Italian wine in Usa market
by Burton Anderson
Civiltà del bere’s fortieth anniversary coincides with my own career in writing about Italian wine. During that time, I’ve witnessed the most sweeping revolution in vineyards and cellars ever recorded by a single nation’s wine industry, as recorded in my book Vino, published in 1980 in the early stages of the Renaissance of Italian wine.
In the 1970s, Italy had become the leading supplier of wine to the U.S., due more to quantity than quality.
The long success of flask Chianti was fading, but the slack was made up by the flow of sweet Lambrusco and the rise of new style white wines, typified by fresh and thrifty Soave and Frascati.
The 1980s were marked by rapid change and fluctuating fortunes amid a rush to create new styles of wines to challenge the world supremacy long enjoyed by the French. The list of DOCs passed 220 and DOCG was introduced for Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Vino Nobile and Chianti.
Italy boasted far more types and styles of wine than any nation, but foreigners often seemed confused by the novelties, challenging writers and experts to categorize wines named for little known grape varieties, producers and places.
As the quest for excellence spread beyond Piedmont and Tuscany, many producers favored native vines and wines, while others relied on international varieties: Cabernet, Merlot, the Pinots, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon.
“Super Tuscans” led the new wave of red wines
Wave that convinced U.S. critics that Italy could compete at top levels of quality and prestige. Also on the rise were Amarone, Barbera, Dolcetto, Teroldego, Lagrein, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Aglianico, notably in Taurasi.
Previous doubts about the class of Italian white wines were overcome by the splendid varietals of Friuli and Alto Adige. Soave showed unexpected style as did Fiano and Greco in Campania, Vermentino in Sardinia and Verdicchio in the Marche. Among bottle-fermented sparkling wines Franciacorta and Trentino gained prestige. The greatest surge came with Pinot Grigio, which conquered America much as Prosecco did later on its way to becoming the world’s most popular bubbly wine. Sicily and Puglia, long dedicated to mass-produced blending wines, were leading the shift to premium quality in the south.
The methanol scandal of 1986 brought a tragic setback to progress. Yet, by 1990, when I published The Wine Atlas of Italy, Americans showed renewed confidence in the quality and integrity of Italian wines.
The decade was marked by a revolution in the vineyards as clonal selections of native varieties, greater plant density, lower yields and precise selection resulted in wines of greater structure, depth and color. Italy’s lead on the U.S. market was still based on good value, but influential writer-raters agreed that Italy’s finest reds stood with the world’s great wines.
Barolo and Brunello led the way, but wines of new stature came to the fore throughout the country, notably in the south and islands: Sicily with Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola, Puglia with Primitivo and Negroamaro, Sardinia with Cannonau and Carignano. Throughout Italy new style white wines, often from little known local varieties, won favor abroad.
The new millennium has heightened America’s standing as the most loyal and prestigious market for Italian wine, as well as the most voluminous, as imports continued strong despite the economic slump of recent times. Through the decades, la cucina italiana has become the preferred way of eating among Americans in savoring the unmatchable scope and diversity of Italian food and wine.
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