The three northeastern regions, known collectively as the Tre Venezie or simply the Venezie, set the pace in Italy in the crafting of modern wines. Together they produce more classified wine than any other section of the country - more than a third of the DOC, the more remarkable when you consider that they account for less than a sixth of the nation's total production. The Veneto is first in volume of DOC and Trentino-Alto Adige leads in percentage of its total, while Friuli-Venezia Giulia enhances the classified ranks with its stylishly contemporary white wines.
The technology of winemaking overall is more sophisticated and better organised here than elsewhere, thanks in part to the continuing demand from neighbouring Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as more distant markets such as the United States and United Kingdom. Two of Italy's leading wine schools are here (at San Michele all'Adige in Trentino and Conegliano in the Veneto). The world's largest vine nursery is at Rauscedo in Friuli. The nation's most important wine fair, Vinitaly, is held each spring in Verona.
The determinant quality factor in all three regions is the climate influenced by the Alps, of which the Venezie are on the sunny side, protected from the damp cold of northern Europe. Vineyard conditions range from cool at high altitudes to warm in the plains near the Adriatic Sea and along the valleys of the Po, Piave and Adige rivers.
Admirers of Soave, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Tocai and other popular whites are often surprised to learn that the Venezie make more red wine than white. But, as elsewhere, the worldwide demand for white wine is rapidly changing that pattern. Friuli and the Veneto have reversed earlier patterns and now make more white wine than red under DOC.
Although the culture of the Venezie, like the name, was determined by the ancient Venetian Republic, strong influences can be felt from Austria and Slovenia. One result is a cosmopolitan mix of vine varieties. Growers here work with an amazing assortment of native and imported vines to produce what are indisputably a majority of Italy's finer white wines, a number of the better rose's and a multitude of reds, ranging from the young and simplistic to the aged and complex.
Verona's Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino are the best known of the many DOCs. They derive almost entirely from native varieties. But in the central and eastern Veneto and Friuli imported varieties - such as Merlot, Cabernet, the Pinots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon - are vying successfully for vineyard space against the local Tocai, Prosecco, Verduzzo, Refosco and Raboso.
In Trentino-Alto Adige red wines prevail, dominated by the ubiquitous Shiava or Vernatsch, though the more distinguished Teroldego, Lagrein and Marzemino hold their own against Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Nero. The emrging favourites, however, are the white Chardonnay, Pinots and Sauvignon.
Since so many varietal wines are produced in all three regions the practice has been to group the wines under a single DOC name for a geographical area, such as the Veneto's Piave, Friuli's Collio Goriziano, and the provincial apellations of Trentino and Alto Adige. Though the lists may be long, this geographical identity seems to aid consumers in connecting places with grape varieties.