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There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' – the land of wines – so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.
Some grape species are distinct and unique varietals, clearly separate from each of their cousins. Others, like Lambrusco and Muscat, are more like umbrella terms, featuring several subspecies which show slight differences from each other from region to region. Indeed, there are astonishingly more than 60 identified varieties of Lambrusco vines, and they are almost all used in the production of characterful Italian sparkling wines. They are distinguishable by their deep ruby blush, caused by strong pigments present in their skins, and their intensely perfumed character.
Lambrusco vines are grown in several Italian regions, although we most closely associate this varietal with Piedmont and Basilicata. It has also been grown successfully in Argentina and Australia. The varietal suffered from a fairly lowly reputation in the late 20th century, due to bulk, low cost production of Lambrusco sparkling wines, aimed at markets across northern Europe and America. However, things are rapidly changing, and the older, more traditional methods of bottle fermentation are returning, along with a higher level of quality and expression, as consumers become more discerning and demanding. Many of the Lambrusco sub-varieties have their own established DOC, such as Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, Lambrusco di Sorbara and Modena, where new regulations are keeping standards high and methods traditional.
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