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.
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