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Four Main Differences Between French & Italian Wine Explained

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Some of the best wines are from France and Italy and conjure up romance and sophistication but would you be able to tell them apart and distinguish one from the other? There are four main differences between French and Italian wines to explain.

The four main differences between French and Italian wines are the grapes, taste, acidity, and tannin content. Factors that influence these differences are the grape varieties, the terroir, and climate, the production methods like oak barrel aging, and is named after the specific growing region. 

The differences between wines are sometimes subtle, and sometimes they can be very distinct and bold. Italian wines are known for making statements, boldness and are relatively robust. The typical French wines are softer, subtle, and barrel-aged, a centuries-old tradition. Before buying your next bottle, let us discuss the four differences between French and Italian wines. 

Differences Between French & Italian Wine
Differences Between French & Italian Wine

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What Makes French Wine Different?

The first mention of French vineyards goes back to the 6th century BC. In other words, the original rootstock is over 2600 years old. The Romans dictated that all wines had to be Italian in origin in ancient times. French wines are different due to the following important factors;

  • The terroir – This includes the location, the soil, and the region.
  • The names – French wines are named after the regions where the grapes grow.
  • The climate – France is a cooler weather region. This allows the grapes to deliver a higher acidic, light-bodied wine than warmer regions. 
  • Barrel aging – French wines have been aged in Oak barrels for centuries. The oak trees are from five regions in France, namely Limousin, Vosges,Tronçais, Nevers and Allier

Not only do these listed factors make French wines different, but it’s also the growing techniques applied by the vignerons that belong to the wine Cooperation. They have set standards to which they must adhere. 

TIP: If you are interested in learning more about how wine ages, please check out this helpful article we wrote. Additionally, you may be a lover of cheap wine like I am. If you are, this article will help you determine which cheap wines should be aged and which ones should be drunk immediately.

What Makes Italian Wine Different?

Italian wines can be traced back to the 8th century BC and were produced by the Romans with great pride. It is believed the rootstock came from the Etruscans and the Greeks. Their knowledge has been passed down for centuries. Italian wines are different due to the following important factors;

  • The origin – Ancient Greek heirloom rootstock has been cloned and grown for centuries.
  • The many grape varieties – There are approximately 400 grape varieties to make wine within Italy.
  • The region – Veneto is considered the most important place in Italy for wine.
  • The IGP and DOP certification – This guarantees the wines were made from grapes grown in the specified regions. 
  • Barrel aging

Italian wines are made from either indigenous grapes, regional varieties, or multiple variety blends. Italy produces more wine than any other country globally, with over 21 million hectoliters. 

Differences Between French and Italian Wines

French and Italian wines share a few similarities in becoming two of the world powerhouses in wine production. They have significant differences, and we look at the five most relevant below;

Italian Grapes Vs. French Grapes:

  • French wines are produced using mainly Grenache, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Merlot varieties.
  • Italian wines are produces using mainly Barbera, Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Fiano and Trebbiano.

Climate and Terroir:

The vinyards’ soil, climate, and physical geography are critical to the end result. The fertility value of soil greatly determines success year after year, and the soil composition has a lot to do with the flavor of the grapes. 

  • Italian terroir and climate – Italy’s wine belt is in the South, where the weather is slightly warmer and the soil richer.
  • French terroir and climate – France’s wine belt is in the North, where the weather is colder, and the soil is richer. 

Wine Making Style:

Each country and culture has its unique way of making wine, and although it’s been the same for centuries, markets and buyer pressure affect production. 

  • French winemaking style – French vignerons and winemakers use oak barrels- specifically the Quercus robur and sessiliflora/Petraea varieties. This gives the wine a smoother body and a lighter taste.
  • Italian winemaking style – Italian wines are known for boldness, accentuated tannins, and robustness. Pressure from specific markets forced Italian winemakers to use Botti or oak barrels to age their wines. This softens the wine for the more sensitive buyer palate. 

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Are French or Italian Wines Better?

Are French or Italian Wines Better?
Are French or Italian Wines Better?

It would be impertinent to presume a French wine is better than an Italian one or vice versa. So many factors determine what makes a good, excellent, or best wine in its class, and even then, the result doesn’t dictate to the majority palates. Let’s look at the six best wines from both countries – three white wines and three red wines, respectively.

The Six Best French Wines – Let’s look at the six top wines the French have to offer and what makes them unique and different from Italian wines.

Red Wines:

  1. Camille Giroud Bourgogne Rouge – This red wine is made from Pinot Noir grapes and grown in the Bourgogne region of France. A bold, dry red wine with higher acidity. Best when paired with veal, pizza, and venison. 
  2. Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py – The Gamay variety of grape produces one of the best red wines France has to offer. Grown in the Beaujolais region of France, this red is excellent on its own and easy on the palate. Perfect when paired with a variety of dishes. 
  3. Domaine de la Guilloterie Les Loges Saumur-Champigny – This red wine made with Cabernet Franc grapes is full bodied but soft with medium tannins. Grown in the Loire Valley, this red is best when paired with pasta and lamb. 

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White Wines:

  1. Chateau Caillou – The Semillon grape produces white wines that can be either sweet or dry and are grown in the Bordeaux region. Pair this white wine with chicken, pork, or duck.
  2. Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc – This acid prominent white wine is made from Chenin Blanc grapes grown in the Loir Valley. A great-tasting, thirst-quenching white wine that can be paired with a wide variety of dishes. 
  3. Domaine Francois Raveneau Les Clos – This delectable white is made from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Chablis region in France. This wine is very crisp and rich in minerality from the terroir and is best when paired with white fish and chicken dishes. 

The Six Best Italian Wines – Let’s look at the six top wines Italy has to offer and what makes them unique and different from French wines. 

Red Wines:

  1. Lambrusco – This slightly fizzy red wine is made from any one of 60 of the Lambrusco grape varieties and is made exclusively in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It is frowned upon by many outside Italy, but this dry red is unique and fantastic when paired with Antipasti and pasta. 
  2. Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo DOCG – No red wine is as sought after as the Nebbiolo based Barolo wines. They are grown in Piedmont, Northern Italy, and the terroir influences everything about the king of red wines. Best when enjoyed with beef, venison, and on its own. 
  3. Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – One of Italy’s most famous wines the Brunello from Montalcino, central Tuscany. It is exclusively made from the Sangiovese Grosso grape and a wine that should be enjoyed whenever possible. Best when paired with truffle dishes, veal, venison, and pasta. 

White Wines:

  1. Soave DOC Classico “Vigneti di Carbonare” – Believed to go back as far as the Roman empire, these white wines are made from the Garganega grape and grown in the Veneto region of Italy. A DOC wine is one of the oldest cellars in the area. This wine is best paired with oysters and other seafood.  
  2. Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio – From the Rosazzo region in Italy, this white wine is made from the Pinot Grigio grape. This wine is dry and best when paired with seafood and chicken. 
  3. Vernaccia di San Gimignano – This white wine is made from the Vernaccia grape that grows in the hill town San Gimignano in Tuscany. A dry white with high acidity is best when paired with white meats and seafood. 

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Conclusion

It would be impossible to determine if French wines are better than Italian or the other way around based solely on four distinct differences. 

What is clear is that every region in France and Italy produces unique and distinguishable wines that will suit even the most refined palate.

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