The wines of Italy have an extremely
long history that dates back to pre-Roman Empire days.
There is an incredible diversity in the wines, grapes, growing
conditions and wineries of Italy. There are hundreds of
grape varieties in use, well over a million licensed wineries
and a yearly production of more than 700 million gallons.
This all takes place in a country that is about 2/3 the size
of the state of California.
Most of the wine produced in Italy
is used for distilling or is, at best, 'everyday table wine'.
Only about one fourth of Italian wine is of sufficient
quality to be classed as either DOC or DOCG quality. Over
the last 20 years, though, there has been marked improvement
in the overall quality of the wines of Italy. This improvement
has been driven by the expectations of consumers, changes in
regulations in the European Economic Community and changes in
wine regulations within Italy.
The best of the wines in Italy
qualify for designation as DOC or DOCG quality. To receive
either of these designations, the winery must comply to regulations
about the place where the grapes were grown, which grape varieties
were included, how many tons were harvested per acre and a minimum
level of alcohol that is in the wine. A winery that fails
to comply with these regulations for a particular wine may have
their entire production of that wine declassified as Vino da
Tavola (basic table wine). This is the lowest possible
ranking and is an economic disaster for the winery.