The Importance of Wine in Italy

The Importance of Wine in Italy

Wine has been enjoyed in Italy for millennia. Water aside, wine is certainly the most popular drink in Italy and it is not uncommon to take a glass of wine for an aperitivo, at lunch and at dinner!

How did wine become such a staple within Italian culture?

It was Greeks who had settled around the southern tip of the Italian peninsula, especially in Sicily, who first began to cultivate vines for the purposes of wine production in the 8th Century BCE. Impressed by the fertility of the Italian land these Greeks actually named the areas they occupied ‘Oenotria’ or ‘land of wine’.

The Etruscans who had settled in central Italy in the area we now know as Tuscany and Western Umbria in the 7th Century BCE had a massive influence on ancient Italian culture. They further developed the rudimentary processes that were introduced by the Greeks, experimenting at every stage of the wine production. In particular, the Etruscans improved the fermentation process by varying the temperature that fermentation vessels were stored at, usually by burying them in the ground or storing them in deep cellars away from sunlight.

Having absorbed the Etruscan civilisation the Romans further refined wine production in Italy and vastly improved wine-making technology and the processes it involved. They introduced trellises to support vines, improved upon wine presses in order to extract more juice from grapes, determined which grapes were most suitable to each climate and realised that wine improved with age - as part of this, the Romans also developed airtight wooden barrels.

Wine became increasingly popular across the Roman Empire and as the empire increased in size the demand for wine increased also. Vineyards were soon being cultivated up and down the Italian peninsula.

So grapes have been cultivated in Italy for wine production for over 2,000 years…

Wine Production in Italy, Regions & DOC

There are 20 recognised wine producing regions in Italy that are split between 4 areas. Each region cultivates different varieties of grape and specialises in a different type of wine. Officially there are 350 wine grape varieties, however it is likely that many more unofficial varieties are used across Italy.

The wine industry is very important to the Italian economy. With over 1 million vineyards across the country the wine industry employs a great number of people. By volume, Italy is the largest producer of wine in the world and the drink makes up 26% of Italy’s foodstuffs exports and 1.4% of Italy’s total exports (2015).

In order to protect the Italian wine industry, as well as to assure the quality of Italian wine, in 1963 the Italian government introduced the DOC system. Denominazione di Origine Controllata in Italian (controlled designation of origin) is modelled on the French AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée).

There are 3 levels within the Italian system which indicate relative quality; DO, DOC and DOCG

With a long legacy of wine production in Italy and the continued importance of wine to the people, it is clear to see that wine is very important to Italians. If you are interested in learning more about Italian wine check out these guided tours of Italian wine regions.

Venice Events operate various guided tours throughout Italy including a range of food & wine themed tours. Some of the viticultural zones we visit include the Valpolicella region & Amarone, the Valdobbiadene area in Venetto which is part of ‘the wine road of Prosecco’ and the home of Chianti, Tuscany.