Updated: Feb 8, 2018
If there is a year that we all must remember about Italian Wines is 1990.
What’s so special about 1990? For one thing, it was one of the best vintages of the last century.
But it was more than that. As many Italian winemakers explain it, ’90 was great not only because of the weather but because of the changes that were already afoot in their cellars and vineyards. It’s not that there weren’t great wines in Italy before 1990.
You can trace legendary vintages of estate-bottled Italian wine almost as far back as you can Bordeaux: There’s the 1928 Bertani “Acinatico” Amarone, ’47 Giacomo Borgogno Barolo, ’55 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino, ’61 Gaja Barbaresco, ’82 Giacosa “Santo Stefano” Barbaresco. These wines were so naturally blessed that they wouldn’t necessarily have benefited from modern technology.
But these historic bottlings were the exceptions, not the rule. As a source of reliable, high-quality wines at all price tiers, from every region, Italy didn’t come into its own until very recently. The eighties and nineties marked a big generational shift in Italian winemaking. The post– World War II farmer or entrepreneur with limited training and a penchant for industrial-scale production gave way to a son or a daughter, often fresh out of enology school, who transformed the family property into more of a château. This shift wasn’t just idealistic but economically necessary. The Italian government and the European Union invested heavily in new vineyards in the sixties and seventies, and although this helped revive Italy’s flagging agricultural economy at the time, it also resulted in huge surpluses of wine. **
The production excesses of the seventies and early eighties gave Italy a bad reputation among serious wine drinkers.
Among the longer-established estates, vintners often pinpoint the year they switched from “old style” to new: the year they replaced their thirty-year-old, 50-hectoliter chestnut casks with new, 225-liter French oak barriques; the year they began “green harvesting” grapes in midsummer.
These types of changes have been overwhelmingly recent— if not always welcome by Italian wine purists.
On the whole, Italian winemakers are producing cleaner, more full-bodied, more oak-influenced wines than in the past, which has helped them in the international market— but has also caused some traditionalists to lament their loss of individuality.
But we can't forget that the Italian Law that imposed through Disciplinares the needed quality to the wine productions did not happen until the 70s and 80s. Some regions have been defined as we speak.
So surprisingly enough, despite one of the longest Wine production history in the world, the quality Italian production is recent ( 20-25 years). **
There is a very long long Italian History, which goes back to Greeks and early settlers, Romans, invasions of the Barbarians, the Lombards, the Byzantines, the Spaniards, the Francs , Napoleon, the Normans, etc, etc.
These dominations had an incredible influence on the development of the Italian culture , their different regions and their nuances. Italy is truly not yet a Nation, but the union of 20 regions with their histories, their cultural background, their traditions, their wines, their foods. So to truly understand Italy, the first thing to remember is : ITALIAN WINE is REGIONAL WINES.
Every regions have their own grapes and wine styles , so asking for " A glass of Italian Red Wine" is like asking " I would like to have a dish of Pasta".
I won't be able to get into the details of the Italian History, it would bore you and will derail me from the main objective to teach you the fundamentals of Italian Wines.
I will leave you to :Bastianich, Joseph; Lynch, David. Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy.
Just as example of good read, I enjoyed it. Some of these initials paragraphs are extracted from the book.
Campania is the main repository for the viticultural history of the Italian south— a history tied almost exclusively to the original migrations to Italy by the Greeks.
The islands of Ischia and Capri are thought to have been the first two Greek colonies in Italy, followed closely by Naples (the Greek Neapolis), Herculaneum, Pompeii (originally Greek), and Paestum, to name a few.
The most obvious remnant of Greek viticulture is the greco family of white grapes, found throughout the southern Mediterranean and as far off as Umbria (where it has mutated into a subvariety called grechetto) and Sicily (where it known as grecanico). As some historians and scientists tell it, greco may well have been the progenitor of most of the white varieties grown in Italy, including trebbiano, verdicchio, and the garganega of Soave in the Veneto.
While the Greeks introduced systemized viticulture to their southern-Italian colonies, it was the Romans, a few centuries later, who documented it all. Campania, particularly the coast between Naples and what is now Lazio, was not only the summer playground of rich Romans but also an agricultural heartland. Viticulture in northern Campania— the name is derived from the Latin campania felix, or “fortunate country,” a testament to its legendary fertility— was described in great detail by writers such as Pliny the Elder, Columella, and Virgil. **
Unfortunately the wines of Campania are not well known in the world for a simple reason; the marketing has not been very effective and the world publications have been very hard on it. From my point of view there is nothing farther away from the truth. I believe that the hidden treasures of absolutely outstanding wines have found themselves fighting against the wind mills of bureaucracy and Politics.
The next couple of paragraphs are extracted from "Vino Italiano" and the "Wine Bible"; it shows my point.
"Yet for all of the new boldfaced names, Campania still has a long way to go. The region produces a tremendous amount of wine, but only about 7 percent of it is classified as DOC, one of the lower percentages in Italy (Campania ranks sixteenth in DOC wine production, and ninth in total wine production).
Perhaps this is because Campania has been celebrated since antiquity for its agricultural productivity: Along the flatlands south of Salerno, surrounding the ancient Greek city of Paestum, there are as many as four harvests a year in the rich soils, of everything from artichokes to strawberries. Along the rocky Amalfi coast and up onto the volcanic slopes of Mount Vesuvius, citrus groves (especially lemons) flourish, while the cool hills of Avellino are thick with chestnut and hazelnut trees.
Benevento, farther north, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of tobacco. In the midst of this productivity, wine grapes have mostly been viewed as just another commodity to be consumed hungrily by one of Italy’s densest populations. In modern times, Campanian wines have been known for fancy names (like Lacryma Christi, or “tears of Christ”) and historic pedigrees, but not much else. Yet just as Naples has begun to turn itself around after decades of decay, so too are the region’s wines beginning to live up to their past." **
"Campania is certainly better known for the appealing cacophony of Naples, the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, and the cerulean blue waters of Capri than it is for wine, even though this is, along with Apulia, one of the two most exciting southern regions. While there were only three main wineries in Campania in 1970, today more than a hundred exist. Moreover, the number of grape varieties also tops one hundred, including three of the south’s most impressive ancient grapes: the red aglianico and two whites— fiano and greco. All three of these important varieties thrive in the volcanic soils of Avellino, northeast of Mount Vesuvius, a still-active volcano that erupted violently in A.D. 79, destroying the nearby city of Pompeii (the remains of the city are perfectly preserved)." ***
Campania has more than 100 indigenous grapes , I will introduce you to the magic world of few of them; we will taste them together and comment on it. I will let you judge and let you decide if the wines of Campania are as good as their counterparts from more known regions.
*** "The Wine Bible" 2nd Edition - Karen MacNeil
** "Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy" - Joseph Bastiach and David Lynch