With over two thousand years of wine production in its history, Italy has become one of the most famous wine producing countries in the world. However, while the phrase "Italian wine" is generally used as a broad term to identify wines produced in Italy, it cannot begin to encompass the full measure of the types of wine produced in that country. When examining types of Italian wine, one must also consider region, appellation system, geography, and, of course, grape varietals.
Italy is home to 20 wine regions. Among each, the wines will be different according to indigenous cuisine, elevation, climate, and region-specific varieties of grapes. The appellation system classifies all types of Italian wine according to region, quality, zones, and grape variety permitted for a specific classification. The geography of Italy is wide-ranging, from coastal to mountainous climates, and with differing soil conditions. These factors contribute to the production of over 350 grape varietals granted as "authorized" by Italy's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MIRAF), and more than 500 other documented types of Italian wine.
Among red, or rosso, varietals, two of the most popular types of Italian wine are the Lambrusco and the Sangiovese. The term Lambrusco identifies both a red wine grape and a wine that is produced primarily from that grape. The Lambrusco was, during the 1970s and 1980s, the highest selling imported wine in the United States.
The origins of the Sangiovese grape are in Tuscany, famous for its wine varieties. Although the Sangiovese grape can and is used to produce single variety wines, it is most commonly used in blended wines, such as Chianti, also well known outside of Italy. Italian immigrants brought the Sangiovese grape to the U.S. in the 1800s, and it continues to be used in American wines today.
Among white, or bianco, wine grapes, the two that are commonly recognized types of Italian wine among people in the U.S. are the Muscato and the Pinot Grigio. Muscato is a grape that is commonly used to produce sweeter wines, dessert wines, and sparkling wines. The Muscato is the grape used to produce the well-known Asti sparkling wines, such as Asti Spumante. The Pinot Grigio is a commercial grape known for its clean, crisp qualities. It is a clone of the Pinot Gris, grown in countries outside of Italy.
These are only four of the many types of Italian wines and blends available in wine shops, retail stores, and grocery stores everywhere. These and others that are available outside of Italy are, for the most part, affordable and worth the time to learn about and experience. Whether they are sweet, dry, red, or white, Italian wines are worth the effort.
It is said that anything worth doing is worth doing well. In bringing beautiful red and white wines to the world for over 2,000 years, the Italians have taken this belief system to a higher level thousands of times over.