Italy: Geography and climate

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Generalizations about a peninsula 1,200 km/750 miles long extending through about 10 degrees of latitude are not easy. The dominant geographical feature of the ‘boot’ is the Apennines, which begin close to the border with France and then form the central ridge, the national spinal column, down the peninsula to the ‘toe’ in Calabria. In the far north are the alps; in Sicily, the Madonie form yet another chain of central mountains, while Etna rises up to 3,350 m/10,990 ft. Good-quality viticulture is almost entirely a hillside phenomenon in Italy; there are no Italian equivalents of the vignoble of Bordeaux, and the Grave del Friuli and other flat viticultural areas of Friuli do not produce wine at the same quality level as the higher nearby districts of Collio and Colli Orientali. Unlike that of France, Italian agriculture has traditionally been organized vertically instead of horizontally: instead of growing grapes in certain given areas and other crops in different areas, Italians have used the richer soils of the valley floors for the cultivation of grain and vegetables and for the grazing of cattle, reserving the hills of the same areas for the cultivation of the vine and the olive.