On a good day, Italians call their country “Il bel paese”, the beautiful country – so named for its mild climate, unique cultural heritage and beautiful landscape. On a bad day, they might call it something much less poetic, and that will often be thanks to one of two things: taxes and bureaucracy.
For the wine industry, it’s rarely the former. In fact – unlike the UK, where Her Majesty’s Government takes £2.88 per litre just for the privilege of allowing wine to pass Dover – there is no tax on wine in Italy at all. But whilst New World wine makers can make whatever they want, wherever they want and sell it in whatever container they like, what goes on in Italy’s 900,000 vineyards is subject to strict legal norms known as Disciplinari di Produzione.
At When in Rome, we often get asked why our wines have one grape name on the tasting card and another name on the box, at least when the wine first arrives in the UK. It’s thanks to the Disciplinari. For example, a Barbera or a Verdicchio might be made from the right grape, in the right region and by the right winemaker, but if it’s sold in the “wrong” container, it can’t be called Barbera or Verdicchio, just red or white wine. At least not until we’ve had a chance to persuade the local bureaucrats that our new fangled boxes are, in fact, a really sensible way to transport and sell their wonderful local wines.
Like everything in Italy, the idea of rules governing wine production is as old as the vine-covered hills. Under the Romans in 154 BC, growing grapes beyond the Alps was made illegal, forcing the poor, thirsty inhabitants of Gaul to send ever more slaves to Rome in exchange for wine. The modern rules in Italy that make it so hard to call box wine by the right names date from 1963, and – infuriating as it may occasionally be for a company like When in Rome trying to change things – they’ve done a very good job in protecting the public and improving the industry.
So for now, at least as far as Italian bureaucracy is concerned, it’s box wine evolution rather than revolution thanks to the Disciplinari. Having less rules, we don’t really have a word for Disciplinari in English. But then again, in Italian they don’t have a word for hangover, so who’s smarter than who?