Wine has been grown in Italy since around 800 B.C. the first plantings came with the colonisation of Sicily by the ancient Greeks. For many years after southern Italy was probably the most important wine growing centre in the Mediterranean, the wines from southern Italy were shipped all over the world and were held in extreme high regard by the Greeks. In A.D. 79 the Italy's place in the global was devastated by the eruption of mount Versuvius, the eruption not only devastated the Roman city of Pompei but it destroyed the most important wine shipping point for the Roman empire. It was due to this disaster, that the Romans had to rebuild their wine producing industry and began to plant vineyards further north, firstly around the hills of Rome, then further north with Roman vineyard plantings beyond the Alps into France and Germany. Over the few centuries the Italian wine industry went into decline, until the Renaissance when the Tuscans began to take an interest in wine making, from this point the Italian wine industry thrived and began to bring Italian wine making up to date and by learning new wine making techniques from other countries began to rebuild the Italian wine industry.
Over the last forty years the Italian wine industry has come to the forefront of the world of wine, in 1963 the the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) was established, with the first DOC wine, Vernaccia di San Gimigiano, being granted status in 1966, since then there are now in excess of 900 DOC wines produced in Italy, not to mention many very high quality wines being produced outside the DOC regulations. Wines that fall outside the DOC classifications are usually produced using none traditional methods, a good example is the "Super Tuscans" these are wines which are made often by blending the traditional Sangiovese grape with the not so traditional Cabernet Sauvignon variety, to produce stunningly good, complex wines which fall outside any DOC classification.
Italian Wine Laws
Due to Italy's size and diversity there are so many different types of wine produced, in so many different styles, using many different grape varieties both native and non-native to Italy. Italy's Ministry of Agriculture established a set of regulations, similar to the appellation controllee system in France, to give wine consumers a set of guidelines into the quality of a wine. There are four quality levels for Italian wines -
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)
These are some of the best wines produced in Italy, they are essentially DOC wines which have been bottled within their region of production and have been tasted by a panel of Ministry of Agriculture experts and given a seal of approval. This classification includes some of Italy's best known and most important wines -
Brunello di Montalcino
Vernaccia di San Gimigiano
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
This was the first system to be established and is similar to the French AC system, it specifies the geographical regions of production, grape varieties, yields of grapes produced, style of the wine (still, sparkling, sweet, dry). This classification includes well known wines such as -
Aglianico del Vulture
Sangiovese di Romanga
Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
This relatively new classification was set up to differentiate between the basic Vino da Tavola and the producers who were striving for better quality,but using not traditional wine making techniques, therefore preventing them achieving DOC/DOCG status.
Vino da Tavola
This is the designation of general drinking wine, however due to the EC regulations into the reduction of the "European Wine Lake" there are very few of these wines in existence. Most Italian producers now know of the benefits of quality over quantity.
Due to these regulations, improved viticulture and wine making techniques, Italy now produces some of the finest wines in the world in every style you can imagine. tradition still plays a big part in the Italian wine industry, many wines being produced in the same town, in the same region, from the same grapes, using the same methods as they have for hundreds of years, but there are still some cutting edge Italian winemakers pushing the boundaries, trying new techniques and grape varieties, making Italy to me one of the most exciting wine producing countries in the world today.