What to say about a country no bigger than California that makes (and drinks) more wine than any other country in the world?

Italy’s wine history predates the Greeks’ colonisation of Sicily 3000 years ago but it needed the technological genius of Rome to develop the use of wooden barrels, trellises in vineyards and corks – not to mention the power of ageing wine. Brilliant.

Like those of France and Spain, Italian wine labels carry classifications to preserve and categorise quality. Denominazione di Origine Controllata et Garantita (DOCG) is the royalty, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) the next in line. These two are the most likely to be found on foreign shelves. Next are Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT). Vina da Tavola come at the bottom of the pile, are rarely seen outside Italy and, allegedly, are still, on rare occasions, made from grapes crushed by local virgins’ feet.

Italy’s 20 official wine regions can be roughly grouped in four areas, but given the scale of production (Italy is home to over 1,000,000 vineyards) this demarcation masks wide variations.

So, the Northeast. Home to Italy’s biggest producer of DOC wines, Veneto, protected on the sunny side of the Alps from Europe’s damp and cold. Dedicated to modern, scientific, efficient winemaking. Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino are the great commercial names but anything from here is worth a taste.

The Northwest. Wondrous things happen with wine between the slopes of the Alps and the flat plains of the River Po. Home to the shining stars of Piedmont , Barolo and Barbaresco and to the more frivolous, bubbling Lambrusco..

Central! This is wine country – Tuscany, Umbria, Marches, Abruzzo!!. This is the home of Chianti. This is where Montepulciano struts its Italian stuff. . And Trebianno, Vernaccia, Verdicchio and Orvieto too.

The South – probably the country’s oldest wine region but outshone by its Northern competitors and home to nothing very special apart from Campania’s Taurasi DOCG and Sicily’s Marsala. Not yet. However as winemakers hone their talents, reduce their yields and move with the times, there is potential here for some interesting growth. Watch this space....