Wine grape cultivation occurs in several regions of the world, often at fairly high altitudes and in dry, temperate areas.
Humid regions tend to be bad for viniculture because the humidity promotes bacterial growth and disease on the vines. Extended cold periods during the winter can kill the vines.
The tropics are also bad for cultivation because their temperatures don”t drop low enough during the winter. Grape vines require a period of dormancy during the winter.
Italy harbors some of the best grape-producing land in all of Europe. Almost every region in the country is suitable for a vineyard. There is so much area to grow grape vines on, in fact, that there the country has more than one million vineyards.
Many families have handed down their vineyards from generation to generation, and many even do their own wine-making. Some of these vineyards still follow old traditions and squeeze the juices out of the grapes by trampling them.
Other vineyards either sell their crops to a wine-maker or pay a wine-making company to produce their wine. These smaller Italian wineries are not limited to wine, but also create their own liquors by distilling their wines.
The Grapes and Specialty Wines of Italy
Marsala wine comes from the area surrounding the city of Marsala in Sicily. This wine is made from a mixture of several different white grapes, and has a deep amber color. Marsala is typically fortified with ethanol, and has quite a high alcohol content.
Spumante is a type of sparkling wine that is produced in the northern regions of Italy. After the initial fermentation, Spumante is shifted into a tank for its second fermentation. Champagne is normally shifted into bottles, rather than a tank, for its second fermentation.
Sangiovese is a red grape that was originally cultivated in Tuscany. It has a strawberry flavor with some spice to it when young, but ages to have a nuttier oak flavor. This specific type of grape has traditionally been used only by the wine-makers of Tuscany, but its popularity is beginning to spread. Sangiovese is a major component of the Chianti made in Tuscany.
Classification of Italian Wine
Italy has a system of classification for different classes of wine produced in the area. Two of the classes are for what they call ”table” wines, and two are for quality wines produced in a specific region.
Table wines are split into two categories: Vino da Tavola and Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT). The Vino da Tavola is generally from Italy, but it is inferior in quality, or the wine-makers did not follow wine laws. IGT categorization means that the wine is of excellent quality and from a specified region, but the makers did not follow wine laws.
The other two of the four classifications are for quality wines from specific regions. Denominazione Di Origine Controllata means that the grapes used in the wine were controlled, and the region is very specific. A wine that falls under the category Denominazione Di Origine Controllata e Garantita is an excellent wine that must pass a blind taste test, and fulfils strict requirements
Vineyards of France
Another great area for viniculture is France. Two of the best grape-growing regions in France are Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The two most prominent grapes found in the Burgundy region of France are pinot noir and chardonnay. The region of Bordeaux is known for its bountiful production of red wine. Their three primary red wine grapes are:
- cabernet franc
- cabernet sauvignon
Bordeaux itself is split into two sub-regions: the Left Bank, and the Right Bank. The Left Bank is known for producing cabernet grapes, and the Right Bank is better known for the merlot.
French Wine Rating
Wines are typically rated several different ways depending on the type, origin and taste. Certain types of wines meet the ”vintage” requirements and are rated differently.
For a non-vintage wine, the rating is typically decided by groups of experienced tasters from accredited rating authorities. Many of these rating authorities use a 100-point system designed by the famous wine taster and critic Robert Parker. The system ratings are:
- 95-100: excellent
- 90-95: outstanding
- 80-89: above average to very good
- 70-79: average
- 60-69: below average
- 59 and less: deemed unacceptable.
For vintage wines, specialized charts rate the wines by year and by variety. Some systems use a 1 to 5 scale, some use a 1 to 10 scale and still others use ratings from 0 to 100.
A helpful feature on some vintage wine charts is advice on when to drink the wine. Symbols or footnotes may be used to warn wine lovers when a wine is ready to drink or when it”s no longer fit to drink. Alternately, some wines should be left to age further.