About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"In vinum,ce un Italiano" - A tribute to the Italian influence in all wine.

If you love wine, the next time you spend a few moments with a glass of your favorite wine (it doesn’t matter which kind), pause to say “gracie” to the Italians. Historically, more than any other country, we owe our bountiful and varied enjoyment of the world of wine to this culture. Viniculture didn’t begin there and history has paid tribute to others but this nation is surely the “cradle” of development for the wonderfully diverse world of wine we enjoy today.

Today Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine (it produces nearly 1/5th of the world’s total) and is the home of the most vineyards (roughly a million). Italians have the largest per capita annual consumption (about 59 liters compared to the 7.7 liters in the U.S) and grows the most varietals used in making wine (over 850 of which about 350 are documented at the Italian Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry). Italians have two of the four largest wine-producing regions in the world, produce the greatest number of varieties of wine and show the greatest versatility in winemaking. They produce fine wines that easily age for 50 years and they even utilize leftover must to produce vino cotto (cooked wine). If you look into the history of the world’s significant wine producing regions, you’ll find an Italian influence.

Much of this influence dates back to the time of the Romans who developed and utilized wine as one of their most principal forms of commerce. Viniculture first developed elsewhere but it was the Romans who made it commercially viable. They pioneered the first use of structures such as trellises to enhance growing and harvesting, as well as presses to help efficiently extract the juice. The Celts may have developed the manufacture of wooden barrels but it was the Romans who first applied their usage to the storage and transport of wine. In fact, the Romans were the first to age wine for the purpose of improving flavor and quality. They were the first to recognize that planting certain grapes in specific areas produced better wine and thus were the ones who taught “terroir” to the French. The origins of the wine “toast” is also credited to the Romans who first dipped burnt bread in their wine to reduce its acidity and later developed the habit of a preliminary tasting of the wine prior to a meal to demonstrate it was free of poison. While they may have inherited most of their grapes from the Greeks, it was the Romans that carried vines and planted them throughout the known world. These and many other practices developed in Italy from the third century B.C. up to the dark ages are still seen today throughout every major wine-growing region in the world.

Today many of the new world wine producers can scratch their history and detect a similar migration of Italian influence. While Spanish missionaries first introduced wine making to California, the development of wine as an industry in that state is rife with Italian influence. That history ranges from the first large scale commercial vineyard and winery in Rancho Cucamonga to the development of the wine industry in the Napa, Sonoma and Alexander Valleys. Many of today’s significant producers in Chile and Argentina similarly have Italian backgrounds or connections. As The Wine Guy has mentioned in his previous blogs on Mexico (see the Roger’s Grapevine archives), that nation’s wine industry is also heavily influenced by Italians. Even in the recent development of New Latitude wine producing areas, there is a notable Italian presence. The commitment of two prominent Italian wine makers to develop vineyards and wine production in India was just announced in December 2009.

It really is no wonder that Americans make Italy their number one supplier of imported wine (Italy accounts for roughly 1/3rd of all our imported wine followed by Australia, France, Spain and then all the others). When it comes to wine, it seems that Italians wrote the book, (granted, some chapters are better than others!) and almost everyone else has taken a page from it.

So again, regardless of varietal…. regardless of from whence it came…regardless of the national heritage of your favorite winemaker…the next time you enjoy a truly good glass of wine (and I hope that’s soon) remember to pause and thank the Italians. Salute!

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