Let’s start our journey at the Etna, from the vines of Carricante and Nerello Mascalese, which are grown on an active vulcano in one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Despite being closer to Africa than to Italy, this island can produce mountain wines that are up to the highest standards of the European vines that come from the small region of Valle d’Aosta, on the border with Switzerland. Indeed, Italian wines are one of the most exciting examples of the cultural versatility and the know-how of a land that is unparalleled in the world.
Wine was not born in Italy, but here it found an extraordinary adoptive land that became the cradle for viticulture and modern enology throughout Europe and the rest of the world. It is no coincidence that the Greeks called it Enotria, the land of wine. The Romans took the oenological cue from Greece, transforming the names of the god from Dionysus to Bacchus and increasing its consumption both socially (no longer reserved just to the elite) and agriculturally, cultivating vineyards all the way to Scotland.
With the monks of the Middle Ages, wine quickly became a serious ordeal and Italy has continued to play a fundamental role to this day, becoming the biggest wine producer in the world. Beyond quantity, Italy is one of the most varied ampelographic deposits in the world with over 4000 vineyards, 400 of which are registered wines and just as many local varieties. A biodiversity, an extraordinary mirror of the multitude of enological types, of the multiple genius loci that change every 40-50 km, just like the interspersed geography of the many cities that dot the Italian landscape. It is impossible to get tired with all this choice, indeed, it is practically impossible to taste all Italian wines: hell and heaven in equal measure.
And then there are names of such grapes and such wines that tell stories in and of themselves: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, from the Latin vernaculum, of one who lives in a place that in this case is the city of a hundred towers. Brunello di Montalcino, the smallest and darkest Sangiovese that in Montalcino calls itself Brunello (“little dark one”)! Today the latter is perhaps the collective brand of the most famous wine in the world, grown in a valley that is entirely Unesco World Heritage site: the Val d’Orcia, just like the Langhe region, home of the legendary Barolo and land of the ineffable and unreachable white truffles.
What about the Nero di Troia from Puglia and the Passerina from the Marche region, or the Pagadebit from the region of Romagna or even the Lacrima Cristi from Campania? You cross regional borders and seem to enter different countries, where different languages are spoken, where you eat a kind of bread or a type of pasta with names you never heard before that will probably go perfectly with the kaleidoscope of local wines. Traveling in the Italy of wines means coming into contact with thousands of different cultures. The producers of this startling diversity are women and men with extraordinary charisma. After all, how many people are able to plant something today only to see the fruits of their labor after at least a decade, if not longer? Only people with a very precise idea of what they want to achieve and thus fascinating people, full of stories to tell.
Italy is also the land where you can find completely different types of wine. In addition to still reds and whites, this is where you will find a huge variety of sparkling wines, naturally fermented or sparkling. In short, not just Prosecco. Although, in fact, the Prosecco is one of the best-selling sparkling wine bottles in the world, in Italy there are some of the most interesting traditional method sparkling wines in the world such as Franciacorta or Trento Doc. Many of these products are known for their cheaper price tag, but Italy is never only about commercial production.
Think of the Lambrusco, one of the best-selling Italian wines in the world, and often reviled as a “cheap” wine. Instead, there are some exquisite specimens chosen by the most refined connoisseurs, also replacing much more expensive and emblazoned bubbles! And if you are finishing a meal with a rich, sugary dessert you will be spoiled for choice in choosing between dessert wines, both still and sparkling, that will make your head spin with happiness: from a Passito of Pantelleria with its aromas of orange blossom and Mediterranean scents, to the Tuscan ‘Vin Santo’ (lit. ‘Holy Wine’) produced by drying its grapes on racks until Easter and then aged in small 50l barrels for at least 5 years!
There are sweet red wines as well, such as Recioto della Valpolicella, an ancient wine that is also produced by drying Valpolicella grapes, from which one could also produce Amarone (a dry and powerful red). And for those who want to experiment with hypnotic wines you could drink a bittersweet wine like Vernaccia di Oristano, produced with the Solera method, similar to a Sherry, with aromas of sweet grape and an iodised mouth rich in saltiness.
The journey into Italian wine will never stop because there are too many artists, scientists, saints and poets who cultivate vineyards and tend to the grapes with their heads in the barrels, looking at the sky every year to find renewed inspiration that can be turned into wine.