An Introduction to Italian Wine, Part I

Italy has been producing wine for thousands of years. And you’ll be able to taste the fruit of all that knowledge and experience soon at Siena Italian Steakhouse.

With Siena Italian Steakhouse opening its doors soon at the stupendous Flatiron Building in northern Phnom Penh, we thought it would be a good idea to offer a brief series introducing the delights of Italian wines, from the history to understanding the designations on the labels, and some of the more widely used grapes. Wine is so fundamental to Italy’s history that, in every direction, the borders of the Roman Empire stopped where wine could no longer be made. It remains a fundamental part of modern-day life in Italy too. Italy still produces more wine than anywhere else, including France. It is a world that is very much worthy of discovery.

 

 

The principles of winemaking were brought to Italy by the Ancient Greeks who renamed the southern part of the country Oenotria, or ‘Land of the Staked Vines’. The Italians took to wine with even more enthusiasm than the Greeks did, and it soon became a daily staple for all, not just the elites. Taking it with them wherever they travelled (or, more precisely, conquered), it was the Romans who established some of the greatest wine producing regions of today, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire and the Mosel. Wine served multiple purposes within the Empire, including an object of trade with local tribes that was helpful for winning them to the Roman cause.

While early methods were cruder than today, the Romans did set about formalising and improving production as far back as 2000 years ago. According to Neel Burton’s Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, Cato the Elder’s De Agri Cultura from 160BC emphasised vineyard care, fruit ripeness and cellar hygiene among other things, and long served as the standard guide to winemaking. In De Re Rustica, created around the 15th century, Columella surveyed the main grape varieties and divided them into three main groups: noble varieties for great Italian wines, high yielding varieties that can nonetheless produce age-worthy wines, and prolific varieties for ordinary table wine.

Wine is produced from the top to the bottom of Italy, with 20 distinct regions across the mainland and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Of these, the most important in terms of quality are Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto, and we will talk about those soon. You will find each of these regions generously represented on Siena’s Wine List, and we’ll talk more about each of those next month.

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