Does Italy really grow over 1,000 different grape varieties?

By / Wine + Drinks / June 20th, 2017 / 14

While 1,000 may be pushing it, Italy can lay claim to an astonishingly wide variety of varietals with 350 “officially” recognized by the governmental body that recognizes that sort of thing.

There are hundreds of unofficial berries being grown across Italy’s 20 wine-producing regions but really, only a few are able to claim any kind of international superstar status.

Why so many? Well, while we here in Canada see the eat-and-drink local movement as a North American phenomenon, the Europeans have been promoting the philosophy (typically out of necessity) for centuries.

Unless they were up for a long, long ride to anywhere else, old-school Italians stuck close to home, developing pride and admiration for the liquids and solids being made in their own backyards.

Even today, you’d be hard pressed to find a bottle of Chianti in Italy anywhere outside of Tuscany, unless you went to a fine wine shop in a major metropolis.

So here’s where things get interesting when it comes to the Italian grape count. While non-Tuscans may snub that Chianti outside its home region, that doesn’t mean its primary grape (Sangiovese) gets tarred with the same brush-off. Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany’s next-door neighbour, grows its own version of Sangiovese called Sangiovese di Romagna.

But it doesn’t end there. Dozens of clones have been created from both versions. And that’s just Sangiovese. If all 350 of its grapes gave birth to multiple imitators and emulators, it’s totally plausible that Italy can stake claim to over 1,000 different varietals.

Do they all produce good juice? Now that’s a good question …


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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