The Italian Almanac
Connoisseurs of Italian art, architecture and scenery know that the country has just as many treasures hidden away in small country towns as it does in the museums, monuments and cathedrals of Rome, Venice and Florence. It is a similar story with Italian wine. While Chianti, Barolo and Prosecco are winning more and more fans abroad, these flagship products are just a small part of what Italy has to offer the serious wine lover.
''The great strength of Italy's wine sector is its massive variety, together with its unique cultural and geographical diversity,'' Timothy O'Connell, the American creator of online retailer DesignWine said. ''Where else in the world do you find extremes such as the heroic wine growers in the mountains of South Tyrol contrasted with the traditional growers from the Islands of Sicily?
All of Italy's 20 regions have their own different grapes and wine styles, with the roots of the country's vinification traditions stretching back to the ancient Romans and Etruscans. Chianti, for example, is just one of Tuscany's production districts and the region has plenty more fine offerings with excellent quality-price ratios.
The growing popularity of white Pinot Grigio and Prosecco has helped Italy overtake France in the affections of British drinkers. But a big, inexpensive treat can also be derived from a drop of many less famous northern Italian whites, such as Piedmont's light, crisp, dry Arneis DOCGs with their notes of pears and apricots and the musty Ribolla Giallas of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. If bubbles are what's wanted, the rich, fruity, fragrant Franciacorta DOCGs of Lombardy are another lesser-known delight.
The best way to explore this rich wine variety is to get in a car and roam the Italian countryside, stopping off at the multitude of little wineries to be found on farms with vineyards. The Internet can provide a good substitute for those unable to do this.