Italy produces a crazy amount of wine: tons and tons of the stuff. Just to make matters more overwhelming, Italy also has the most regionally diverse lineup of indigenous grapes imaginable. Viticulture and wine drinking began well over a thousand years ago. Wine continues to color each region’s unique identity from the Alps to the islands. What is Tuscany without Chianti, Rome without Frascati or Venice without Prosecco?
To dive into Italian wine (to know each and every difference between Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino) may seem crazy and far too fancy. At the end of the day though, there’s nothing snobby about drinking a cold glass of rosso with seafood in Sicily. More often than not, it’s the endless tumbler that we remember, not the devilish details. For every Ferrari of a wine (Italy has plenty) there are ten bicycles cruising along the seaside that transcend the pomp and pretentiousness.
Each and every region has a unique set of grapes, but don’t worry, the locals would never let you forget it. Only an idiot (or tourists) would drink wine from a neighboring region. Both the wines and the people of Italy are proud, dramatic, full of character and devoted to their special slice of the boot. It’s a country filled with many mini countries and the baffling diversity of Italian wine is proof of that. There’s so much Italy, and just as much Italian wine.
Outside of its motherland, Italian wine has always played a role in the American wine drinking movement. Soave, Valpolicella, Bardolino, Chianti, Frascati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Amarone have been staples of the pro-wine American dinner table since the 1950’s. In recent times, Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese have won consumers over because (let’s be honest) ‘Vernaccia di San Gimignano’ is prohibitively difficult to say.
New generations of wine drinkers are now approaching the old country with minds, tongues and noses geared more towards adventure. It’s not uncommon to find wine lists made up of obscurities that represent wildly different bits and pieces of the Apennine Peninsula, and that’s a very good thing.
You can (and should) tour the country by drinking the wine, in all of its abundance and variety. Plus, that way, you’ll never have to deal with a roundabout in Florence during rush hour.