Italy: Wine grapes

Italy is the country with the most wine grapes: roughly 30% of all the world’s wine grapes are Italian. Many of these grapes have called Italy their home for centuries, while others were imported to the country millennia ago by Greek colonists and seafaring Phoenician traders. Therefore, some of Italy’s grapes are not truly native, that is, born in the country, but rather local, in that they have been associated with Italy’s land for thousands of years. Thanks to scientific studies and genetic testing, we have come to know that most of Italy’s grapes are actually not related to Greek or Near-East ones. It must be added that grapevines are plants that undergo genetic mutations quickly, over just a few reproductive cycles. It is therefore not surprising that single grape varieties will change both genetically and morphologically over time, and very quickly too. Over the millennia in which grape varieties have grown in Italian soils, they have adapted to their new habitat to the extent that they no longer bear much resemblance to the ancestor grapes, making them for all intents and purposes native to Italy.

The officially recognized number of wine grapes in Italy is 461, but more have been discovered recently and others are waiting definitive genetic identification. Researchers estimate that Campania alone has another 100 varieties to be identified and Sardinia about 150. Hence, an estimate of between 600 and 1000 native Italian grapes is not completely unreal. Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy (Book of the Year at the 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards) already lists 541 different grapes, however, since its publication at least four more have been identified.

Native Varieties and Traditional VarietiesGrape varieties can be divided into three categories: native (or autochthonous or indigenous), international (or allochthonous or foreign), and traditional. See  here for an explanation. See also: Naming Italian grape varieties.