Beauty and the Juice
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Despite the global stature and elite reputation carried by fine French wines, one would be hard-pressed to find a culture whose history and identity are more entwined with wine than that of Italy. In the country once called “Oenotria,” or “Land of the Vines,” by the ancient Greeks, the vine plays an important role in defining its very lifestyle. From its cool northern Alpine regions to the warm island shores of Sardinia and Sicily to the south, nearly every pocket of this almost perfectly situated, famously boot-shaped peninsula produces multiple signature wines, including robust reds, smooth whites, romantic rosés and festive sparkling wines. With over 1,000 varietals actively cultivated across more than 700,000 hectares nationwide, today’s Italian winemakers are creating interesting, sought-after modern blends that are quickly catching up to their more classic predecessors in popularity.
Viniculture has a long, impressive history in Italy. While the Greeks were certainly instrumental in the development of wine production in the region, it would be remiss not to recognize the importance of the Etruscans as well. Settling in Italy as early as the 8th century B.C., they are thought to be the first to harness the country’s indigenous grapes and cultivate them for wine. Archeological evidence, including remnants of amphorae (ceramic vessels used to transport products) suggests that by the 7th century B.C., the Etruscans were not only producing wine, but were exporting it to southern Italy and France (then Gaul). By the 3rd century B.C., literary references were made by Greek writers citing their admiration for Italian, and specifically Tuscan, wines. The Etruscans are also credited with introducing more sophisticated fermentation practices by burying grape must into the ground in clay vessels, and later storing the wines in even deeper underground “cellars” for further maturation.