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The Origins of the Names of Famous Italian Wines

What’s in a name?

While we often just think of names as basically random words that we use to label ourselves, it’s often the case that names have some meaning behind them. At the very least, they have origin stories that explain why the name has become so popular.

The same is true for your favourite Italian wines.

The names of the wines that you love didn’t come out of nowhere. Every one has a name that was inspired by something in the past or, in some cases, a producer themselves.

So, we’re going to go digging into some Italian wine names in this article.

By the end, you’ll know why some of your favourite Italian wines are called what they are.

Chianti

Let’s start with what some would argue is the most famous, if not the most prestigious, type of Italian wine. From being a regular fixture on Hannibal Lecter’s dinner table to inspiring one of the most rebellious periods in Italian wine history with the Super Tuscans, Chianti is synonymous with Italian wine. It has been around for centuries and its deep textures have made it beloved by millions.

So, where does the name come from?

There are a couple of theories.

One is that the name originates from the Latin word clangor, which means noise. The word specifically denotes the noise made by the hunt as it rang through the forests that formerly covered what is now the Chianti territory. Following the hunt, the hunters indulged in red wine, with the name for the noise they produced eventually inspiring the name for the wine they loved so dearly.

However, others claim that the name has Etruscan origins. Specifically, they trace the word Chianti back to the Etruscan word clante, which means water. The Chianti region has several rich water sources. Plus, you could argue that some believe Chianti is so valuable that we should treat it like water.

Prosecco

The world’s favourite Italian sparkling wine seems to have an easy origin story when it comes to its name. The wine hails from the village of Prosecco, which is based in Triest. Naturally, that means the name comes from the village that created it, right?

Apparently, that isn’t the case.

As strange as it may seem, the origin of the word Prosecco apparently comes from the Slovenian word prozek. This translates roughly into English as “path through the woods”, which is a reference to the nature found in the region where Prosecco is produced.

Barolo

The “King of Wines” has a rich history. Made using the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo established itself as the wine of choice for Italian nobles and royalty for many centuries. Today, it is revered as one of the greatest red wines in the world, with a history that dates back centuries. Over that time, Barolo has regularly evolved, leading us to the wine that we have today.

However, the origin of its name doesn’t make for the most interesting story in the world.

The wine comes from a village named Barolo, which sits in the gorgeous foothills of Piedmont. It’s that village that lent its name to the wine that it produced, making for a somewhat dull origin story.

Amarone

Often regarded as one of Italy’s sweeter wines, Amarone has become increasingly popular with international audiences. For some, it is even considered something of a gateway into the more complex world of Italian wines. However, it is this reputation for sweetness that makes the origins of this wine’s name so interesting.

Literally translated from Italian, Amarone means “the great bitter”. This stands in stark contrast to how the wine tastes, as bitterness tends not to be one of the standout qualities of a good bottle of Amarone. Apparently, the name was used to help distinguish the wine from Recioto, which was produced in the same region and was even sweeter. So, we guess that anything can seem bitter when compared to something even sweeter! But when compared to many other Italian red wines, bitter is the last thing that comes to mind when we think of Amarone.

Franciacorta

The answer to this one seems simple at first.

Franciacorta comes from the territory of the same name. Hence, the wine simply uses the name given to it by the territory of its origin.

However, that’s not the full story.

The Franciacorta territory came to be named that way in 1277. Records appear to show that the name derives from the phrase curtes francae, which was the name given to the fortified courts that the Frankish Empire built during its brief period of dominance in the 8th century. The Kingdom of the Franks was the largest barbarian empire to survive the Ancient Roman empire. The empire eventually split in two, leading to the creations of France and Germany as defined territories.

Lambrusco

While it is often maligned these days, Lambrusco is still the Italian wine that has sold in the highest volume throughout history. This sparkling red wine offers an interesting change from the typical whites and reds that Italy produces. It’s also a remarkably tasty wine.

While there are a few ideas about where the name Lambrusco came from, the most commonly accepted theory is that it stems from a pair of Latin words. These are labrum, which means “edge” and ruscum, which means “spontaneous plant”. The idea is that the ancient Romans used these terms to describe the vines that spontaneously began growing in the perimeters of their fields. They eventually started farming the vines, leading to the creation of Lambrusco wines.

The Final Word

Perhaps the origins of the names of your favourite Italian wines is something that you’ve never really thought about before.

However, we’d argue that understanding where the names come from gives you just a little more historical context for the wines that you enjoy so much. That history is one of the strongest selling points of Italian wine and it never hurts to learn a little more.

Of course, you can find all of these wines, plus many more, in the Xtrawine store.

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