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Talk about your Old World wines: Historians believe Italian wine has been produced for some 4,000 years. Today, it’s possible to enjoy Italian wines in both traditional and modern styles that reflect the diversity of Italy’s many winemaking regions and the more than 1,000 grape varieties that thrive there.

Italy is the world’s largest exporter of wine, in the past year sending the equivalent of more than 32 milllon cases to the United States alone. Italian wines come from all over the boot-shaped peninsula, which boasts a mix of terrains and climates that provide ideal conditions for many different types of vines. Combined with Italy’s reputation for wonderful cuisine – and the Italian tradition that considers wine part of a meal – it’s no wonder Italy is the source of so much good wine.

Italian wine regions crowd the map from the Alpine peaks of the Alto Adige to Puglia, in the heel of the boot, plus the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Italy’s climate is generally mild, moderated by the seas to the east and west. The Alps, at the northern border, shield Italy from wintery blasts. The Apennine mountains, which run the length of the country, provide a range of topographies and soil types.

Italy’s indigenous grapes, the source for red, white, rosé and sparkling wines, dominate wine production. As with many Italian wines labeled by appellation, not grape, their names may be unfamiliar: Sangiovese, for instance, is Italy’s most-grown red grape, the chief ingredient in Tuscany’s familiar Chianti wine as well as other reds like Morellino di Scansano, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

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