In other places, il vino is simply una bevanda alcolica (an alcoholic beverage). In Italy la viticoltura (viticulture) has always been a way of life.
One of the most ancient names for the peninsula was Enotria (terra del vino, or land of wine). Greek settlers introduced wine-making to Sicily and southern Italy as early as 800 B.C. The Etruscans perfected le tecniche di coltivazione e produzione del vino (the techniques of the cultivation and production of wine). By the second century B.C., after their defeat of the Carthaginians (renowned for their wine-making), the Romans expanded wine production and began exporting wine throughout their farflung provinces.
During the devastating Dark Ages, i monaci (monks) preserved la viticoltura, principally for production of vino da messa (sacramental wine). Wine production increased in the following centuries, but the quality of the local wines was not high.
The first zones to focus on the miglioramento (improvement) of their wines were Tuscany, which developed chianti classico, and Piedmont, which applied techniques of French viticulture to cultivate the grapes known as nebbiolo (named for the “little fog” that blankets the area in certain seasons).
With terrain that ranges from snow-tipped Alps to sun-baked islands, modern Italy produces a huge variety (una grande varietà) of wines and vies with France, depending on the vintage, as the world’s largest or second largest wine producer.
The Italian government classifies its wines into four categories:
*Vini—generic wines that can be produced anywhere in the European union, with only a color, such as bianco (white) or rosso (red), on the label.
*Vini varietali—varietal wines made mostly (at least 85 percent) from one or a blend of authorized “international” grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay or merlot.
*Vini IGP or IGT—wines with “protected geographical indication” produced in a specific territory according to precise regulations.
*Vini DOP—high-quality wines with “protected designation of origin” that are labeled DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) or DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) and that generally come from smaller regions known for their climatic and geological characteristics and their wine-making traditions. Classico is a wine produced in the historically oldest and best part of the territory; superiore, one with higher alcohol content and quality; riserva, one that has undergone a longer period of aging.
The best way to appreciate the art and science (l’arte e la scienza) of producing a fine wine (un buon vino) is a degustazione (tasting), which requires a vocabulary of its own, including descriptives such as:
*abboccato – medium dry
*amabile – medium sweet
*amarone – dry (literally bitter)
*dolce – sweet
*frizzante – fizzy
*secco – dry
As you raise your glasses, remember the classic Italian brindisi (toast): Cin-cin! Cheers (pronounced chin-chin)!
Words and Expressions
le vigne -- vineyards
la vendemmia -- the grape harvest
uva bianca -- white grapes
uva rossa -- red grapes
enoteca -- wine shop
In vino veritas (Latin) –- in wine, truth
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.
Click below for a recent RAI report on our favorite winery (in photo above): historic, beautiful, all-green Monte Vibiano Vecchio in Umbria.