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Uncorking the Unexpected: Exploring the Surprising World of Natural Italian Wines Today

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Italy has been famous for its wine for centuries, and today it remains one of the world's top wine-producing countries. But there's more to Italian wine than just the classics like Chianti and Barolo. In this blog post, we'll explore the surprising and sometimes unexpected world of Italian wine today.

We'll take a closer look at the trends and innovations that are challenging the traditional narratives around Italian wine, and we'll hear from some of the passionate winemakers and experts who are driving these changes.

Traditional Wines vs. Natural Wines

When we think of Italian wine, we often think of the classic, traditional wines that have been popular for generations. But there's a new trend in the Italian wine world that's challenging that narrative: natural wines.

an image of five natural  Italian wines in a white background

Photo By Marissa A. Ross. Bonappetit

Natural wines are made with minimal intervention in the vineyard and cellar, and they're gaining popularity among Italian winemakers and consumers alike. They offer a unique and often surprising taste experience, and they're shaking up the industry in exciting ways.

But not everyone is on board with this trend. Some traditionalists argue that natural wines don't have the same complexity and depth as their traditional counterparts. So, which is better? Let's explore both sides of the debate.

Traditional Wines

Traditional Italian wines are deeply ingrained in the country's culture and history. Wines like Chianti, Barolo, and Brunello di Montalcino have been enjoyed for centuries, and they're still highly respected and sought after today. These wines are made from grapes that are grown according to strict regulations and undergo rigorous testing to ensure quality.

One of the reasons why traditional wines are so highly regarded is their complexity. They're often aged for years in oak barrels, which imparts a rich, woody flavour. They also have a high tannin content, which gives them a strong, bold flavour that pairs well with rich, hearty dishes.

However, some critics argue that traditional wines can be too rigid and formulaic. The strict regulations governing their production can stifle innovation and experimentation, leading to a homogenization of flavour across different regions. This is where natural wines come in.

Natural Wines

Natural wines are made with minimal intervention in the vineyard and cellar. This means that winemakers use few, if any, additives or chemicals in the winemaking process. They rely on wild yeasts and bacteria to ferment the wine, which can produce unique and often unpredictable flavours.

One of the key benefits of natural wines is their diversity. Because they're made with minimal intervention, each bottle can have a unique flavour profile that reflects the terroir (the natural environment in which the grapes are grown) and the winemaker's individual style.

An image of Elisabetta Foradori pressing wine in a barrel

Elisabetta Foradori. Different Drop

However, natural wines also have their critics. Some argue that the lack of additives and chemicals can lead to unstable wines that spoil quickly. Others claim that natural wines can be too funky or unpredictable, making them difficult to pair with food.

So, which is better: traditional or natural wines? The answer is subjective and depends on your personal taste. Some people prefer the complexity and depth of traditional wines, while others appreciate the diversity and innovation of natural wines. The good news is that both types of wines are readily available in Italy, so you can try both and decide for yourself.

Women in the Wine Industry

The wine industry in Italy, like many industries, has traditionally been dominated by men. But that's changing. Today, more and more women are making their mark in the Italian wine world, and they're producing some of the most exciting and innovative wines out there.

Female winemakers in Italy face a number of challenges, including a lack of access to financing and support, as well as cultural biases that often favour male winemakers.

Despite these obstacles, women are breaking through and producing some exceptional wines.

For example, Elena Walch, a winemaker in Alto Adige, has been producing award-winning wines for over 30 years. Her wines are known for their elegance and finesse, and she's one of the few women in Italy to have been awarded the prestigious title of "Cavaliere del Lavoro" (Knight of Labour).

An image of Elena Walch in  a vineyard showing her grapes in Veraison

Elena Walch. Parade

Another notable female winemaker is Arianna Occhipinti, who has been producing natural wines in Sicily since the age of 22. Her wines are known for their unique and complex flavours, and she's quickly become one of the most respected winemakers in Italy.

These women and many others like them are challenging the stereotype that winemaking is a man's job. They're proving that talent and passion can overcome cultural biases and that diversity is key to a thriving wine industry.

Climate Change and the Italian Wine Industry

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the wine industry today, and Italy is no exception. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and shifting growing seasons are all affecting the grape-growing regions of Italy.

But Italian winemakers are adapting. They're experimenting with new grape varieties that are more resistant to heat and drought, changing vineyard management practices to conserve water and reduce carbon emissions, and investing in new technologies that can help mitigate the effects of climate change.

For example, the winery Antinori has been using drones to monitor its vineyards and collect data on soil and water conditions. This information allows them to adjust their irrigation and fertilization practices to ensure the health of their vines while reducing water waste.

Other wineries are experimenting with new grape varieties, such as the Nero d'Avola grape in Sicily. This grape is naturally resistant to heat and drought, making it an ideal choice for winemakers in the region.

An image of a vineyard in drought with men carrying red crates

In Italy’s Drought-Hit Vineyards, the Harvest of a Changing Climate. La Morra Journal. New York Times

These innovations and adaptations are essential for the future of the Italian wine industry. By embracing new technologies and practices, Italian winemakers are not only mitigating the effects of climate change but also ensuring the sustainability of their industry for generations to come.

From traditional wines to natural wines, from male-dominated winemaking to a rising wave of female talent, from climate change to innovative solutions, the world of Italian wine today is full of surprises and excitement.

Whether you're a seasoned wine aficionado or just curious about what makes Italian wine so special, there's something for everyone to discover in the world of Italian wine. By embracing diversity and innovation, Italian winemakers are challenging the traditional narratives around Italian wine and paving the way for a more sustainable and exciting future.

So raise a glass to the wild world of Italian wine, and cheers to new adventures and discoveries.

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Ellie & Diana

An image of the Italian Wine Connoisseur book in different formats

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