Stirred’s Guide to Italian Wine

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The DOC regulations of Italy were established in the early 1960’s. To say that they have been a double edged sword ever since would be to understate the Italian national desire to simultaneously institute and circumvent regulation. Italy is the most legislated country in Europe (generally, not just in wine) and no sooner had the regulations been instituted, than ways were being created to sidestep them.

Vino da Tavola

Table Wine. Because of the country’s complex classification system, this can be a misleading name – some fantastic Italian wines still carry this. Could be pearls in a bottle or just grit in the glass – the only way to find out is taste (and price to an extent).

Anglo Gaja, possibly Italy’s most commercially individually successful producer, makes several wines in this category that retail in the UK for more than £50.00 a bottle.

Since the introduction of the IGT classification in 1996, Vino da Tavola wine is no longer allowed to carry a vintage date on the label, just to persuade any producers stubborn enough to want to keep it out of a sense of inverted snobbery. Some use of ‘limited production’ bottle numbers appearing on back labels that just happened to coincide with the vintage has been noted.

IGT

Indicazione Geographica Tipica, a new term for wines of excellence made in DOC or DOCG controlled zones that do not comply with specified grapes or production methods. IGT wines are typically well-made wines of international standard. It is worth noting that Sassacaia and Tignanello, two of the most expensive ‘Supertuscans’ were classified as Vino da Tavola unit the introduction of IGT. The French equivalent would be Vins de Pays.

DOC

Denominazione Origine Controllata produced within a demarcated area using specified grape varieties and blends, yield limits, production techniques and minimum ageing requirements.

DOCG

Denominazione Origine Controllata & Guarantita – as with DOC but with lower yields, longer maturation periods and ostensibly higher standards.

Ripasso (Veneto & Tuscany)

In the Veneto, Ripasso is a technique where wines are allowed to rest on the lees of the recently fermented Amarone. This starts a short second fermentation, enriches the wine and gives fuller, rounder characteristics and some increase in strength. Masi produce Campofiorin in this way. God bless ’em. This same technique is called Governo (rarely) used in Tuscany.

Passito, Dried Grape Wines (Sicily, Umbria, Tuscany & Veneto)

This tradition is believed to have been started by the Greeks in Crete circa 8th Century BC in order to make a sweeter, stronger, more stable wine suitable for transportation and for keeping in leaky amphorae before the invention of the cork. Originally the bunches were twisted on the vine to allow the sun to evaporate moisture and concentrate the sugars giving more alcohol after fermentation. Imported into Italy by the Phoenicians, this technique has been adapted throughout the country, making wines called Passito.

Amarone & Recioto (Veneto)

The drying of the grapes now generally takes place in lofts using the slatted wooden cases the grapes are picked in, to allow the passage of air through the slats. Due to the damp climate of the area the drying can take up to three months after harvest when the wine is fermented. Two types of wine are made from the dried grapes, Amarone and Recioto, which are the indigenous varieties for Valpolicella. These varieties are Corvina (the most important), Molinare and Rondinella. Amarone is fully fermented to give a dry powerful wine, (sometimes 15%) that can require long storage (three to ten years) before drinking. Allegrini have been making this wine since 1950’s. The fermentation of Recioto is stopped before completion to give a sweeter wine with more residual sugar. Recioto can be chilled or served at room temperature. Both these wines are now most desirable as they are a) produced in small quantities b) as they are ‘difficult children’ tend to be the apple of the producers’ eye and c) are priced accordingly. If you made only six barrels a year, wouldn’t you rather keep them?

Want to really get to know some of the very best Italian wines? Learn about the central role they play in Stirred’s cookery courses.

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