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Which country produces more wine: Italy, France, or the United States?

If you thought this was a trick question, it wasn’t. Italy and France actually run neck and neck in terms of volume of wine produced each year. Both countries put out about 1,600 million gallons annually, compared to about 500 million gallons in the United States. That puts the U.S. in the number five spot among producers. Italy has more land devoted to vineyards than anywhere in the world with the exception of Spain. Unlike either Spain or France, in Italy you will find vineyards virtually everywhere, from the Alps in the north to the islands in the south. A steady diet of bread, olive oil and wine has been a way of life in Italy for centuries.

Since we’re on the subject of Italian wines, do you know the difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico?

Chianti is a fairly large area within Tuscany comprised of seven different zones: Chianti Classico, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina, Colli Senesi, and Colline Pisane. If a wine just has “Chianti” on the label, it can be from any of the seven regions. The better zones are thought to be Classico and Rufina and usually the label will brag about that. Chianti Classico wines use an official emblem of a black rooster on the label. Chiantis have changed a lot in the last 20 to 25 years. They used to be thin and fruity and not that interesting. Now winemakers are are making deeper, darker, more intense Chiantis with more body. It probably didn’t help Chianti’s reputation either that the straw basket used to encase a lot of Chianti bottles is called a “fiasco”!

The U.S. has A.V.A.’s and Italy has D.O.C.’s. What are they?

A.V.A. stands for American Viticultural Area and D.O.C. is the Italian equivalent. They both refer to designated areas sanctioned by the government to denote a common terroir. In other words, each district or A.V.A. tends to produce wines having similar characteristics that can be attributed to its soil and climate conditions. If you really want to impress your friends, D.O.C. literally stands for “Denomimazioni di Origine Controllata,” but don’t ask us to pronounce it!

Originally published in our Gold Wine Club's The Wine Press, Monte Volpe Winery edition featured in 1999!