Vineyards have been successfully planted and maintained throughout Italy since the Etruscans in 750 BC. With the rise of the Roman Monarchy in 508 BC international varietals were introduced and widely cultivated. As the Roman Empire expanded into new regions, soldiers returned with wine from their conquests and the first international wine market was established. In 410 AD, the Visigoths sacked Rome, causing many high-society Romans to flee to the countryside where they established vineyards. For the most part, those vineyards have been maintained through modern day, leading Italy to produce more wine than any other country and boast the most land under vine.
Italy grows more grape varieties than any country in the world. Currently, more than 1200 grape varieties are grown that produce more than 3000 specific wines. The most notable red grapes are Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Nero d’Avola, and Negroamaro; of the whites, Pinot Gris, Glera, Trebbiano, Cortese, and Garganega stand out. Italian white wines are generally easy to drink, approachable and seafood-friendly, while the reds tend to be hugely varied. Northern Italian reds like Amarone and Barolo are deep, powerful reds that pair easily with roast meats and mushrooms. The reds of central Italy are a little less heavy and show more finesse when paired with tomato sauces and wild game. Southern Italian reds, with their full-bodied black-fruit-dominated flavors are some of the best pizza-wines in the world.
At its geographic base, Italy is a peninsula that, perhaps obviously, means it is surrounded on three sides by bodies of water. These bodies of water help regulate temperature and water supply. This is of utmost importance in southern Italy, where it would otherwise be too hot to grow grapes.
Almost like a spine, the Apennine Mountains run through the length of Italy, creating valleys with thousands of microclimates in which to grow grapes. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia are hot and dry with plentiful sunshine. In northern Italy, cool, dry winds blow down from the Alps, the country’s northern border. The rivers that course through the Alps are used to irrigate northern Italy’s plains.