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Wine Country: Italy

Home to the oldest wine producing regions in the world, Italy is one of the world's foremost producers, responsible for approximately one-fifth of world wine. In 2008, Italy bested France for the title of world's biggest producer for the first time in a decade.

Italian wine regions include Piedmont, where some of the greatest and most profound wines are produced from the Nebbiolo grape. East of Piedmont, the Veneto is a vast area producing oceans of wine, much of it cheap and excellent. Much of these wines are labeled with the term "Classico".

Soave Classico and Valpolicella Classico come from the superior hillside vineyards and are usually far removed from the expressionless versions made from grapes grown on the valley floor. The areas of Trentino and Alto Adige are known for producing more flavorful, fresh white wines of high quality.

Located more to the center of Italy is Tuscany. This is the land of beautiful, rolling countryside, olive groves, cypress trees and Chianti. Though a huge amount of plain, easy-drinking wine is made in the region, the best quality wines generally come from the Sangiovese grape grown in the Chainti Classico zone, stretching between Florence and Siena. Along with the more classic Chianti and Barolo, the wines which point the way for the Italian fine wine industry are the "super Vini de Tavola". These wines, mostly emanating from Tuscany, are made from a high proportion of international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. They are aged in new oak, and subjected to very non-traditional methods. For just as long as these wines have been breaking the rules, they have also been snapped up at high prices by international wine-lovers. They have helped put Italy back on the fine wine map and are wines of world-class quality.

The most interesting and inexpensive wines come from the south eastern part of Italy, right in the heel of the country, from the Marches down to Puglia. In the south, winemakers are using New World techniques with cool, stainless steel fermentation to produce superb white wines. Their local Greco grape makes lively and lemony-fresh wines.