Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The terroir of Italy and the wines it produces

It's hard to easily convey the terroir of Italy or any particular country since there are so many elements that make up the terroir of a specific territory nevermind the whole country. 

What is terroir? 
Terroir is everything in the natural environment where vineyards are located and where wine is produced. It includes everything from the different climates, soils and topography. Some major factors affecting the wine regions throughout Italy are the lakes (i.e. Lake Garda, Lake Iseo), the mountains (the Alps to the north and the Apennines that run the whole country of Italy), soils (morainic glacial soil and volcanic soil especially in the south), oceans and seas (Tyrhennian, Adriatic and Ionian) the topography (plains, hills and mountains) and the climate that varies consistently throughout.
Lakes of Italy with Lake Como
Lake Como
All these different elements take part in affecting the wines produced in every wine region and it's all in how the winemakers manage and deal with these elements that affect the outcome of the grapes and ultimately the wine that is produced. By understanding each individual terroir of a particular wine region the winemaker can judge which grapes would grow best and succeed or that will show a true expression of the grape or even a unique quality. These decisions are what can make one wine stand out from another. You can have one terroir, but have multiple winemakers make different wines based off of that one terroir due to their evaluations and choices made in not only the vineyard itself, but during the winemaking process itself.
Alps and mountains of Italy in Valle d'Aosta
Valle d'Aosta
It has been said that the Italians base their food around the wine in each region. If you have been fortunate enough like myself to visit most regions in Italy you will understand as you get to try the local traditions in food and wine how well they go together. For example, sangiovese in Tuscany, as discussed in my recent article, is produced in many ways including Chianti Classico to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or Brunello di Montalcino.  In Tuscany it pairs very well with some Tuscan specialties like bistecca alla Fiorentina or wild boar, cinghiale. What about Liguria, located along the coastline of the Ligurian Sea, or the island of Sardinia where there is a lot of shellfish? Makes sense that one of the local grapes, Vermentino or pigato, would do well in this area with it's minerality, raciness and citrus. If we think of other regions like Piedmont with their rich dishes including porcini mushrooms and truffles, it's understandable that there are earthy and rustic wines like Barolo and Barbaresco in this region to complement the dishes.
Meat markets of Italy

Food markets of Italy
I could go on and on about local specialties, wine pairings, and how one grape in one region greatly differs when produced in another region, but there are twenty regions and we'd be here all day. Plus, it's gets you a little hungry with all this food talk. It's always important to me when visiting different regions in not only Italy, but elsewhere, to experiment with local cuisine and wines since this really is the true reason we travel, to immerse ourselves in another culture. Italy couldn't be a more perfect place to do so with so much variation in traditions and terroir.

To navigate the wine regions of Italy I find these maps to be of great use.

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