Ok cool kids—or, bambini—this is our last stop on our tour of Italy’s wine regions—Southern Italy. Don’t forget to check out what we learned in Northern and Central Italy as well.
First thing you have to know is that Southern Italy is hot.If you’ve been there during the summer months, you know what I’m talking about. Luckily, despite many preconceived notions, the wines of the Southern Italian world are not all big, bold reds. Let’s take a look…
Overall, the climate of Southern Italy, is hot and dry in the inland areas, becoming more humid toward the coast. As in, Central Italy, many vineyards are planted along the slopes of the Apennine, in which case the vineyards are cooled by altitude. Those planted in the coastal area of the Puglian Peninsula will receive some moderating sea breezes.
Traditionally, vines were bush-trained low to the ground as a way to utilize the canopy to protect grapes from sunburn. Many old vines still use this viticultural method, however newer vineyard plantings use cordon training and trellising in order to incorporate mechanization in the vineyard.
For those of you following along on my WSET wine tour around the world, we recently did a brief stop in Northern Italy for a pop quiz about some of the wines produced. Indeed, that did cover a lot of ground, but not nearly the whole region. So I want to take time to look at Northern Italy in its entirety and explore the different regions and wine styles produced.
When we look at Northern Italy, we are looking at the area closest to the foothills of the Alps as well as the plains of the River Po. In general, Northern Italy has a moderate climate with dry, short summers. The Alps, which you may be able to tell from the map above, span the length of the Northern Italian border, thus shielding the area from rain. Like the River Po, other bodies of water that provide climatic moderation to the more inland areas include lakes such as Lake Garda. As you can see, there are also portions that are close to the sea—these areas can have higher levels of rainfall, so the major vineyard concern there will be fungal diseases.
Traditionally, vineyards were trained on the pergola system, as this provides air flow as well as keeps the grapevines off of the moist vineyard floor. Furthermore, with the vine canopy drooping over the fruit clusters, the training system also helps minimize excessive sun exposure. This system is still utilized today for grapes that require a high amount of acidity and low sugar (such as for sparkling wine) and for those wines that require grapes to be sun-dried (as in the passito method, which requires grapes to be fully developed and free of fungal disease so they can dry-out off the vine, post-harvest—we covered last time, but will touch on it again here). However, it’s noted that higher density plantings utilizing a VSP training system is now more widely used overall.
It’s time to hit the Italian wine world. And if I thought France and Spain were huge, well, let’s just say I’ve hit a new hurdle. Luckily, I have a few short answer questions from my WSET tutoring session last month to help get me warmed up. Andiamo…
I fell in love with Montepulciano while traveling in Italy. Believe it or not, my first sip was during a flight of Italian wines on the cruise ship that was carting me around the Mediterranean. It was the last in the line up, but the one I remember most. But, like the Croatian wine I talked about, since that trip I really haven’t had much of the varietal. And, again, it was my good friends John and Irene Ingersoll who write and sell at topochines.com who were able to take me back to that magical place via the gift of wine.