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Italy

Book upon book has been written about Italy, but we wanted to provide a quick overview of Italy and Italian wines. Italy is blessed with the ability  to grow wines from one end of the country to the other. Each region or terroir produces wines that are unique to that region, even when using the same grape that is grown in another region of Italy; such is the complexity and diversity of Italy and its wines. For those of you who are not familiar with Italy or Italian wines, the quality of all Italian wines is protected through the application of a very stringent control and measurement system. At the base of the system is Table Wine (VdT), then Geographical Indication wines (GI), next Registered Designation of Origin (DOC) and finally the highest classification, Registered and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (DOCG).

Classifications are regularly updated, and two new categories have now been created: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Typical Geographical Indications (IGT). The significance of these ratings underlies both the safety, quality and sensory values of the regions in which wines are produced. To give you an example of how this classification is applied, currently there are only 60 wines that have DOCG, 332 DOC and 119 IGT. All of our wines have been classified as  IGT, DOC or, in many cases DOCG, this allows you a have a greater sense of trust in the quality of the wines that we select and bring to you for your drinking enjoyment.

The one thing that we love about Italian wines is that what you see on their label is what you get, and what comes with this is a guarantee of quality and value for money which is hard to find with many other wine growing regions of the world. Price is not a true indicator of an Italian wine’s greatness or lack thereof, so trust your senses and your tastes; they will be your best guide, as the opportunities and choices that you have are so diverse. The one thing we would say is that Italy is not a country of big brands or houses. Here, the kings or queens of the wine makers are the small houses, often a family concern, that produce wines from 50 hectares or less of vineyards. To these wine makers, what they do is the perfect collision of passion and profession.

Germany

As one would expect, the German wine industry is consistently driven by the need to attain the highest quality standards with their wines. To this end, in 2002 the VDP Classification system was introduced. But let us add a word of warning: just because a wine maker (or his/her wines) is not VDP rated does not mean that they do not produce high quality wines. Although these wine makers may simply not wish to conform, they still exhibit the highest level of quality standards.

Here is a quick snapshot of the VDP classification standards.

Classification Criteria for Great Growths and First Growths and Wines from a Classified Site

The VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates) endeavours to ensure that wines bearing the names of Germany’s finest vineyard sites are distinguished by a clear profile. Vineyard sites shape the profile of the cultural landscape and the character of first-class wines. As such, the unique nature of a top site cannot be underestimated, for it is inherent to producing individualistic wines that reflect the respective terroir of origin as well as the dedication and passion of the wine-grower. 

The VDP Accord of 2002 represents the input of the VDP regional associations, which conscientiously helped to define the basic profile of great growth wines without losing sight of varying local conditions. The result is a uniform framework of binding measures for all estates that wish to produce great growth wines. It recognizes that regional differences must be respected in order to produce inimitable wines of the highest quality possible. Within the overall framework, regions and districts are free to stipulate stricter conditions (regarding maximum yields, starting must weights or demarcation of classified sites, for example).

 Classification Categories

 Members’ vineyards (or portions of them) will be carefully classified by the VDP regional associations in consultation with members whose vineyards have already been classified. This forms the basis of the categories of a "quality pyramid” as follows:

 I. Grosse Gewächse / Erste Gewächse (great growths / Rheingau: first growths)

 II. Klassifizierte Lagenweine (wines from a classified site)

 III. Guts-u und Ortsweine ("house wines” labelled with a proprietary name and/or the name of a village or region)

 I. Grosse Gewächse / Erste Gewächse

• The wines originate from classified, narrowly demarcated top sites that provide optimal growing conditions and whose exceptionally ripe crop consistently yields wines of great substance, as evidenced over a long period of time.

• The production of great growths is voluntary.

• The following criteria are binding measures prescribed for great growths produced by members of the VDP.

 1. Grape varieties

•  Great growths are produced exclusively from grape varieties that the regional associations have deemed to be traditional

 2. Yields

• In vineyard areas registered for the production of great growths, yields are restricted to 50 hl/ha.

 3. Harvest procedures

• Grapes for great growths are harvested selectively, by hand.

 4. Ripeness level

• Grapes for great growths must be at least ripe enough to qualify as Spätlese.

 5. Production procedures

• Great growths are produced exclusively according to traditional methods of production.

 6. Inspections / Examinations

• Great growths are subject to the general standards prescribed by the VDP national association as well as additional inspections and examinations. Quality-oriented measures are supervised in every vineyard prior to the harvest and vineyards are inspected to monitor yields.

• All wines undergo an additional strict, sensorical exam conducted by the VDP.

 7. Marketing

• White great growths can be released on the first of September the year after the harvest.

• Red great growths can be released on the first of September two years after the harvest.

 8. Packaging

• The VDP executive committee is empowered to issue a directive on packaging in order to ensure clarity of labelling and uniform appearance. A special bottle embossed with the "great growth / first growth” logo will be designed for great growths. The special bottles and logo will always be used for great growths. For 0.75-litre bottling there are four types of bottle: the traditional swan-necked bottle in green or brown glass (also as half bottles); the flagon-shaped Bocksbeutel; and the Burgundy bottle.  All great growth bottling will bear a similar front label and a capsule depicting the VDP logo ­ the stylized eagle with a cluster of grapes.   The front label must include at least the name of the vineyard site and wine estate. The maximum data permitted on the front label includes vintage, vineyard site, grape variety, wine estate, location and region. All other data required by law are on a separate label.

 9. Style

• Great growths are dry in style.

• Estates that produce great growths abstain from using "Auslese trocken” to designate wines from the same site and grape variety as their great growths.

• Lusciously sweet wines of the Prädikats Auslese and above that are produced according to the same criteria are on a par with great growths, but are neither designated or packaged as such at this time.

 II. Klassifizierte Lagenweine

• By 2004 at the latest, vineyard designations on VDP members’ labels will be restricted to classified sites only; no other vineyard names will be used.

• The site-specific traits of a vineyard must be clearly recognizable in the wine. Every region’s list of classified sites will be completed and the introduction of "wines from a classified site” will be effective in all regions by the middle of 2004 at the latest. These measures will be introduced earlier in some regions.

• The following criteria for the production of wines from a classified site (i.e. the use of vineyard designations in general) are binding measures prescribed for all VDP members as of vintage 2004.

 1. Grape varieties

• Wines from classified sites are produced from grape varieties determined by the regional associations.

 2. Yields

• Yields are restricted to 65 hl/ha for wines from classified sites.

 3. Harvest procedures

• Grapes for wines from classified sites are harvested selectively, according to their degree of ripeness.

 4. Ripeness level

• Grapes for wines from classified sites must be fully ripened and the ripeness level must be perceptible in the wine.

 5. Inspections / Examinations

• The wines are subject to examination during the organoleptic VDP estate inspection to confirm their overall quality and to ensure that they conform with the level of quality expected of wines from classified sites.

 6. Packaging

• Wines from classified sites can be recognized by a vineyard designation on the label and a capsule depicting the VDP logo ­ the stylized eagle with a cluster of grapes.

 III. Guts- und Ortsweine

• The broad base of the "quality pyramid” comprises the VDP estates` "house wines”. They are produced according to the general standards and stringent quality criteria prescribed by the VDP, but are not marketed with a vineyard designation.

Traditional Grape Varieties Permitted for Great Growths as Determined by the Regional Associations

• Baden:                  Riesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)

• Franken:               Riesling, Silvaner, Weissburgunder, Spätburgunder

• Mittelrhein:          Riesling

• Nahe:                    Riesling

• Pfalz:                     Riesling, Weissburgunder, Spätburgunder

• Rheingau:            Riesling, Spätburgunder

• Rheinhessen:     Riesling, Spätburgunder

• Saale-Unstrut:   Riesling, Weissburgunder

• Württemberg:     Riesling

Switzerland

Switzerland and the Swiss wine industry have been for many years been driven by quality, but it is only during the past few years that a systematic, country-wide approach to wine classification has been introduced. In 1969, a cooperative association called Winzerwy  was started by a group of small Swiss-German wine makers to assure quality and improve marketing. The members grow, harvest, vinify and bottle on their own premises. The Winzerwy trademark guarantees for the finest quality Swiss wines with a recognizable varietal, vintage and terroir. In the French wine regions of Switzerland we have witnessed the adoption of the AOC and Grand Cru classifications, which mirror those used by French wine makers. The wine makers of the Lavaux, Vaud, Valias, Neuchatel and Geneva regions have also adopted a further level of quality management. The Vinatura Award recognizes the wine maker’s contribution to sustainable grape growth, environmental responsibility, ethical vine management and production and social responsibility, and to date has only been awarded to a handful of wine makers across these regions. A number of the wine makers with whom we partner have been awarded the Vinnatura label, including Union Vinicole Cully.

Portugal: Dão

Dão reds have changed beyond all recognition over the last decade. Until 1990, production was dominated by underperforming cooperatives, and the resulting wines were usually tough, tannic and unlovely. Since then there has been massive improvement, and while there is still some mediocre wine made here, the overall standard has been raised. Like Bairrada, however, the fragmentation of vineyard holdings has been a hindrance to progress. Located inland, the Dão has cold, wet winters but mild, dry summers. The granitic-soiled vineyards are at altitude, resulting in ripe grapes with good acidity and the potential for elegant, expressive red wines. We think of it as Portugal’s Burgundy.

Of the smaller producers, there are three names that frequently crop up. Quinta dos Roques makes a serious range of varietal wines (including some good whites from Malvasia and Encruzado), together with a complex reserva. Quinta das Maias shares the same wine-making team, but with elevated vineyards makes wines that are a little lighter but perhaps more elegant; in particular, the new black label reserva is impressive. Quintas do Pellada  and Das Saes also share a wine maker, and these wines are slightly more traditional but highly acclaimed.

Sogrape, Portugal’s biggest wine company, has been doing good work in this region. As is typical of forward-thinking Portuguese producers, the company is far advanced in the process of reinventing itself as a thoroughly modern producer making wines that the export markets want. Marketing Director Miguel Oliveiro Pinto says that Sogrape has made a conscious decision to change the style of its wines to appeal more to international tastes, with its range adjusted ‘to fit the international palate’. According to Oliveiro Pinto, ‘the reds now show more up-front fruit and better integrated oak’. As well as producing a premium-priced modern interpretations of Dão at Quinta dos Carvalhais, Sogrape also makes large quantities of the reliable but inexpensive Duque de Viseu, partly from grapes that have been bought in to help small farmers improve their viticulture.

Another large company that is active here is Vinhos Borges. It has raised the quality of its slightly plonkish co-op brand, Meia Encosta, and has recently added a new range of estate-bottled varietal wines from its Quinta da Agueira. These are fairly classy, modern wines with elegant fruit and a well-judged use of new oak. If you get the chance, try the wines of Dão Sul, a dynamic company that has established joint ventures with a number of single estates in Dão, and latterly Douro, Bairrada and Estremadura. The concept is to produce single Quinta wines which are all bottled at one place and then marketed by the same team.