Kevin Day is an Italian Wine Scholar™ with Highest Honors, and the editor-in-chief of the popular online wine magazine Opening a Bottle. In 2019, he was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer International Wine Writer’s Award in the category of Emerging Wine Writer. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
Few consumer products in the world are more steadfastly focused on origin than wine. Think of the last great bottle of wine you enjoyed and, odds are, its place of origin featured prominently on the label.
Known as appellations, these defined areas of wine production have fostered a fanatical faithfulness to origin across the industry. Whether it is a Chianti Classico or a Chambolle-Musigny, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, how we interpret wine often comes down to how we interpret the place of origin.
While the general concept around the world is the same, the approach certainly is not. In the European sense, appellations define not only the boundaries of a region but the permissible production of wine (including grape varieties, yields, winemaking techniques and more).
“It is better to call non-European systems of this sort ‘Geographical Indications,’ since outside Europe it is generally only a producing zone which is defined,” says wine writer and Wine Scholar Guild Academic Advisor, Andrew Jefford. “Grape varieties and production methods are left up to the producer, and are a matter of free choice.”
Studying the differences and similarities among appellations, as well as their traditions and modifications, can lead to a lifetime of enjoyment — or frustration.
“The tail is vigorously wagging the dog,” says wine writer Robert Joseph, who is also a producer and wine analyst. He notes that too many places lack the distinction required to make appellations practical, useful and relevant to today’s consumer. Add in the not-so-little wrinkle of climate change, and the very purpose of appellations going forward becomes a rousing debate.
So: are appellations too “rooted to the spot” to be useful in a changing world? Or do they still offer producers the best chance to market their wines on a crowded global marketplace? We sat down with Andrew Jefford and Robert Joseph and hashed it out.
Whether it is in the bilingual wine labels of Alto Adige, or the occasional Slavic grape name in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italian wine often reveals the duality of culture present in some of the country’s border regions. Tucked into Italy’s northwestern corner, Valle d’Aosta certainly demonstrates this, as its language, cuisine and wine seem to have one foot in Italy and another in France.
Wine is full of spirited debates, but few can argue that any subject matter generates more intensity these days than natural wine. Should sulphur be allowed or not? Do natural wines reveal terroir better than conventional wines? Has natural wine changed our notion of flaws?
Perhaps most controversial of all is the definition of natural wine in the first place.
These questions are constantly challenging everyone from wine critics and sommeliers to casual students of wine. We decided to bridge the topic with Wine Scholar Guild’s Academic Advisor and long-time columnist for Decanter and World of Fine Wine, Andrew Jefford, as well as Simon J Woolf, the noted natural-wine writer and author of Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine.
Italy’s wealth of grape varieties presents wine connoisseurs with many tantalizing prospects, particularly on the red wine spectrum. While Sangiovese and Nebbiolo still reign supreme, numerous grape varieties have re-emerged from hiding in recent years to spellbind wine lovers around the world. In Italy, the story of how some of these grapes transitioned from obscurity to fashionably cool can be just as compelling as the wines themselves. In many cases, the wines from these grapes are shining in a way they never have before, thanks to more informed decisions in the vineyard and winery.
Here are five up-and-coming Italian red grapes to pay attention to. While all of these grapes have been around for centuries, their resurgence has meant a quality revolution and increased interest from the international marketplace.