter of wines world-wide.
The country’s varied landscape is mainly responsible for the appeal and success of its wines. Vintners refer to this as the terroir, where the vineyard’s natural environment, geographic location along with its climate produces different chemical/physical conditions within the grape varietal. A wine will have a specific colour, consistency and taste indicative of its origins, its terroir.

North-central Italy’s continental and Pre-Alpine climate produces dry crisp, mineral whites and earthy, vegetal reds. Travelling south where the hot winds from the Sahara sweep in from across the sea, the reds are stewed and ripened and the whites, creamy and tropical. These extremes in temperature, soil and sunlight offers diversity. Although wines are produced throughout the peninsula the most acclaimed regions are Piemonte, Veneto, Tuscany, Puglia and Sicily.
PIEMONTE

Piemonte, the land of Barolo and Barbaresco, is considered the most prestigious of all the regions. Its foggy autumns, cold winters and hot summers are ideal for the cultivation and harvest of the Nebbiolo grape, resulting in full-bodied, wooly reds with high tannin, acidity and alcohol levels. While enjoying these wines one can nose the musty aroma as well as taste the pungency of Piemonte’s world-renowned truffles. Asti-Spumante, a sweet, perfumed sparkling wine is also native to this region.
VENETO

In the plains of Veneto, near the ancient cities of Venice and Padua, we find Valpolicella Classico, a fruity wine characterized by sour cherry and raspberry notes. This wine and its sister counterpart, the sparkling and citrusy Prosecco, are best accompanied by the local cheeses and cured meats.


TUSCANY

In romantic Tuscany, home to Leonardo’s David and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, tourists can venture into the countryside and find the world-famous, earthy Chianti Classico. The region’s latest innovation is the Super Tuscan. Tignanello and Sassicaia, producers of this modern blend, add Cabernet Sauvignon to the traditional must (a combination of local grapes with Sangiovese predominating). This creates a bolder, richer wine with hints of hay and black cherry.

Trentino Alto-Adige

Trentino Alto-Adige
At Vinitaly, the world’s largest wine fair located in Verona, southern Italian wines have become increasingly more popular. After years of inferior quality, low crop yields and poor production, northern Italy’s esteemed viniculture and winery techniques have established themselves in the south. Puglia’s Negroamaro and Primitivo, the Mediterranean version of the Zinfandel grape, create full-bodied reds rich in jammy, cooked fruit flavours which are reflective of the area’s hot, arid climate.

The northern region of Friuli-Venezia-Giula has mastered the winter harvest and the art of making Picolit, a honey-caramel dessert wine. The area’s main export is its legendary crispy white, Pinot Grigio. The Alban Hills of Rome as well as Montepulciano in Abruzzo (not to be confused with Montepulciano, another wine region located in Tuscany) are other popular wine-making areas.
Wine production is controlled by strict government regulations with classifications that are indicated on the bottle’s label. At times confusing for the consumer, these labels are necessary so that standards are met.

The following are the Italian classifications:

· Vino da Tavola, inexpensive, bulk wines whose labels are void of information regarding geographical location and year of production (vintage).

· IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), moderately priced wines whose labels include the geographical location, specific vineyard and vintage.

· DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), quality wines produced under more rigid regulations. A primary example is Chianti from Tuscany which can only be made with a blend of grape varietals with Sangiovese dominating.

· DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) quality wines with added information on labels such as riserva (longer cask aging) and classico (wine from the historical centre of cultivated area). Chianti Classico which is made according to its regulations must also originate from the historic area of Chianti in Tuscany.
One thing is certain, no matter where you find yourself in this country you are never far from a vineyard. In the valley of every mountain and at the end of every country road a glass of golden and fruity nectar awaits you. Salute e cent’anni!

* Romina Monaco is a graduate of the International Wine & Spirit Education Trust based in the United Kingdom.