As you sip from your glass of Italian wine, you find yourself awash in sensory sensations. The beautiful aroma cascades through your nostrils, tempting you in for your next taste. When the wine reaches your tongue, you allow it to explore, taking in the many notes that the producer has worked so diligently to instill into their wine.
And then you start to wonder…
How does Italian wine get its taste?
It’s an interesting question. After all, we know that Italian wine is made using grapes. And yet, very few wines taste anything like the grapes that we can buy from supermarkets. We know the fruit plays a role in how the wine tastes. But there must be something else at play here.
In fact, there are several things at play that determine what your Italian wine will taste like. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at what they are so you understand exactly what makes your wine taste the way it does.
Factor No. 1 – Grape Variety
Let’s start with the most obvious factor – the grapes.
There are hundreds of types of grapes that producers can use to make Italian wine. Each one has its own properties, such as ideal growing conditions and certain flavours that it can imbue into its wines. For example, a crisp and sharp Chardonnay grape will give you a very different wine to the deeper and more complex Nebbiolo.
Some grapes are more acidic than others. Some are dryer, sweeter, lighter, more refreshing, or are suited to specific types of fermentation.
And to add an extra wrinkle to proceedings, some grapes can be combined. You see this in many DOC wines, which specify the exact amounts of various grape types that a producer can use to get the DOC label. A producer may have to use a minimum of 90% for one type of grape and no more than 10% for another. But there’s wiggle room in those numbers, so one producer may go with the 90/10 ratio, with another going for 95/5. The point is that each grape variety is different and even how producers mix grapes has an influence.
Factor No. 2 – The Climate
The weather in any given growing region will affect the quality of the grapes, which in turn affects their taste. If you are aware of the frosts that affected much of Europe during 2021, you’ll know what this means. Those frosts hampered many producers because they stunted the growth of the producers’ grapes, resulting in poor products that weren’t suitable for wine.
Conversely, ideal growing conditions, such as perfect temperatures and the right amount of water, allowing grapes to ripen properly. This leads to grapes with a fuller and more satisfying taste, which improves the quality of the resulting wine.
However, not all grapes are made equal here.
Some thrive in cooler temperatures. Others prefer warm climates. Yet others may take a while to ripen while another grape might ripen quickly. A producer has to balance all of these known factors while gambling on the local climate providing what they need to grow the perfect grapes.
Factor No. 3 – The Soil
As any gardener will tell you, there are many different types of soil. In the case of Italian wine, some soils contain clay. Others contain a range of minerals imbued into them by natural occurrences, such as volcanic eruptions. The point is that the type of soil used has an effect on the grape.
Soil influences the types of nutrients and minerals that go into the grape. The soil’s ability to retain water also has an effect, as soil that absorbs water quickly allows grape vines to get what they needed faster. If the soil is of low quality, or it’s not the right type for the particular grape growing in it, the flavour of your Italian wine is affected.
Factor No. 4 – The Fermentation Process
Winemakers leverage all sorts of fermentation processes to create their wines. Some, such as those who make Champagne, rely on in-bottle secondary fermentation. Most ferment their grapes in large barrels or vats. But even then, the material used makes a difference. An oak barrel imbues different flavours into a grape than a steel vat does. And that, of course, affects the entire fermentation process.
It’s during fermentation that the producer can also influence how dry or sweet the wine is. For example, a producer who wants a sweeter wine will add sugar. They’ll also do this if they want the wine to have a higher alcohol volume. However, one that wants to make a dry wine will limit the amount of sugar used during fermentation.
Factor No. 5 – Ageing
The longer a wine is aged, the deeper the effect on its flavours. You already know this if you’ve kept a wine for a couple of years before opening it. Leaving the wine to age in a bottle allows it to reach maturity, particularly in the case of red wines. That maturity affects the flavours you experience when drinking.
The same goes for the ageing process used by producers.
In most cases, a producer will place their win in barrels to age it. Again, we have the steel vs. oak issue here, as both give the wine different qualities. The length of time the wine is aged before being bottled has an effect too. In fact, many DOCs and DOCGs require the producer to age their wine for a certain amount of time before bottling because of the effect it has.
Get A Nice Flavour
There are so many factors that go into the production of Italian wine and the resulting flavours. We’ve covered five of the most important here. But there are others, such as the producer’s pressing process, the altitude of the vineyard used to grow the grapes, and even the quality of the air surrounding the vines. Now that you know what goes into creating an Italian wine’s flavour, it’s time to experience some flavours yourself. That’s where we come in. The Xtrawine collection contains thousands of Italian wines for you to sample. Make your selection and order from us today
I’m a passionate about good wine and good cooking.
I like to keep me updated and share with my online friends my gastronomic knowledge.