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What Are the Different Ways to Classify Italian Wine?

What do we mean when we talk about classifying Italian wine?

It seems like an easy question to answer. However, there are many different ways to classify wine, each of which applies to a different aspect of the wine. Some of these methods of classification are more common than others. But each is designed to tell you a little bit about the wine, which hopefully makes it easier for you to choose the wine that’s right for you.

In this article, we’re going to look at a variety of these classification methods so that you know what you’re looking for, regardless of which one is used.

Method #1 – Colour

Let’s start with the most obvious form of classification.

On a very general level, we classify our wines by colour as either red, white, or pink. This classification comes from a simple observation of the liquid in the glass and it’s the one we most commonly use. For example, you may ask the server at a restaurant to recommend a good red wine. There are several they could choose from. However, this simple classification helps them to narrow down the list to a selection that all fit into the red wine category.

Red wines are typically fermented from grapes that have darker skins, with the colour coming from the fact that the skin is used as part of the fermentation process. White wines tend to come from lighter grapes and don’t involve the use of the skin in fermentation. Pink wines, which are also called Rosé wines, are usually made with red grapes, though the skins are less used in the fermentation process.

Method #2 – Sugar Content

As a fruit, grapes produce sugar. This sugar is what gets converted into alcohol as part of the fermentation process. As a result, classifying a wine by its sugar content is essentially the same as classifying it based on alcohol volume. The more sugar used in the creation of the wine, the higher the alcohol volume will be.

What’s more, the amount of sugar used also has an effect on the taste of the wine. We can break this down into four categories:

  • Sweet wines contain 45 grams per litre or more.
  • Semi-sweet wines contain between 12 and 45 grams per litre.
  • Semi-dry wines have a sugar content of between 4 and 12 grams per litre.
  • Dry wines contain 4 grams per litre of sugar or less.

There are also sugar levels classifications for sparkling wines that differ from those used for still wines.

Method #3 – The Body

You’ve likely heard people talk about how the wine they’re drinking, especially if it’s a red wine, has a nice and full body.

In that simple phrase, we have yet another way to classify our Italian wines. Think of the body as the “weight” of the wine on the palate. The “heavier” the wine feels, the stronger its body.

Full-bodied wines tend to be red wines that have dark colouring and a lot of tannins. Chianti is a good example.

Medium-bodied wines are a little lighter than their full-bodied compatriots, which often makes them more accessible. If we think of Chianti as a full-bodied wine, a Super Tuscan, such as Tignanello, may be closer to a medium-bodied wine.

Light-bodied wines are typically white wines that focus on providing a refreshing taste over complexity. Any white sparkling wine will fit into this category. You will rarely see a red wine described as light-bodied. And if that does happen, it’s usually not intended as a compliment towards the red wine.

Method #4 – The Brewing Method

We can also break wines down based on the method used to produce them.

For example, traditional wines are made using the tried and tested production methods that have existed in Italy for centuries. While these methods may undergo the occasional tweak, they don’t really change much.

Non-alcoholic wine is a wine in which the fermentation process results in the removal of alcohol from the drink.

Carbonated wines are similar to sparkling wines in that they contain a high amount of carbon dioxide. However, this carbonation is often accomplished separately to the actual brewing, making these wines somewhat artificial.

We also have fortified wines, such as Port and Sherry, which usually require another type of alcohol to be added to the wine to enhance its alcoholic effects.

Labels like “aromatised”, “organic”, and “bio-dynamic” may also fit into this category. Essentially, this is all about providing you with some insight into how the wine is made.

Method #5 – Drinking Time

When should you drink your Italian wine?

That’s the question that this classification aims to answer. Many will tell you that there are specific times to drink particular wines.

For example, a wine classified as an aperitif is a wine that is best consumed before a major meal. It’s usually a lighter wine that accompanies appetisers or is served alone. Aperitifs tend to be sparkling or white wines.

You then have table wines, which is the category that most Italian wines fall into. These are the wines that accompany your main meal, with the specific wine often being dependent on the meal itself. Typically, these are dry wines that don’t overpower the flavours of the food.

Finally, you have dessert wines, which are usually rich and sweet. They may be the dessert in and of themselves or they may accompany a dessert.

The Final Word

As you can see, there are many ways to classify the Italian wines that you drink. This is also not a completely comprehensive list, as you can classify wines based on their vintage, harvest time, stillness, and many more factors.

Perhaps this wide range of classification reveals just how much variety there is in the world of Italian wine. It is often not enough to just ask for wine. With these classifications, you can boil your selection down to the type of wine you enjoy most.

Of course, the Xtrawine website offers wines that fall into every category that you can imagine! Take some time to browse our collection and we’re sure you’ll find the wine that’s right for you.

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