Italy, that small, wonderful, boot of a country, probably has more different individual wines than almost any other wine producing country in the world. France and Italy are neck and neck. Italy probably has fewer higher quality appellations but more
They have been making wine since Roman Times but Italian wine did not get really big on the world stage till the 70's and that was with basket Chainti, Riunite and Bolla Soave. Not very flattering items but it did get Italy to be a player on the world stage when it came to wine.
Italy's big shining moment came in the 1980's with the introduction of the Santa Margherita brand of white wine. The eponymous Pinot Grigio started to pop up on restaurant wine lists and retail stores all over the country. Indeed in the beginning, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio was a good wine, but when production crept up to keep with demand, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio slowly became an industry joke among the cognoscenti. Its impact is still felt as Italian wine is now big in the United States and is gaining traction in many of the other wine drinking countries in the world.
It opened the door for Colli di Luni, Albana de Romagna, Vernaccia de San Gimignano and numerous other eclectic white wines which would have not been seen here in US soil if it was not for the infiltration of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.
The uptick in in imports did not only involve white wines either, it involved red wines like Chianti Classico, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Barbera, Dolcetto, Taurasi, Rosso Toscana and as many deviations of these as you can possibly think of. The world loves Italy and before wine, it was clothes, food and Sophia Lauren.
Italy did not gain as a quality wine producing country until the 1960's. Most of the grape growers sold their grapes off in bulk. The explosion in wineries between the sixties and eighties was significant. Many, many appellations were created, some worthy of their name, others not. It was for the consumer to figure out. Italian wine remains an excellent value, especially in comparison to French or US Wine. There are more great wines in the $10-$50 range in such a dazzling variety that not many wine producing countries come close. One has to remember that all of Italy is cultivated under vine, while in France for example, that is not the case. So Italy can afford to experiment, which leads to more of a variety of value wines. While the top wines from Tuscany and Piedmont can go for top dollar there are many wines even within these zones them self that present great value.
Italy is great to explore and also provides never-ending errata for the wine lover or wine geek in all of us. The map image is from www.wineeducation.com.