Italy is, together with France, one of the excellences in wine production with high-quality wines. The incredible variety of climates and terrains allow producing uniquely-flavored wines. Keep reading to discover how some (or many) of these wines reached their status not just in Italy but all over the world. We’ll start this experience from the Northwestern regions of Italy: Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardia.
The Barolo DOCG is an excellent red wine produced in Piedmont, on the Langhe hills, from Nebbiolo grapes. In its modern (more or less) form, Barolo is a pretty recent product, dating back to the mid-19th century, but Nebbiolo grapes have been a constant and important part of Piedmontese economy since the 13th century.
Around 1830, Paolo Staglieno experimented with new techniques to produce a dry wine (meaning with low sugar content) from Nebbiolo grapes, exploiting what is known as Gervais method, a process that allowed the elimination of carbonic acid and carbon dioxide during winemaking. This new production process for dry wines, named Staglieno method, led to the creation of excellent wines capable of preserving their (very complex) features even for long periods of time and allowed moving the products abroad for exportation.
Juliette Colbert (known in Italy as Giulia Faletti di Barolo) took on Staglieno’s legacy, with the approval of Camillo Benso of Cavour and Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy) and managed in the titanic endeavor of bringing Barolo to notoriety in every European court.
The wine was at that point a blend of Nebbiolo (90%) and Pinot Noir (10%) and garnered success between the 19th and 20th century. Juliette’s death and the wicked consequences of World War I led to a decline in production, and the phylloxera infestation in the 1930s completed the work by destroying a good part of the Piedmontese vineyards.
It was only after World War II that winemaking came back to life, with imposing works aimed at recovering the cellars in Castello di Grinzane Cavour (owned by the famous Count) and Castello di Barolo. The importance of the wine grew to the point that in the 1960s the cru (one of over a hundred) is allowed to be mentioned on the label and in 1966 the Barolo was awarded the DOC certification. In 1980 the certification was improved to DOCG and the procedural guidelines only allows for Nebbiolo (100%) in the production.
Barolo is an extremely complex wine, whose characteristics may greatly change based solely on the type of soil the vines are growing (sandy, clayish or a mix of the two). As a consequence of this, Barolo is usually paired with red meats, game, truffle-based dishes and aged cheesed with a strong flavor. A classic recipe that requires Barolo is the Piedmontese brasato al Barolo (an excellent dish of tender bovine meat slowly cooked in wine).
The Franciacorta DOCG is an excellent sparkling wine produced in the Lombard province of Brescia by scupolously respecting the traditional production method (the so-called metodo classico) with a second fermentation in bottle (similarly to what happens with the French Champagne).
The winemaking tradition in Lombardy is very ancient, dating back to the Neolithic, but the first written documents came from Latin authors such as Pliny and Strabo.
With the fall of Rome and the following decadence throughout Europe, monks were the chosen ones to keep the winemaking tradition alive: they introduced the Celtic practice (which started to resurge as the influence of Rome was fading) to produce sweeter wines (as opposed to Roman ones which had a very high alcoholic degree) and preserve the drink in wooden barrels rather than inside terracotta urns.
The monastic nature of this new winemaking method is also supported by the denomination itself: the Statuti di Brescia from the 13th-century exhibit the toponym Franzacurta that can be traced back to the Latin locution francæ curtæ meaning ‘free monastery’ (where francæ is related with the Italia word franco meaning ‘free from Episcopal taxation’). The toponym has no connection with France.
At the mid-15th century the Venetian Republic marked the borders of the Franciacorta region but didn’t use agricultural criteria for this even if winemaking was blooming at that time.
Experiments in the following centuries led, in 1961, to the production of the first thousand bottles marked Pinot Franciacorta. In 1995 the sparkling wine was awarded the DOCG certification and from that moment onward other wines produced in Franciacorta needed to be renamed as Terra di Franciacorta DOC and then, starting in 2008, Curtefranca DOC.
The three recognized variations (White, Satèn, Rosé) pair very well with many dishes while being excellent wines for every meal. However, even slight changes in territory, climate and vintages can lead to wines that are very different from each other while sharing the same name.
The white wines Cinque Terre DOC are produced in the homonym area of Liguria occupied by the towns of Monterosso, Corniglia, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Vine-growing in Liguria dates back to the 7th century BC when Greek mariners landed on the Italian coasts. Realizing the costs of shipping wine from Greece to Italy and the inevitable loss of quality of the product, they planted vines directly in Liguria and started producing their own wines in loco. The wine’s fame quickly grew in the following centuries to the point that the Roman writer Pliny, in his Naturalis Historia, awards the wine produced in Luni as the best of all Etruria (Etruriæ palmam Luna habet).
With the Middle Ages and Genoa’s expansion thanks to its powerful fleet, Liguria bloomed as never before and a steady increase in population allowed cultivating more land than ever before, with the realization of huge terraces on the steep slopes of Liguria.
In the following centuries, winemaking sustained the Ligurian population and in the 19th century, following the quick improvement of technologies, more and more areas were terraced and planted with vineyards. Up until the 1920s, when a phylloxera infestation ravaged the vineyards planted with such great care over previous decades. Starting over was a slow process and exploited Virginia creeper to graft old vines. In the 1970s the Cantina Sociale of Cinque Terre financed the installation of elevators and lifts along the slopes, allowing farmers to more easily work their lands.
In 1995 wine from the Cinque Terre (made from Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes) were recognized the DOC certification and since then producers focused on selecting only the best grapes when harvesting so to gradually improve the quality of their products.
The Cinque Terre denomination can be further improved by adding the exact area of production: Costa de Posa, Costa de Campu and Costa de Sera. The exception to this is Sciacchetrà, a straw wine which makes for excellent pairing with cheese and cakes.
As many excellent white wines, Cinque Terre DOC pairs excellently with fish (both starters and second courses) but is an excellent companion even for the vegetable- and meat-based dishes (an example of which is the famous pesto alla genovese).