In common with the other major wine-producing nations of the “old world” such as France Germany and Spain, Italy has undergone something of a reality check during the course of the past 20 years. The old certainties that appeared to guarantee a healthy export trade reaching far into the future have been dented somewhat by the appearance of the new kids on the block. “New world” nations such as the United States, Argentina, Chile and, in particular, Australia have helped to concentrate minds and sweep away complacency. This is not to say that the talent within the Italian wine industry was ever in danger of losing any of its power to seduce, simply that the long-standing image of the fiasco of red wine, namely a straw-covered bottle, and usually of questionable quality, has been thankfully consigned to the past. Now those all important export deals with foreign supermarkets are giving mass-market consumers names to get their tongues around that only a few years ago could only be found in the vocabularies of niche market enthusiasts. Chianti, once the first and very often the only name that sprang to mind when mentioning Italian wine, has been supplemented by Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Vernaccia and Frascati, to name but a few. History
With a wine history dating back more than 4,000 years and a climate ideally suited to viticulture, Italy is one of the most diverse winemaking countries in the world. By the time the Greeks first came to southern Italy, wine had long been a part of everyday life. As Burton Anderson noted in his work The Wine Atlas of Italy, just a few decades ago, a daily supply of basic village wine cost Italians less than their daily supply of bread.“The Wine Bible” author Karen MacNeil notes that “In Italy, wine is food… wine and bread are as essential to an Italian dinner as a fork and knife (probably more so).” Grapes were so easily cultivated they named the country Oenotria, meaning the land of wine. The Etruscans, followed by the Romans, took a great interest in winemaking skills. The Roman god Bacchus and the wild festivals that celebrated him, Bacchanalia, got so out of hand that they were eventually banned by the Roman Senate. With the rise of Catholicism and the importance of wine as part of the sacrament, Italy continued to refine winemaking techniques throughout the middle ages, firmly cementing an international reputation for making a wide variety of excellent wines. In the nineteenth century, along with much of Northern Europe, the vine louse phylloxera took hold and destroyed many of Italy’s vineyards. Replanted vineyards were often designed with maximum quantity, not quality in mind. Italy became a global source of inexpensive table wines. It was not until the 1960′s when a series of laws were passed to control wine quality and labeling that the modern era of winemaking began. Today, Italian wines are more varied and more popular than ever. In spite of losses to phylloxera, hundreds of varietals are planted, many that are grown only in Italy. An astonishing range of red, white and sparkling wines made in every style from traditional to ultra-modern are enjoyed by critics, collectors and consumers throughout the world. Italy’s wine future is just as bright as its storied past. Introducing grapevines to Italy
Who is the genius that we must thank for planting vines in Italy? According to Life in Italy, a fascinating website about Italian culture and a must-read for anyone traveling to Italy, it was the Greeks who first recognized Italy’s potential for wine. After settling in present-day Sicily and southern Italy, the Greeks were so impressed with the fertile land that they decided to import vines and give the land the name Oenotria, which means “land of wine”. It only seems fitting that a culture with Dionysus, the god of wine, would be the ones to see the winemaking potential in a new country. We must also pay homage to the Etruscans, a group of people who settled in Central...
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